United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

DoD News

Bookmark and Share

 News Article

Personnel-Recovery System Needs Transformation

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 14, 2004 – Personnel-recovery specialists set an unprecedented record of accounting for every serviceman and woman at the end of major combat operations in the spring of 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

That's what Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz told conferees at the recent Defense Department's annual Worldwide Personnel Recovery Conference here.

But Schwartz, the Joint Staff director for operations, also said transformation of personnel recovery is essential. "It can't be a gradual evolution, it must be dynamic," Schwartz emphasized. "Personnel recovery needs to transform because warfare, as we know it is transforming. Fourth generation netcentric warfare, framed by globalization, transnational groups, and mobile, decentralized operations with no definitive front, place new and greater challenges on our military commanders."

He said the new catch phrases in the global war on terrorism are "time- critical" and "time-sensitive targeting."

"We envision combat with high-tech weapons guided by men on horseback and deep raids by fast-moving forces to seize the key objectives," the general said.

It's probably a little-known fact that DoD deployed the largest dedicated personnel-recovery force since the Vietnam War in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The force's architecture consisted of a Joint Search and Rescue Center with 27 command-and-control nodes.

"This recovery mechanism is credited with 55 personnel recovery missions, saving 78 personnel and rescuing eight prisoners of war," said Schwartz, a command pilot with more than 4,200 flight hours. "This was the first liberation since World War II."

For many people, the word "rescue" conjures up the image of a helicopter hoisting a fighter pilot from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the three-star general said. "While that era is largely gone, the personnel-recovery community has yet to mature beyond that heroic legacy," he added. "There are some who still ask whether we need to transform personnel recovery or just improve it."

And that's where transformation comes in. Schwartz pointed out that today, adversaries are decentralized, autonomous and capable of conducting independent operations and "swarming" on targets of opportunity. "They benefit from the broad availability of key technologies including cheap, readily available standoff munitions, information warfare skills, and emerging technologies," Schwartz said.

He added that these capabilities allows the enemy to detect isolated personnel and rescue forces at greater distances, in all environmental conditions, which will complicate future personnel-recovery operations.

"We can't underestimate the adaptability of these terrorist organizations and mobs of inhabitants conducting irregular warfare, as was the case in Mogadishu (Somalia)," Schwartz said. He was referring to attacks on U.S. forces in that city in 1993.

"It was and remains inevitable that our enemies would recognize the value of targeting our personnel for capture and exploitation instead of killing them," Schwartz noted.

"No longer does personnel recovery just mean combat search and rescue. It's the overarching umbrella that encompasses non-assisted recovery combat search and rescue, medical evacuation, casualty evacuation and noncombatant evacuation operations," Schwartz said.

Transforming personnel recovery will result in everyone doing a better job coordinating requirements across theaters and services, modernizing the forces, and standardizing joint operations, the general noted.

"It's time to move beyond personnel recovery as an additional duty on Joint Task Force staffs, to man Joint Search and Rescue Centers properly, and ensure individual augmentees are trained and, if necessary, certified for their assignments," Schwartz said.

"One key aspect of transformation is to craft a common vision and common goals to unify the personnel recovery community," he noted.

The Quadrennial Defense Review & Draft Transformation Planning Guide states that "strengthening the joint force" is one of the pillars of transformation, but current policy and doctrine state that personnel recovery is a service mission, the general said.

Operational requirements and the demands upon the armed forces makes it apparent that no one service can satisfy all its own personnel-recovery requirements, let alone those of a joint task force, he said.

"Dedicated personnel-recovery forces are stretched supporting ongoing combat operations," Schwartz noted. "We can't afford to respond to requirements inefficiently. "

The military relies heavily on special operations forces to handle personnel- recovery requirements, the general said. "But with the war on terrorism, those forces are in ever higher demand for their primary combat tasks," Schwartz said. "Historically our acquisition process has also been service-driven, with the emphasis determined more by the fiscal environment rather than combatant commander requirements."

Schwartz said to develop a roadmap for transformation, DoD needs to start with "a common vision to establish priorities and objectives, and to guide the personnel-recovery community as a whole."

The personnel-recovery community is composed of a variety of forces. Some are dedicated to the personnel recovery mission and some participate by direction, the general said.

"How can we build consensus and better guide this community?" Schwartz asked. "Perhaps, the challenge is not to build one community, but instead a closer community with a noticeable degree of consensus and can move toward a common national standard."

Contact Author

Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, USAF

Additional Links

Stay Connected