Infantry: Tech Takes its Toll

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February 20, 2017: The U.S. Army has found technology is eliminating a growing number of jobs, even for the infantry. The latest casualty is the seven LRC (long-range surveillance) companies (three active duty and seven in the reserves). The army says that these units are no longer needed because of improved aerial surveillance, especially UAVs, and the growing number of SOCOM (Special Operations Command) units with these capabilities plus the ability of regular infantry and marine units to create similar units as needed to do LRC work. All this makes the seven LRC units unnecessary. Each LRC unit had about a hundred men, organized into fifteen six man patrols, each led by a sergeant. These units found some use since 2001, especially in Afghanistan, but as more UAVs and local troop LRC capabilities became available the seven LRC companies became liable to elimination as the army has been ordered to make sharp personnel reductions since 2009.

Ironically it was technology, in the form of portable radios that made the LRC possible in the first place. Then again this was a more effective modern version of the ancient tradition of forming long-range scout teams. Radio made possible a unique military unit, the LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol.) With a radio, a small unit of men could (if skillful enough) sneak deep into enemy territory and report back what they found. That enabled their side to start taking advantage of this information. Starting in World War II, numerous LRRP units were formed for this kind of dangerous work.

In the United States Army, LRRPs went in and out of fashion depending on whether or not there was a war on. Some LRRP units were formed during World War II, and then disbanded after the war. Same thing during the Korean war, although two LRRP companies were created in 1958 for missions deep into Russian controlled territory. LRRPs sprang up spontaneously in Vietnam. All but two companies were disbanded after the Vietnam War and these two companies were used in 1974 to form the Ranger Regiment.

In the early 1980s, as the U.S. Army got serious about troop quality and training, the need for LRRPs was felt once more. This time, the drill was a little different. The units were called LRSU (Long Range Surveillance Units) and generally operated in four man (rather than the 8-12 man LRRP) units. Better equipment and the ability to send the patrols deeper made smaller units more effective. LRSU are expected to stay out there for up to 30 days at a time. LRSUs have been used in every American conflict since the 1980s. LRSUs have also been used in anti-drug and anti-terrorist operations. While still trained to fight, the long range scouts are given even more intensive instruction on staying hidden. Being a LRSU is considered on a par with Rangers or Special Forces, if only because LRSU will often go into an area before any of those other elite troops.

Since the 1980s the tech and tactics evolved to the use of six man teams, led (in the army) by an NCO with ranger training. Many LRRP veterans and military historians point out that in time of need these larger long range recon units (platoons or companies) will emerge and LRCs will return. Some note that part of the reason for disbanding the LRCs is commanders being under growing pressure to reduce the risk of troop casualties even if the risk is worthwhile in terms of gaining information that UAVs or other forms of electronic and aerial surveillance cannot provide.

 


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