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  • Writer's pictureRonin

Combat SAR vs TRAP

I am going to pre-qualify this article by saying that this information is based on my recollection of the subject matter and that I have been out of the active duty Marine Corps for over 20 years. Times have changed and perhaps some of the methodology has as well.

First off: CSAR = Combat Search and Rescue TRAP = Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel

What occurs when a pilot goes down behind enemy lines or in a hostile region?

Pilots are put through several different types of training to increase their survival odds should such an occurrence happen. Training like the SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) is designed to help them survive post crash or grounding of an aircraft, avoid being an easy capture, and give them tools to stay out of the reach of the enemy force looking for them.

How do we get them home?

What about sensitive information and equipment aboard the downed aircraft?

We’ve all heard about the infamous USAF Pararescuemen or “PJ’s”, the tactically elite SAR specialists of the military. Primarily these high-speed, low-drag (HSLD in “mil-speak”) guys are a major component in the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). Essentially they are search and rescue personnel with combat or tactical training. Primary mission is to locate, treat and extract assets that have come into dire circumstances. For the most part, that means downed aviators.


“The history of CSAR demonstrates the need for detailed planning and Dedicated efforts for combat rescues during war. The Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is very capable force that conducts tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel. Too often, commanders confuse CSAR with TRAP and task the MEU to conduct CSAR missions. The U.S. Marine Corps’ position on CSAR is that it does not conduct the search in CSAR. However, the limiting factor is the U. S. Marine Corps inadequate capability to conduct recovery. Joint doctrine is vague on assigning CSAR responsibilities contributes to the confusion between CSAR and TRAP. Other service component’s force structure for combat rescue, particularly during OOTW, adds to the JFC’s tasking dilemma. USSOCOM, with its specially equipped aircraft, is the force normally tasked with theater CSAR even though it detracts from their primary mission.” 1

The Marine Corps, in its insistence on being self contained and self reliant for most of it’s needs, has it’s own capabilities. The Marines have always been the United State’s “9-1-1 Force” and it’s Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) are strategically stationed aboard US Navy warships and bases around the world. Essentially, these units are an expeditionary quick-reaction force, used for anything from humanitarian aid to combat missions. An MEU will consist of Marine units from the Aviation (fixed and rotary aircraft) units, Ground (Light Armor, Infantry, Artillery, Heavy Armor) units and Logistics units for a troop strength of approx. 2300 Marines and commanded by a Colonel. In order for a MEU to become “Special Operations Capable” (MEUSOC), they must be proficient in several mission packages. These include:

  1. 1 Amphibious Raids

  2. 2 Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations

  3. 3 Security Operations

  4. 4 Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP)

  5. 5 Direct Action

  6. 6 Humanitarian/Civic Assistance

The training package can take upwards of 18 months to complete prior to deployment.

Therefore, “the primary objective of the MEU(SOC)…is to provide the theater Commander In Chief’s (CINC’s) with an effective means of dealing with the uncertainties of future threats, providing a forward deployed unit that is inherently balanced, sustainable, flexible, responsive, expandable and credible.”

The US Marine Corps has three MEU’s which deploy from the West Coast (MCB Camp Pendleton), three from the East Coast (MCB Camp Lejeune, NC) and one based in Okinawa, Japan (MCB Camp Smedley D Butler)

Although ParaRescue missions are part of a larger, planned rescue operation (CSAR), TRAP missions are spur of the moment and due to the strategic location of a MEU as part of a Battle group, probably more highly reported. They are typically teams of 20-30 Marines and utilize rotary aircraft for the mission.

Two such missions that pop into mind are the rescue of US Air Force Major Kenneth Harney and Capt. Tyler Stark who ejected out of their F-15E over Lybia in March of 2011.

The other one that made headlines was USAF fighter pilot Scott O’Grady who’s F-16 was shot down over Bosnia in June of 1995 and provided the film “Behind Enemy Lines” with its plot.

If there are any readers out there who have current knowledge of USMC TRAP missions and USAF PJ CSAR missions and wish to add to this, please do not hesitate to contact us through the Rescue Report.

1“The JFC’s Dilemma: The USMC TRAP mission verses the Combat SAR mission” by Major Matthew D. Redfern, United States Marine Corps

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