Proceedings of a Workshop
Combat Search and Rescue in Highly Contested Environments
Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief
The Personnel Recovery (PR) and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions are core mission functions of the U.S. Air Force (USAF). PR refers to the broad range of operations and forces that provide recovery of personnel, whether the environment is hostile or peaceful. CSAR refers to more specialized operations in which an isolated person (IP) or persons are recovered from hostile environments, typically with the existence of threats to the recovery force. The USAF has successfully performed these missions in the past. Increasingly, however, highly contested operating environments have emerged with the development, growth, and proliferation of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) environments and Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS). A 3-day workshop focusing on the needs of isolated persons (IPs) was convened and examined the nature and consequences of the threat to the CSAR and PR mission, the current PR force structure, equipment and training for the IP, and technologies that might increase the survival of the IP moving into the 2030 timeframe.
THE NATURE OF THE THREAT ENVIRONMENT
During the first day of the workshop, several presentations were provided that detailed specific challenges associated with conducting CSAR/PR missions in highly contested environments. While all combat environments are contested to some extent, recent advances in technology, combined with increasingly capable adversaries, have led to the emergence of highly contested environments in which the USAF’s freedom of action is highly curtailed. The following section summarizes the workshop discussions detailing the systems and adversaries from which this highly contested environment emerge and the consequences of these developments for the PR mission. Several workshop participants highlighted additional factors that further exacerbate the CSAR challenge. These include the development and proliferation of electronic warfare and cyber weapons; jamming and spoofing technologies for communications, space, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets; IADS; cruise and ballistic missiles; and a host of other emerging weapons systems that all increase the hazards associated with these emerging contested environments. Many of these technologies are already employed by potential adversaries and will likely only become more mature by the 2030 timeframe.
THE USAF AND CSAR/PR MISSION THREAT ENVIRONMENT
The evolving nature of the threat environment has major significance for the USAF CSAR/PR mission. Several participants noted during the workshop that although traditional CSAR/PR forces remain viable in more permissive environments, highly contested environments are increasingly rendering the CSAR/PR force marginalized. This line of thought raised the notion that USAF may ultimately need to consider uniquely tailored equipment for highly contested operating environments. The CSAR/ PR mission extends well beyond the potential battlefield, and as one presenter noted, in the coming decades, in order to defend against an A2/AD or IADS threat, forward bases may need to be positioned much farther away from potential conflict zones and potentially disaggregated over larger operational areas of command. However, both the dispersal of bases, which also disperses CSAR resources and complicates personnel recovery planning, and the increased operational ranges, which increases stand-off range from areas of operation, will make the CSAR/PR mission even more challenging. As effectiveness of the CSAR/PR mission decreases, the length of time the IP will need to survive and evade capture before he/she can be rescued increases.
This challenge was also highlighted in the presentation from Jia Xu from the RAND Corporation on a recent RAND study regarding IP survivability in highly contested environments, Rescuing Downed Aircrews: The Value of Time.1 He described that the key results from his study of downed aircrew recovery/survival rates revealed that if the IP cannot be recovered in the first 2 hours or so, the recovery probability drops to about 25 percent, but the probability declines only slowly thereafter with increasing time on the ground. Xu explained that this finding suggests that efforts to increase this probability by enhancing the IP’s capability to survive and to evade/hide for longer periods might be a worthwhile area to explore for future science and technology investments. In addition, Xu noted that the time immediately following an ejection event offers a worthwhile
Figure 1 The increasing need for long-term survivability in relation to the increase in threat level and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission complexity. NOTE: Figure was generated to visually represent elements of the workshop discussion for the purposes of this summary and was not presented during the meeting. The figure is intended to be illustrative, and the actual curve may not be linear.
1 C. Mouton, J. Xu, E.M. Daehner, H. Miyake, C.R. Anderegg, J. Pollak, D.T. Orletsky, and J. Sollinger, Rescuing Downed Aircrews: The Value of Time, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1106.html.
part of an IP scenario to explore. Various methods of controlling descent to the ground offer an opportunity for the IP to land in an area of decreased risk.
Given the significance of the evolving threat environment, workshop participants discussed at length how to best describe the overall viability of CSAR across the spectrum of threat environments. The sentiment among the participants can best be described as a series of tiered threat environments:
Tier 1 - The highest threat environments, typically near-peer adversaries, where conventional CSAR is highly unlikely to be viable.
Tier 2 - Mid-range threat environments, where conventional CSAR may be viable in certain circumstances.
Tier 3 - The lowest level of threat environments, typically presented by terrorist groups, major criminal organizations, or other adversarial non-state actors, where conventional CSAR remains viable.
As the level of the threat environment increases to more contested and highly contested scenarios, there is an increasing need to prepare, train, equip, and support the IP over an extended period of isolation. Many of the workshop participants commented that this was an important observation that could help inform future technology development requirements. These insights are depicted graphically in Figure 1.
SPECTRUM OF THE EVOLVING THREAT
Over the course of the first day, workshop presentations and discussions highlighted that the threat to the CSAR mission followed the spectrum of scope and severity in the contested environment. As described above, this spectrum varies considerably depending on the technical sophistication of the adversary controlling the CSAR/PR environment. The highest tier (Tier 1) threat environments exist among near-peer adversaries. These Tier 1 systems have well-developed and robust A2/AD systems and IADS built over the course of many years that are specifically configured to target U.S. forces’ vulnerabilities or operational gaps. A less but still strongly contested second tier (Tier 2) is presented by less mature, regional adversaries. Operational freedom is highly curtailed, if not negated outright, in these environments. However, some localized control may be established for a limited duration—although at least one participant noted that the threat level presented by these adversaries will become more challenging as 2030 approaches. Finally, in operating environments where the principle adversary is a terrorist group, criminal organization, or other non-state actor, the threat level is significantly lower and traditional CSAR will likely remain effective. These third tier (Tier 3) environments are still considered contested—but not to the extent that conventional CSAR forces cannot operate.
EXPECTATION OF TREATMENT
In addition to the spectrum of threat to the CSAR mission, some participants noted that if the IP is captured, the expectation of treatment is likely to be varied. The recent execution of a Jordanian pilot at the hands of the Islamic State was a regular point of comparison during the discussion and helped to illustrate a worst-case scenario.2 Capture by a terrorist group, many participants noted, could likely result in a rapid, barbaric, and public death if the terrorist group believed its cause could benefit from the international attention created by a public execution of the IP. However, capture by a near-peer power (Tier 1 environment) was viewed by many participants as having a greater likelihood of humane (relatively speaking) treatment for the IP. Some participants felt that a near-peer
power is more likely to adhere to the laws of war and international norms in the hopes of reciprocal treatment for their own captured personnel—although this may vary given the adversary’s political regime. Mid-range powers (Tier 2 environment), in many participants’ estimation, fell about midway along the spectrum in this regard, although also with some variance depending on regime. Regardless of the range of treatment among adversaries, many workshop participants noted that the IP would at least be kept alive in the case of near-peer and mid-range adversaries (Tier 1 and Tier 2 environments). Several participants noted that the political context is likely to vary, but that given the current likely adversaries, these sentiments as detailed above would remain largely accurate. Consequently, capture as a survival option was considered by many participants to be more applicable to near-peer contested environments than mid-range powers and generally non-viable for terrorist or criminal organizations. Furthermore, this led participants to emphasize the need for greater resistance, support, and reintegration training as well as efforts to maintain IP morale while isolated.
This dynamic indicates a correlation between the magnitude and complexity of any CSAR mission and the expectation of humane treatment. The treatment by a near-peer adversary, some participants noted, would likely be “humane” by comparison to what could be experienced if the IP was captured by a terrorist or criminal organization. As one participant concluded, the adversary most likely to establish the most highly contested environments is also the adversary more likely to provide humane treatment relative to others. These insights are depicted graphically in Figure 2.
A workshop participant commented that this inverse relationship might describe how resources might be allocated to effectively develop the CSAR/PR capability for contested environments, but he also stressed that this correlation has major implications for the “social contract” with the aircrew, which is be discussed in a later section.
RESHAPING THE SOCIAL CONTRACT WITH THE AIRCREW: ALWAYS RECOVER VS. SPECTRUM OF RECOVERY
The concept of a social contract between commanders and aircrews was a recurring theme throughout all 3 days of the workshop. This social contract as it stands today refers to an agreement between the aircrew and commander where, if an aircrew is forced to abandon their aircraft over hostile territory or otherwise becomes isolated, the commander will send a PR force as soon as status and location can be determined. Douglas Fraser (Gen., USAF Ret.),
Figure 2 Correlation between the threat level and complexity of a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission and the expectation of humane treatment. NOTE: The figure was generated to visually represent elements of the workshop discussion for the purposes of this summary and was not presented during the meeting. The figure is intended to be illustrative, and the actual curve may not be linear.
chair of the workshop planning committee, introduced this idea in his opening remarks and noted that highly contested environments will prevent the immediate launch of a CSAR mission, and as a consequence, the airman must be both trained and equipped to survive as a potential long-term IP. As a result, many participants felt that, for at least some contested environments, the contract might need to be modified to reflect the viability of a CSAR mission. Just as the nature of existing and emerging contested environments could be envisioned on a spectrum, the social contract could be viewed in a similar light. Several participants thought that, while the current contract might hold at a lower threat level, as the threat level rises, the contract would need to evolve to reflect the reality of the situation imposed by the highly contested environment. Several participants noted the need to hold a frank conversation with aircrews, as well as their families, regarding their expectations of rescue given the realities imposed by a highly contested environment. Some participants noted the analogy to World War II, during which CSAR was effectively nonexistent outside very specific circumstances, and a soldier and his family would need to mentally prepare for “bad situations.” One participant pointed out that the social contract exists primarily between the aircrew and commander and that a broader view that incorporates the families of the aircrew might need to be discussed by senior USAF leaders.
SUPPORTING THE IP’S FAMILY
Most participants noted a critical and often overlooked aspect of an IP scenario—the role and impact of modern communications technology, the Internet, and social media on the morale of the aircrew and their family. The possibility of real-time or near-real-time video of an IP’s capture and subsequent treatment broadcast for propaganda purposes will have a profound impact on the IP’s family and morale of the unit. As discussed earlier, such public treatment of the captured IP can vary considerably and is largely a function of the threat tier presented by the adversary. At least one of the workshop planning committee members noted that it is foreseeable that in the 2030 timeframe that the first indication of the IP’s capture and treatment might come from social media sources well before commanders have time to respond or notify the family in person. Furthermore, it was suggested that, when an aircrew is captured, it is probable they will be forced to divulge their personal information, including passwords for their social media accounts. This information could then be used to target families with emotional and/or financial attacks. Many participants noted that family members of an aircrew need to be included in the training and preparation for such eventualities, and this is likely to be the “new normal” moving forward. Furthermore, because of the family’s role in reintegration of the IP, several participants suggested that the family must play a role in the debrief process for returning aircrew as well. Others noted that command personnel may need additional training to handle the public affairs impact of an IP situation.
ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORT FOR THE CSAR MISSION
While CSAR is a core function of the USAF, a workshop participant that was currently active duty USAF noted that most of the CSAR operations in recent memory were not performed by the USAF but by the other services, Special Operations Forces (SOF), and local units. Other services provide their own PR and IP training to personnel and engage in PR with their own forces. A U.S. Navy participant described Navy IP training as focused on a water-based scenario versus a land-based scenario with emphasis on a short-term survival requirement before rescue. For overland scenarios, the U.S. Navy follows the USAF lead on training and equipping for PR operations. In an A2/AD overland environment, the participant indicated that the U.S. Navy would turn to another service to take the lead on recovery. Two U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) participants at the workshop said the USSOCOM mission set differs from the USAF. There are, however, several similar factors, including isolated operations
behind the lines and the need for light equipment driving their training and equipment requirements. One of the USSOCOM participants described USSOCOM equipment as primarily focused on “self-assistance” and independent operations rather than an IP scenario. One observation that occurred during this discussion was that currently there is no overarching Program of Record (POR) that covers the whole of the CSAR/PR mission and no POR focused on the IP. One participant noted that USSOCOM is currently working on defining a PR POR. One primary difference identified by multiple participants is the nature of the USSOCOM acquisition system, which is viewed as being far more agile and effective than the USAF acquisition system. USSOCOM allows acquisition and fielding of new equipment far more rapidly than the other Services, and the creation of a single POR would enable more effective evaluation and prioritization of requirements.3
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization Air Command and Control (NATO AIRCOM) participant provided an overview of NATO CSAR/PR policy and operations.4 The overall assessment, in the view of several of the workshop participants, is that NATO’s role in PR at an organizational level is minimal. The function is treated as one among numerous other duties attached to those assignments, but it was noted that at least NATO AIRCOM has a dedicated PR lead position.5 Nevertheless, some participants noted a number of allies maintain unique and specialized Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) schools, which could enhance U.S. SERE training efforts. One hurdle to this, however, is current U.S. and Allied training policy and doctrine, which makes approval of SERE study abroad difficult to obtain.
Organizational responsibility for PR and IP support and training quickly became a major issue identified by many workshop participants. There is no singular Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR) for training, equipping, and support of the PR mission set, and no single advocate for the IP. Several participants also noted that Air Combat Command (ACC), other Major Commands (MAJCOMs) in the USAF, geographical Combatant Commands (COCOMs), and other organizations all have a role in the USAF’s CSAR/PR mission. This situation results in fragmented responsibilities, PR/ CSAR command and activities, requirements generation, and funding lines. One participant identified fragmented requirements as a key impediment to enhancing the survival kit of the IP, citing that he could not replace the decades-old pocket knives issued to aircrews without a requirements document, and without a centralized program office to collect and prioritize competing requirements, he was often left unable to acquire new technologies that could support the IP. During this discussion, another participant noted that it wasn’t just the lack of a POR but that the entire USAF acquisition policy process often slowed down new technology adoption so much that the technology is obsolete by the time it is eventually acquired.
TRAINING AND EQUIPPING THE IP
The workshop included several presentations on training, present equipment, and future technologies with potential applications toward PR and IP support and sustainment. However, as multiple speakers and participants noted, due to lack of a POR, an Operational Capabilities Document (OCD), or an OPR, none of these are under development with the specific requirements of PR or the IP in mind.
Primary IP training is covered in SERE training, which serves as the core training regimen for
3 While USSOCOM has a well-developed PR capability, a participant noted that there has been a tendency over the past few years to treat SOF as the “easy button” and USSOCOM leadership is beginning to push back as resources are increasing taxed.
4 NATO CSAR/PR policy and operations is defined as “the sum of Military, Diplomatic and Civil efforts to affect the recovery and reintegration of isolated personnel” in which PR and CSAR are synonymous.
5 According to the NATO HQ participant, a few countries in recent years have worked to improve their PR capabilities.
all personnel at risk of being isolated behind enemy lines (primarily pilots and Special Forces personnel). A senior SERE participant presented an overview of SERE training, which consists of a 19-day course focused on the IP with the primary training facilities located in northwestern Continental United States (CONUS). SERE training is driven by USAF MAJCOM, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), and COCOM requirements and covers survival and evasion training in a range of environments and circumstances as well as covering equipment training and “conduct after capture” training. However, SERE trainers present in the meeting felt strongly that 19 days was insufficient to fully train personnel for an IP situation. Although continuation training is mandated prior to operational deployment, several SERE trainers present noted that the actual implementation of this training is inconsistent prior to deployment across various USAF commands.
Training deficiencies at multiple personnel levels were noted by several participants during the workshop. One key deficiency that was noted by at least one of the participants was the lack of training for command staff in the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) to handle the consequences of long-term IP scenarios. The need to train command personnel on how to handle social media, public messaging, morale, family support, and IP reintegration were all identified as shortfalls in the current range of SERE training. Another shortfall identified by participants was the lack of highly specialized training facilities that accurately simulate the types of environments in which the IP could be operating, including highly urbanized areas, extreme desert or arctic conditions, or the ocean. While several participants noted that allied and partner nations do have some highly specialized training facilities, the organizational and policy mechanisms do not appear to be in place to allow regularly scheduled IP training outside the United States. Several SERE experts at the meeting noted a general deficiency in continuation SERE training, commenting that continuation and refresher training is not conducted uniformly or at regular enough intervals. The problem, many participants noted, is exacerbated by the need to fit more training into a static training timeslot as new equipment, training methods, and environments are introduced. Especially challenging, as noted by several of the SERE trainers, is the unique training required for enhancing long-term survival techniques in highly contested environments that could require the IP to be self-sufficient in hostile territory for days, weeks, or even months.
During the workshop, two critical factors were identified by several participants as being necessary for a successful outcome in any IP situation—the need for the IP to accurately assess their current threat environment and the need for the IP to control stress levels that might negatively affect the IP’s performance. An Air Force Special Operations Wing research psychologist who trains SOF personnel in these areas presented research data showing that an average of 46.9 percent of an individual’s time awake is spent wandering from the current task in front of them. Research has shown this to have a negative impact on morale and to increase stress levels. She detailed a regimen of 10-12 minute sessions, several times a day, in which an individual focuses all their attention on a simple rhythmic act such as breathing. One Air Force officer attending the workshop expressed support for this research and pointed out that similar mindful meditation training is utilized by major sports teams. He noted that historically a lot of pressure is placed on the “human weapons system,” and there is a need to realize that “system” can be overwhelmed and requires maintenance as much as any other weapon system. One senior SERE leader as well as other workshop participants expressed interest in learning more about this research and its potential usefulness in preparing an IP for survival and even captivity—particularly long-term captivity. Even when successfully evading captors, one participant noted, an IP can suffer similar psychological stress as those in captivity. Maintaining morale and psychological wellness were identified by most participants as key issues for any long-term survivability, highlight-
ing the need for training for this aspect of long-term survival.
PROVIDING LONG-TERM SUPPORT TO SUSTAIN THE IP
During the workshop, several presentations highlighted the role of sustainment of the IP. Today, whatever resources are necessary to enable long-term survival in the event of an isolating event are provided to the aircrew (these resources are referred to as “kits”) at the beginning of the mission. During this session of the workshop, presentations and discussions focused both on current kits and survival gear (and their challenges and limitations) and quickly evolved to a discussion of potential future enhancements to IP equipment that would be necessary to enable long-term survival of the IP in highly contested environments.
One senior Acquisitions and Sustainment and Aircrew Flight Equipment specialist in attendance at the workshop presented details on the current kit (which includes communications, medical, navigation, and self-defense equipment) and the challenges and limitations he faces in providing equipment for the IP. He described his and his organization’s role as a “provider, not a decider,” in that he provides the best equipment in the best way possible, but his organization does not determine requirements. As a result, augmentations to the current kit are problematic without a “demand signal” from USAF leadership. As a result, the kit’s contents remain relatively static, both in terms of the individual components and the technology behind those components. In general, aviator equipment tends to focus on what the pilot needs for their mission and not the survival requirements for the IP. Significant discussion took place on the usability of the primary means of communications for the IP, the Combat Survivor Evader Locator (CSEL) radio. Some workshop participants, familiar with the CSEL radio from their own training experiences, described the technology as clumsy, complicated, and difficult to use. Other participants countered with their opinion that the primary deficiency was not in the technology of the radio but with inadequate initial training and effective continuation training.
Curt Bedke (Maj. Gen., USAF Ret.) presented a fictional scenario at the beginning of the second day of the workshop. Box 1 provides a helpful way of summarizing the previous discussions on the nature and consequences of the threats to the CSAR mission and how the USAF could support the IP in contested environments in the 2030 timeframe.
FUTURE TECHNOLOGY OPPORTUNITIES TO TRAIN, SUPPORT, AND SUSTAIN THE IP
During the workshop, a number of specific technologies were presented by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) participants and discussed by others that might provide improved support, sustainment, and recovery for the IP. These included means for communications and geolocation, evasion support and sustainment, recovery and extraction, as well as technologies to enable better training with existing technologies for communications and geolocation. AFRL presented a number of technology efforts with potential applications in support of the IP and the PR mission. However, AFRL does not have a strong “demand signal” or specific requirements on which to develop technologies with the IP or PR mission specifically in mind.
Live Virtual Constructive (LVC) Training. While most of the technology presentations during the workshop focused on means of supporting the IP while he/she was in the field, one particular technology, LVC training, was highlighted by several of the participants as a possible tool to augment the current SERE training protocol. Currently, LVC is not designed specifically for the CSAR/PR mission set. However, two AFRL presenters explained how they have been collaborating with the SERE Training Group to develop LVC training environments. One AFRL speaker explained that the goal is to augment SERE training with LVC within the actual train-
BOX 1 FICTIONAL SCENARIO
The mission was important enough to deploy two manned fighters and a dozen unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) against three individual targets inside a highly contested environment. The strike package arrived at the target area with five UCAVs remaining, which had already reallocated themselves against the targets—the manned fighters confirmed two targets hit before the surface to air missiles (SAMs) smashed into the fighters and forced both pilots to eject. Immediately, a distress signal with a low-probability-of-intercept went out the moment the ejection seat was clear. Back in the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), a flashing warning on screen confirmed the ejections before the chutes had even opened. A “good chute” indicator triggered another quick burst signal, and the sensors in the pilots’ flight suits took readings that confirmed one of the pilots was alive but also that the other had not survived. While the surviving pilot, alive and on the ground but in shock and dazed, got his bearings, the signal confirming he was on the ground and alive, along with more information about his health, had already been to the satellite overhead and in turn to the CAOC.
After gathering his wits, the surviving pilot hit a combination of numbers, the “code of the day,” on his flight suit sleeve that confirmed his identity for the CAOC and that he was conscious. A few minutes later, his suit received the latest updates on his location and situation (weather, terrain, known enemy locations, potential safe areas, etc.) and displayed this on his flexible plastic screen. The pilot, now considered an Isolated Person (IP), consumed a nutrient ration while taking inventory of his equipment and discarding what he did not need, including most of the parachute except for the part designed to be torn away and used as a thin, lightweight solar-cell-coated thermal poncho/sleeping bag/tent.
Fortunately, the weather was miserable—it was raining—which helped to hide his position. It was mid-afternoon and he had a few hours of low-light daylight to move in the direction the CAOC was suggesting, through rough terrain and likely unfriendly locals, but also potential hiding places to hunker for the night if needed. Over the course of the following days, the pilot received intermittent update bursts of information and was able to send status reports. His flexible computer told him where the villages were and advised him on what natural foods he could eat without getting sick. He found running water where the map said he would. During the day, he could recharge the batteries with solar power and with his own muscle movements, which also worked at night and in poor weather. He kept his morale up by following the path they laid out for him. His information was not always perfectly accurate, but it provided enough to allow him to adapt to the discrepancies. His goal was to get to an area where someone, or something, could recover him. The CAOC watched over him, encouraging him—reminding him that if he got stuck without food, as a last resort they could send an Unmanned Supply Air Vehicle (USAV) to drop some emergency rations, although it meant potentially highlighting his location. After 12 days, his map showed him where they needed him, and the updated best path to get there.
He didn’t see the three Unmanned Rescue Air Vehicles (URAVs) that headed in his direction when he gave the signal that he was at his destination. Two of them flew erratic paths that never come closer than 10 miles to him, but the third one landed right in front of him, in a small clearing. He strapped himself into the sling waiting for him, and when he tapped on the harness, it lifted him up and flew along the ridge and towards home. It only had a range of about 80 miles, but that range was enough to get him to where the Rescue Force could safely pick him up and take him home.
ing environment. This could help ensure that training is fast and flexible to rapid change—avoiding delays for modifications to a simulator or training course. To achieve this, an LVC approach could seamlessly blend live and synthetic (virtual and constructive) assets: real people in real operational systems, real people in simulated systems, and computer-generated environments. Additionally, both AFRL speakers and other participants noted that LVC-augmented training could also provide quantifiable information for measuring the effectiveness of training and help to focus subsequent continuation training.
Communications and Geolocation Technologies. Confirming a downed aircraft, locating the downed aircrew, and establishing communications with them are considered to be among the most critical challenges to overcome for the PR team and the IP. Considerable discussion was centered on the possible use of smartphones or other smart devices as an aid to the IP for geolocation and as a data storage device for information relevant to the IP’s survival. Several workshop participants commented that pre-loading a smartphone with local maps, situational data, and survival and medical information could be a powerful survival tool, and one example, the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) currently in development by AFRL, was highlighted as a future technology. Currently, the ATAK technology possesses a number of IP-relevant features, including the ability to calculate location using constellations, use wireless networks if available, use optical communications, and store large amounts of IP-relevant data (including weather, terrain, local political situations, edible food, enemy patrols, and general survival and medical information). Although as the AFRL speaker noted, further enhancements would be required to enable this technology to be operational in highly contested environments. More importantly, the speaker stressed that ATAK was not designed for the CSAR/PR mission, but with inputs from the PR community, this technology could provide enhanced survival capabilities for the IP.
Evasion Support and Sustainment Technologies. The need to ensure that the IP can survive and evade capture for a considerable period of time, perhaps weeks to months, was considered critical, especially in highly contested environments where immediate search and rescue might be unachievable. Technologies to address the challenges of resupply, power and energy, signature management, and even smart flight suits were presented and discussed. An AFRL participant presented a concept for a Human Signature Management system (part of a larger program titled “Battlefield Air Targeting Man-aided Knowledge Human Signature Management (BATMAN)”) that could possibly be incorporated in future flight suits, providing thermal signature suppression and a mechanism for the IP to achieve stealth-like properties. Another AFRL participant provided a presentation on smart flight suit technologies that are emerging and wearable/body attached sensors that could support communications, situational awareness, external and body status, and health sensors. Integration with advanced flight systems could enable monitoring of pilot status/physiology in flight as well. One participant commented that he had previously pushed for integrating the flight suit with wearable technology, but that the initiative failed when reviewed by the uniform boards in the Pentagon because they want the flight suit to serve as a uniform as well. One category of technology that resonated with workshop participants was unmanned vehicle resupply to the IP. The Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) program was one possible unmanned technology highlighted during the workshop. The LCAAT concept is a low-cost, long-range, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can be difficult to detect. LCAAT is proposed to fly fast and would have the ability to provide offensive air support to the IP and/or the capability to deploy precision-dropped supplies (food, water, survival gear). Another technology presented by the U.S. Army Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center was the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS). JPADS is designed primarily for resupply of ground troops using a GPS-guided parachute delivery system deployed from both
high- and low-altitude aircraft. Similarly, the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) was another type of UAV that might offer the potential to serve as an IP resupply and sustainment platform.
At least one of the SERE trainers noted that rechargeable power sources for survival-gear-related electronics are critical to the IP. An AFRL presenter identified a number of topics under investigation to address power demands over an extended period for the IP. As several workshop attendees noted, many of the power and energy-related technologies are not unique to CSAR or IP requirements and that leveraging developments from the commercial sector could be beneficial. Other potentially applicable technologies included a steerable parachute for ejections, the potential for low-weight but highly nutritious food rations, and advanced water filtration methods—even the potential to extract water from humidity in the air.
Recovery and Extraction Technologies. The use of an unmanned personnel recovery vehicle was discussed as a possible means to recover the IP without placing additional aircrews at excessive risk. This was considered to be within the range of technological feasibility, despite the lack of a current requirement that could support the development of such a capability. Although not designed to do so, the ARES concept discussed above may offer the potential for autonomous IP recovery. However, the workshop participants from AFRL emphasized this technology was still in the very early stages of research and development.
CRITICAL OPPORTUNITIES TO ADDRESS SURVIVAL OF THE IP IN A HIGHLY CONTESTED ENVIRONMENT
On the final day of the workshop, participants reviewed the previous days’ discussion and sought to summarize and identify key themes from the workshop that illuminate the future challenges for effectively executing the CSAR mission in a highly contested threat environment. Several participants noted that the highly sophisticated A2/AD and IADS threats posed by emerging near-peer competitors today and by lesser nations in the future will force the USAF to frequently operate in highly contested operational environments and be prepared to conduct the CSAR/PR mission under these circumstances. Personnel recovery in these environments, many participants noted, will be resource intensive, highly risky, and potentially impossible to conduct given available assets. As a result, many participants commented that the CSAR/PR mission will likely shift from a focus on recovery of the IP to supporting the IP in the environment. In their estimation, this will likely require a shift in focus to provisioning of survival equipment and SERE training to operate in highly contested environments and to the development of technology required to sustain and support the IP over significant periods of time. The key to understanding this emerging dynamic in the CSAR/PR mission is the need to adapt policy, training, equipment, and operations to the level of the threat environment.
Based on these discussions on the last day of the workshop, comments from several presenters, and the sentiments of a great many participants, the following key themes emerged as critical to the future success of the CSAR/PR mission:
- The importance of understanding the changing threat environment and its impact of the CSAR/PR mission.
- The diversity of organizations involved in and lack of a single organizing entity for the CSAR/PR mission and the fragmentation of requirements and lack of a singular demand signal.
- The evolving mission requirement to train, equip, and support the IP for long-term survivability versus a focus on rapid recovery and the critical role that secure communications and resupply will have on new mission needs.
DISCLAIMER: This Proceedings of a Workshop—In Brief has been prepared by Air Force Studies Board staff members Steven Darbes, John Montgomery, and George Coyle as a factual summary of what occurred at the meeting. The committee’s role was limited to planning the event. The statements made are those of the individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies. This Proceedings of a Workshop—In Brief was reviewed in draft form by Kevin T. Geiss, Air Force Research Laboratory, David M. Van Wie (NAE), Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and Jia Xu, RAND Corporation, to ensure that it meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the process. All images are staff generated.
PLANNING COMMITTEE: Douglas M. Fraser, Gen. USAF Ret., Workshop Chair and Chair of the Air Force Studies Board; Curtis Bedke, Maj. Gen. USAF Ret.; Robert Ferry Jr., Endo4Life, PLLC; Nancy Forbes, Zel Technologies; James L. Greer, Col. USAF Ret.; Stanley Kresge, Lt. Gen. USAF Ret.; David Van Wie, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
STAFF: Joan Fuller, Director, Air Force Studies Board; John Montgomery, Scholar; Steven Darbes, Research Associate; George Coyle, Senior Program Officer; Marguerite Schneider, Administrative Coordinator
SPONSORS: This workshop was supported by the Air Force Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology, and Engineering (AF/AQR) and Air Combat Command (ACC).
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Combat Search and Rescue in Highly Contested Environments: Proceedings of a Workshop – In Brief. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/25156.
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Copyright 2018 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.