The Army Ranger Handbook: Updated

“You can lie all you please when you tell other folks about the Rangers,” advised Major Robert Rogers in 1759, “but don’t never lie to a Ranger or officer.”

That guidance is recalled in a newly updated Ranger Handbook published by the U.S. Army last week.

The Handbook is a compilation of doctrine, tactics, history and lore associated with the Army’s elite Ranger special operations force.

One learns, for example, that “Proficiency with knots and rope is vitally important for Rangers, especially in mountaineering situations. Familiarity with the terminology associated with knots and rope is critical.” Various knots are helpfully explained and illustrated, though the descriptions alone will hardly make the reader proficient.

The Army Ranger Regiment “is a lethal, agile and flexible force, capable of conducting many complex, joint special operations missions. . . . Their capabilities include conducting airborne and air assault operations, seizing key terrain such as airfields, destroying strategic facilities, and capturing or killing enemies of the nation.”

Two Army Rangers were killed in action in Afghanistan on April 27, the Department of Defense announced today.

White House: Prepare for the Unpredictable

“The Nation must prepare to mitigate an unpredictable global security and national emergency environment,” the White House said in a report to Congress this month.

The report, transmitted by President Trump on April 3, provided principles for reform of the selective service process by which young Americans enter the military. The report was required by section 555 of the 2017 defense authorization act.

“The Nation must be ever mindful of the unpredictable global security environment that requires an effective and efficient means to provide manpower to the national security community, including military and non-military support in a national emergency,” the President’s report said.

How to prepare in practice for the unpredictable is not clear, except that it involves flexibility.

“Any system, process, or program used to identify, recruit, and employ additional skill sets should be effective in times of peace, war, and other levels of conflict or emergency response. Associated initiatives, systems, and processes must be seamless, robust, and able to expand and contract as needed,” the report said.

Congress established a new National Commission to consider changes to the selective service system, and to develop “the means by which to foster a greater attitude, ethos, and propensity for military services among United States youth.”

Legality of US Airstrike in Syria, & More from CRS

Public debate over the legal authority for the April 6 U.S. missile strike on a Syrian airbase is reviewed in a new brief from the Congressional Research Service, which stops short of proposing a conclusion of its own.

“It remains to be seen whether the Trump Administration will release a statement explaining its legal basis for the missile strike under international law, but even if such a statement is forthcoming, it seems unlikely that it would put an end to this debate,” the CRS brief said. See U.S. Strike on Syrian Airbase: Legal under International Law?, CRS Legal Sidebar, April 17, 2017.

Other new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The Marshall Plan: 70th Anniversary, CRS Insight, April 18, 2017

U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement: Prospects and Issues for Congress, April 14, 2017

France’s 2017 Presidential Election: In Brief, April 13, 2017

Border-Adjusted Consumption Taxes and Exchange Rate Movements: Theory and Evidence, April 18, 2017

The Revenue Baseline for Tax Reform, CRS Insight, April 14, 2017

Congressional News Media and the House and Senate Press Galleries, April 13, 2017

NASS and U.S. Crop Production Forecasts: Methods and Issues, April 13, 2017

Dressed to the Nines: What’s Next for the Nine-Justice Supreme Court, CRS Legal Sidebar, April 10, 2017

Westinghouse Bankruptcy Filing Could Put New U.S. Nuclear Projects at Risk, CRS Insight, April 19, 2017

Army Explores Counter-Drone Techniques

Having developed and utilized unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) for surveillance, targeting and attack, the US military now finds itself in the position of having to defend against the same technology.

The US Army last week issued a new manual on Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Techniques (ATP 3-01.81, April 13, 2017).

“UASs have advanced technologically and proliferated exponentially over the past decade,” the manual notes. “As technology has progressed, both reconnaissance and attack capabilities have matured to the point where UASs represent a significant threat to Army, joint, and multinational partner operations from both state and non-state actors.”

The unclassified Army document describes the nature of the threat and then considers the options that are available for dealing with it. These range from various forms of attack avoidance (“Operate at night or during limited visibility”) to active defense, such as surface-to-air weapons.

“Defending against UAS is a difficult task and no single solution exists to defeat all categories of the… threat,” the manual says.

Last week, the Islamic State released video footage of one of its drones dropping a bomb on an Iraqi target, Newsweek reported.

USAF Updates Policy on Conscientious Objectors

There may be some US Air Force personnel who are dismayed by the rising number of civilian casualties caused by US air strikes in Syria and Iraq. Others may consider the dropping of a 22,000 pound bomb in Afghanistan yesterday — announced by press release — to be mindless or vulgar.

But of course such critical sentiments, if they exist, would not be sufficient to qualify those who hold them as conscientious objectors (COs). That requires categorical opposition to any and all military action.

“The Air Force does not consider members who believe they can choose the war in which they will participate as COs under the law. The objection must be to all wars rather than to a specific war,” according to an Air Force policy that was updated last week.

On the other hand, a sense of internal conflict is not necessarily inconsistent with conscientious objector status.

Likewise, “A belief in a theocratic or spiritual war between the powers of good and evil does not constitute a [disqualifying] willingness to participate in war within the meaning of this instruction,” the new Air Force policy said. See Procedures for Applying as a Conscientious Objector, Air Force Instruction 36-3204, April 6, 2017.

It could not immediately be learned how many, if any, members of the US Air Force currently have conscientious objector status.

In the absence of a compulsory draft, it is unclear why anyone who is opposed to all wars would enlist in the Air Force in the first place. But the new policy allows for the possibility of conscientious objector beliefs that “crystallized after receipt of an induction notice.”

US Military Advantage in Cyberspace is Challenged

The superiority of the US military in cyberspace, which once could be taken for granted, is gradually eroding, says an Army Field Manual published this week.

In the past decade, “U.S. forces dominated cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) in Afghanistan and Iraq against enemies and adversaries lacking the technical capabilities to challenge our superiority in cyberspace.”

“However, regional peers have since demonstrated impressive capabilities in a hybrid operational environment that threaten the Army’s dominance in cyberspace and the EMS,” according to the new Field Manual.

“Rapid developments in cyberspace and the EMS will challenge any assumptions of the Army’s advantage in this domain. While it cannot defend against every kind of intrusion, the Army must take steps to identify, prioritize, and defend its most important networks and data.”

The underlying principles of US Army operations in cyberspace were described in the new Field Manual 3-12, Cyberspace and Electronic Warfare Operations, 11 April 2017 (unclassified, 108 pages).

USAF Adopts More Expansive Disclosure Policy

The US Air Force should practice an information policy of “maximum disclosure, minimum delay,” says a newly revised Air Force directive. See Air Force Instruction 35-107, Public Web and Social Communication, 15 March 2017.

“The free flow of information between the government and the public is essential to a democratic society. It is also essential that the government minimize the federal paperwork burden on the public, minimize the cost of its information activities and maximize the usefulness of government information,” the Instruction said.

Information that is classified, inaccurate, or obscene is not to be posted. But Air Force websites should maintain online reading rooms for information “that has been requested via FOIA or could be requested via FOIA [emphasis added].”

Furthermore, “the Air Force views personal Web sites and weblogs positively, and it respects the right of Airmen to use them as a medium of self-expression.”

By itself, the new policy does not mean that the Air Force is now practicing maximum disclosure or that it will necessarily do so in the future. The policy is not self-enforcing.

Still, it represents an official statement of Air Force values, and it therefore provides a point of leverage that can be used by anyone, in the service or among the public, who would seek to uphold those values in practice.

The new version of the Instruction contrasts with the previous version of AFI 35-107 that was released in 2009 and that took a notably less upbeat and more restrictive approach to public disclosure of Air Force information.

Survival and Resistance Under Extreme Conditions

Sometimes eating bugs may be the right thing to do.

“When food is limited and insects are available, they can become a valuable food source.”

That bit of practical wisdom comes from a new US Air Force Handbook on Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) Operations that was published this week.

However, “Caterpillars with hairs should be avoided. If eaten, the hairs may become lodged in the throat causing irritation or infection.”

More promisingly, “The praying mantis. . . contains 58 percent protein, 12 percent fat, three percent ash, vitamin B complex, and vitamin A. The insect’s outer skeleton is an interesting compound of sugar and amino acids.”

The Air Force Handbook addresses the needs of an Air Force individual who has been captured or otherwise isolated by accident or operational mishap. Whatever his or her mission may have been before, the new mission immediately becomes to “return to friendly control without giving aid or comfort to the enemy, to return early and in good physical and mental condition.”

The 652-page Handbook provides detailed guidance on how, with good fortune, that might be accomplished.

The military SERE program became somewhat notorious in recent years because early post-9/11 CIA interrogation techniques such as water-boarding were derived in part from SERE training. The new Air Force SERE Handbook makes only passing reference to torture and interrogation and does not mention water-boarding.

US Army: Hand and Arm Signals

Under ordinary circumstances, the U.S. Army relies on high-speed digital communications. But sometimes that is not an option, and soldiers must revert to more primitive methods.

“When electrical and/or digital means of communication are inadequate, or not available,” a new Army publication explains, messages may be transmitted “through the use of hand-and-arm signals, flags, pyrotechnics, and other visual aids.” Many of those alternate communication methods are described in Visual Signals, U.S. Army Training Circular TC 3-21.60, March 2017.

So, for example, “To signal ‘chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack,’ extend the arms and fists. Bend the arms to the shoulders. Repeat. (See figure 1-16.)”


Of course, hand and arm signals have limitations. For one thing, they may be misunderstood.

“Visual signals are generally contextual in nature. For example, the hand-and-arm signal for ‘take cover’ and ‘slow down’ are similar in their perspective movements, however the situation in which each is given is completely different.”

Also, “The range and reliability of visual communications are significantly reduced during periods of poor visibility and when terrain restricts observation.”

Finally, visual or gestural communications “are vulnerable to enemy interception and may be used for deception purposes,” the new Army publication said.

“Competing Observables” Complicate Deception

Deception plays an important role in many military operations. But is hard to deceive an opponent (or anyone else) when evidence of that deception is visible in plain sight.

A new military term — “competing observable” — has been introduced to capture this problem.

In the context of military deception, an ordinary “observable” is defined as “an indicator within an adversary’s conduit [or information pathway] intended to cause action or inaction by the deception target.”

But a “competing observable” is “any observable that contradicts the deception story, casts doubt on, or diminishes the impact of one or more required or supporting observables.”

The term “competing observable” was incorporated in the latest edition of the official DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms this month. The Dictionary, a copy of which appeared in our conduit, provides standard definitions for thousands of words and phrases that constitute the lexicon of U.S. military thought.

Each new update removes some terms, and adds or modifies others in an ongoing adaptation to current military doctrine.

The latest edition, for example, eliminates “berm” (“The nearly horizontal portion of a beach or backshore…”) and “honey pot” (“A trap set to detect, deflect, or in some manner counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems…”). These and several other such terms were removed from the Dictionary this month since they are “not used.”

The term “ruse” was slightly modified and is now defined as “an action designed to deceive the adversary, usually involving the deliberate exposure of false information to the adversary’s intelligence collection system.”