Disclaimer: this should not be read as not wanting more Rogue One-type movies; we need more Star Wars films like this.
There’s a common phrase that you’re apt to hear in discussions on Army readiness: “No more Task Force Smiths.” For reference, Task Force Smith was a rapidly cobbled together unit of infantry and artillery that was shipped to Korea in the opening phase of the Korean War. Intended to show the North Koreans that America wasn’t messing around, TF Smith instead demonstrated that the U.S. Army had completely misread the resolve of the North Koreans. TF Smith was literally driven over, suffering over 50% losses against the enemy armor. It was a lesson in humility – one that the U.S. Army is still struggling with to this day: how could the Army that defeated Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan in 1945 struggle against a rag-tag bunch of communists five years later?
Simple: the Army had let preparedness slip and thought that the mere presence of U.S. Soldiers would cause the North Koreans to not attack; and the North Koreans were not a rag-tag force, but instead battle-hardened, well-equipped troops who were used to winning. It was a bloody lesson.
So what does this have to do with Star Wars?
The Rebel Alliance needs to learn the same lesson that the U.S. Army was handed in 1950, that good troops cannot overcome poor planning and even worse resourcing.
In short, no more Task Force Rogue Ones.
In Rogue One, we see a prime example of a basic U.S. Army tactical action: a raid. A raid is defined in ADRP 1-02 Operational Terms and Military Symbols as, “An operation to temporarily seize an area in order to secure information, confuse an adversary, capture personnel or equipment, or to destroy a capability culminating with a planned withdrawal.” The mission is simple: conduct a tactical raid on the Imperial base of Scarif to deceive the enemy as to the real point of attack. In this case, the main offensive action is a special operations penetration into the Imperial record holdings on Scarif to seize and extract the data files of the Death Star.
The raid is set off balance at the outset by the Rebel Alliance’s determination not to support operations against Scarif because they cannot verify intelligence reports that the Death Star plans are located on Scarif and that they might hold a secret to the battle station’s weakness. This leaves the raiding party without conventional support, such as tactical lift and close air support. However, the commander of a special operations detachment, Captain Cassian Andor, volunteers his detachment to Jyn Erso for the mission. This force is composed of light infantry and numbers approximately 20-30 troopers. Armed with mainly light weaponry, they are capable of swift movement, infiltration, and demolitions. However, with no crew-served weapons and very few anti-armor guided munitions, they are not equipped for sustained conventional battle. Cassian directs his men to take anything “that isn’t tied down” to augment their meager supplies. Critical to their operation are demolitions charges, which they are able to acquire.
Jyn and Cassian commandeer a captured Imperial shuttle and initiate movement to the line of departure. While in transit, Jyn and Cassian develop their tentative plan: the two of them accompanied by a strategic analysis droid named K-2SO will infiltrate the records facility and attempt to steal the plans to send to the Rebel Alliance. Taking a droid that essentially fulfils staff officer functions might seem strange, but they went to war with the droid they had, not the droid they wanted. The special operations detachment will fan out in small teams around Scarif and set demolitions charges at multiple sites to confuse the enemy as to the whereabouts of the real attack. However, the leaders of the raid fail to plan any further past this point.
Jyn gives the force a quick mission brief that lays out the course of action as, essentially, they will attack until they meet the next obstacle, and then adapt and overcome it. This is the next failing of the task force – they fail to complete a comprehensive mission brief that includes an objective rally point, actions on contact, evacuation of casualties, priority of reports, accountability of personnel, a map reconnaissance, rehearsals, actions on the objective, and task organization of the detachment into assault, support, and security elements. This failure to plan places the task force – Task Force Rogue One – at a severe disadvantage as they are heavily outnumbered against a combined arms garrison force.
Once the shuttle lands on Scarif at the de facto objective rally point (ORP), the infiltration team seizes Imperial officer uniforms and enter the data archives center using deception. The special operations teams exfiltrate the shuttle, leaving a small security detachment for the ORP and shuttle. No leader’s reconnaissance is conducted and there are no fallback positions identified for the teams. As each team fans out to their objectives, movement is tactical and each team is prepared for enemy contact. The teams keep local security and communications with the infiltration team. Once at each objective, the teams isolate the sites by infiltration and deception, neutralizing enemy guards at each site without alerting the entire garrison. Demolitions charges are placed at installations all around the Imperial facility, awaiting the order to detonate. However, although each team falls back to a covered position, they do not establish support by fire positions or identify exfiltration routes back by to the ORP.
Once inside the archives facility, Cassian gives the order to detonate the charges, making the raid kinetic. Rather than detonate the charges and fall back, each team remains in place to engage the garrison troops in order to make the raid seem larger than it is. However, due to their lack of casualty producing weapons and an exfiltration plan, it turns into a suicide mission. Imperial Stormtroopers mass their firepower on the special operations teams, pinning each one in place. Rebel firepower is diminished further when Rebel troops tend to their wounded rather than provide accurate cover fire. Having gained local fire superiority, the Imperials deploy heavy armor onto the Rebel flanks, cutting off lines of escape into the more covered jungle areas. The Rebel light fighters are quickly broken up into smaller, more vulnerable groups that attempt to head away from the armor, which gives the AT-ACT gunners direct fire capabilities against them. The Imperial armor herds the Rebels towards the beaches on the islands that make up Scarif’s topography. In the open, on poor footing, the Rebels are easy targets for the armor and following Stormtroopers.
Disaster is momentarily avoided by close air support that comes from the few Rebel fighters that manage to enter the planet’s shield defense system before it is closed. The Rebel spacecraft quickly destroy the Imperial armor and Rebel transports land additional reinforcements. However, with no overall command and control of the operation, the task force is again overwhelmed, segmented, and destroyed in detail by Imperial Storm and Death Troopers. Indeed, with no overall command and control of the various forces, the raid was doomed to total failure from the outset. Luckily, the infiltration force manages to obtain the data and transmit it to the Rebel fleet, just before the Imperial base on Scarif is destroyed by the Death Star.
Operationally, the raid is a success since the end state was achieved, i.e., acquiring the Death Star plans. However, the Rebels sacrificed the entire task force – and a significant portion of their fleet – in exchange for a small shot at obtaining the Death Star plans. Tactically, the raid was a failure. Had the task force adhered to the U.S. Army’s doctrinal outlines for conducting a raid, they would have been able to at least harbor some of their badly-needed forces for the future. As it was, Task Force Rogue One met only five out of the ten performance measures that the U.S. Army uses to evaluate a successful raid.
Rebel Intelligence bears no small part of the blame for the destruction of Task Force Rogue One for failing to properly vet their sources. Had Jyn been an accepted member of the intelligence community, Mon Mothma would have been able to rally the Rebel Alliance around the mission and give it the support that it needed. Hung out to dry, Task Force Rogue One stands as an example of the limits of operating by group consensus as a military organization and a warning against poor planning measures.
No more Task Force Rogue Ones.
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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.