Tactical and Technical

The Emergence of Combined Technologies: Establishment of a Combat Tracking Unit

By David Berrill October 2, 2020

A person skilled in tracking can consider himself as having reached the pinnacle of bushcraft.

LTCOL Ron Reid-Daly



The ability to identify and follow a target is an element of warfare, providing an advantage through the use of stealth, cunning, surprise and superior knowledge of field-craft to gain the initiative over an enemy. The military tracker must have many specialist skills and attitudes to close with and destroy a target who is consciously trying to avoid being followed.

Tracking is a base-level, pre-history skill that originates from hunter-gatherer societies [1]. It plays a special and important part in maintaining contact with the enemy, in locating their camps and hides, and following up after a contact or an incident.

Combat tracking combines the ability of observation and the interpretation of ‘sign’ and the combat skill-sets already possessed by a trained soldier[2]. The tactical employment of trackers is not new. Trackers and tracking teams have been employed in Sarawak, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Borneo, Vietnam and the Bush Wars.  

This article effectively examines the establishment of a combat tracking unit. It will discuss the following topics:

  • Tracking operations conducted by the Australian Army
  • The current tracking capability within the Australian Army
  • Proposed manning of a tracking unit
  • The chain of command of a tracking unit
  • The reinforcement training continuum.
Tracking operations conducted by the Australian Army

Post Operational Reports (POR) from numerous deployments, including Vietnam[3], Somalia[4] and Timor[5], have indicated a requirement for personnel to be formally trained in Visual Tracking.

  • The POR for combat operations from Vietnam highlighted that the majority of Commanding Officers recommended that the Anti-Armour Platoon should be cross-trained for a secondary role of tracking/reconnaissance. A minority view was that a surveillance platoon be raised, with tracking and reconnaissance tasks as part of its role. It emphasised the necessity of tracking skills for all infantry riflemen with particular prominence on observation and reading of signs, (including sound and smell) by day and night.
  • The 1 RAR POR for peacekeeping operations conducted as part of OP SOLACE in Somalia indicated a need for formal tracking training for at least two members of each rifle section and reconnaissance patrol and the requirement for all snipers to be tracking qualified. The POR also suggested the reintroduction and use of tracker dogs.
  • The 3 Bde POR for OP WARDEN in East Timor indicated that 3 Bde had very few integral reconnaissance assets / sensors. This included few units dedicated to reconnaissance / surveillance, TI, UAV or GSR.

As these PORs indicate, the employment of a dedicated tracking element would have enhanced combat operations, while providing commanders with real-time, or near real-time, terrain and enemy intelligence.

Current tracking capability within the Australian Army

Currently within the Australian Army there is a limited dedicated combat tracking capability. The Combat Training Centre conducts two Visual Tracking courses annually, which qualifies 40 personnel in accordance with the respective Learning Management Package. However, there is little to no continuation training conducted for qualified personnel upon returning to their respective units.   

Proposed manning

Based on recommendations raised from the Vietnam POR and existing doctrine [6], it is proposed that an initial FE based on platoon size is ideal for raising a tracking capability. At small team level, a platoon-sized element will include four six-man tracking teams and a headquarters element of four personnel. The platoon breakdown is as follows.

  • Platoon Headquarters to include the following personnel:

   1. Platoon Commander, with worn rank of Lieutenant

   2. Platoon Sergeant, with worn rank of Sergeant

   3. Platoon Signaller, with worn rank of Private

   4. Platoon First Aider, with worn rank of Private.

  • Tracking Teams to include the following personnel:

   1. Team Commander, with worn rank of Corporal

   2. Team Signaller, with worn rank of Private

   3. Two Visual Trackers, with worn rank of Private

   4. Protection Element, with worn rank of one Private and one Lance Corporal.

It must be noted that the Visual Tracker’s roles and responsibilities are duplicated within the Protection Element. This allows for redundancy within the tracking team, as well as rotation when personnel become fatigued. The proposed FE manning would be targeted, initially, at Platoon level IAW the proposed hierarchical chain of command.

Proposed chain of command

As previously discussed, the foundation of the Tracking Team is centred on six highly trained and skilled soldiers. The Tracking Team comprises the following personnel:

•             Team Commander, with worn rank of Corporal

•             Team Signaller, with worn rank of Private

•             Visual Tracker x two, with worn rank of Private

•             Protection Element x two

•           with worn rank of one Private and one Lance Corporal.

The Tracking Platoon fields a headquarter element of four personnel and four Tracking Teams. This gives the Platoon Commander the ability to manoeuvre the tracking teams IOT meet the higher commanders’ intent. It is proposed that the Tracking Platoon would be an organic entity of a Brigade HQ Company.

A diagrammatic representation of the Tracking Platoon Command Structure is below.


Figure 1: Tracking Platoon Command Structure


Reinforcement training continuum

For a tracking team to operate effectively, they need to be inserted and extracted by sea, air or land. Once on task they need to be able to track and observe, report on observations and, if need be fight. To operate as a small team on protracted operations places enormous stress on the mind and body; therefore, a selection process may need to be implemented to select suitable personnel.

A selection process may be undertaken to ascertain the physical and physiological suitability of personnel to undertake protracted tracking operations. A 10 day Selection Course would be conducted with an emphasis on timed physical activities, graded individual navigation and arduous physical team activities replicating operational conditions.

Upon successful completion of the Selection Course, personnel would then attend the Visual Tracking Course (VTC) conducted over 19 days. This course forms the basis of unit capability. The Basic Reconnaissance Course, conducted over 30 days, would then follow, which would enhance the patrol skills learnt during the VTC.

Upon completion of the Basic Reconnaissance Course, personnel will attend the Patrol Skills Phase. This will consist of specialist courses, whereby personnel will attend in order to be deemed competent to fulfil specialist positions within a tracking team. These courses will enable the tracking team to communicate and medicate. Further detail of these patrol skills is detailed below:

  • Communicate - through attendance on the BGC3 Mounted Courses. This course is conducted over three days. 
  • Medicate - through the attendance on the Combat First Aid Course. This course is conducted over 15 days.

Completion of the Patrol Skills Phase will see personnel progress onto the Patrol Insertion Course Phase. Completion of this phase will enable personnel, as part of a tracking team, to insert and extract into an operational area by either air or land. An overview of these insertion/extraction skills is detailed below:

  • Air - to include completion of the Military Static Line Course. This course is conducted over 15 days.
  • Land - to include completion of the Protected Mobility Vehicle – Light All Corps Driver. This course is conducted over 20 days.

The proposed Reinforcement Training Continuum is conducted over 94 training days. This timeframe is calculated on personnel conducting training in accordance with respective learning management packages.

This training period will be further reduced as personnel attempting entry to this unit will hold proficiency in accordance with the above-listed training continuum. A diagrammatic representation of the proposed Reinforcement Training Continuum is in Fig 2. A diagrammatic representation of the proposed Reinforcement Training Calendar is in Fig 3.


Figure 2: Diagrammatic representation of proposed reinforcement training continuum


Figure 3:Representational reinforcement training calendar



It is proposed that a Tracking Team, in pursuit of a target, can call upon the latest military technology to aid them. The tracking team can employ the acute senses of both human and canine, supported by the optical and spectral capabilities of Unmanned Aerial Systems and space-based sensors to assist them in the conduct of area or pinpoint search.

A competent tracker must have many specialist skills and attitudes to close with and destroy a target who is consciously trying to avoid being followed. With the establishment of a dedicated tracking unit, utilising centuries-proven human skills coupled with current and emerging technologies, will enable military tracking to remain an essential combat multiplier into the future.


End Notes

1  Australian Infantry Magazine, The Art of Tracking, Oct 16

2  ibid

3  TIB 69 Infantry Battalion Lessons from Vietnam 1965 - 71, 06 Jun 88

4  Lessons Learnt OP SOLACE, 12 Apr 94

5  3 Brigade Post Operation Report (POR) OP WARDEN 20 Sep 99 - 15 Feb 00

6  LWP-CA (DMTD CBT) 3-3-3 Tracking, 28 Feb 11



David Berrill

David Berrill is an Infantry soldier with over 20 years experience. He is currently the Wing Sergeant Major Combat Command Wing.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


...but needs work. Ignores the long history of tracking across the ditch in the NZ Army. Doesn't mention SOF tracking capabilities which might be available to commanders Where would the tracking platoon sit in the orbat? Probably couldn't be justifiied at Bn level so Bde/TG or higher...? How would it be deployed: just as a team or a minimum capability of teams...? In addition to the visual tracking courses, the NZ Army also delivered tracking fam modules that gave soldiers basic skills, an understanding of how trackers work, and helped commanders plan how to employ trackers (strengths and weaknesses). One of the unintended consequences of these fam modules was a greater soldier awareness of micro detail around them, especially from what would now be considered a forensic perspective, and skills that translated beyond the strictly infantry environment e.g. tracking theft from operational warehouses, and out into post-military careers. The proposal for a tracking platoon is only part of the solution. There needs to be refresher training for current visual trackers e.g. an annual 'concentration'; tracking needs to be incorporated, as with other capabilities, into command and tactical training; and IMHO tracking fams should be run in/for units (not just combat arms). There should probably also be an element of greater working with other agencies to broaden awareness and understanding of the tracking capability.

Anything more than the current setup is better. I suggest look towards the Selous metheod

I fully support the this idea, and would go a step further - combine it with tracking dogs. Dogs are far superior trackers than man; combing a visual tracker with a MWD would be a powerful combination. Having someone able to pick up the start of track and put the dog onto it would be invaluable. Dogs provide capabilities few commonly understand - one example is a dog following a track can pick up air scent of nearby enemies who may have conducted a fish hook manouvre, therefore helping to avoid an ambush of a visual tracking team.

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