An Old Way Of Doing Business: The Organization Of Heavy Division
Direct Support Artillery Battalions
SUBJECT AREA - Artillery
Title: An Old Way of Doing Business: The Organization of Heavy Division Direct Support
Author: Major David S. Henderson, United States Army
Thesis: The current organization for direct support battalions of heavy divisions prevents the unit
from acheiving its full potential as a fighting force. A change in organization which meshes the
fire power of the current unit and the battery structure of the old organization will produce a more
capable, better trained unit.
Background: Based on analysis of the Soviet military threat, including its counterbattery
capabilities, and the confined terrain of central Europe, the Army decided in the late 1970s to
adapt a new structure for the direct support artillery battalions in heavy divisions. This structure
increased the fire power of the artillery battalion by 6 guns yet retained the original battalion
organization of three firing batteries. This increase in fire power within an existing force structure
was accomplished by adding 2 howitzers to each of the existing batteries (from 6 guns to 8) and
deploying these batteries in 2, 4-gun platoons. This new unit was called the 3X8 battalion. This
structure has proven over time to cause problems in the areas of training, employment, and
deployment of the battery and the battalion. A change in organization, though not a cure for
every problem in the unit, to a hybrid one combining the benefits of the previous battery structure
and the up-gunned capability of the new, yields a more effective organization better capable of
meeting the manuever commander's needs. This organization is called the 4X6 battalion (4
batteries of 6 guns each). This organization offers real solutions to the training, employment, and
deployment of the current 3X8 structure.
Recommendation: The United States Army adapt the 4X6 organization as the structure for the
direct support artillery battalions in heavy divisions as the Marine Corps has done.
Thesis: The current organization for direct support battalions of heavy divisions prevents the
unit from acheiving its full potential as a fighting force. A change in organization which meshes
the fire power of the current unit and the battery structure of the old organization will produce a
more capable, better trained unit.
I. Evolution of the 3X8 battalion.
A. Soviet Threat
B. Central german terrain.
II. Problems with the 3X8 organization at the battery level.
C. Battery defense
D. Battery communication
E. Fire direction
III. Problems with the 3X8 organization at the battalion level.
A. Tactical fire direction
B. Tactical employment
IV. Benefits of the 4X6 organization at the battery level.
C. Battery defense
D. Battery communication
E. Fire direction
V. Benefits of the 4X6 organization at the battalion level.
B. Tactical fire direction
C. Tactical employment
An Old Way of Doing Business:
The Organization of Heavy Division Direct Support Artillery Battalions.
In the mid-1980s, the U.S. Army increased the number of howitzers in heavy division direct
support (DS) field artillery battalions from 18 to 24. Existing battalion structures absorbed this
increase in howitzers by adding 2 more howitzers to each of its 3 firing batteries. These units
became batteries of 8 rather than 6 guns. The Army Training and Doctrine Command
(TRADOC) made the necessary Table of Organization and Equipment (TOE), command,
control, and doctrinal changes to accommodate this up-gunning of the battalion. Touted to be the
best artillery organization for the direct support mission, the new organization became called the
three by eight (3X8) battalion. Years of trying to employ this unit proved, however, that the
3X8 organization suffered from structural faults that prevented it from being as effective a unit as
originally hoped for. A different structure combining the best qualities of the previous battalion
structure and those of the 3X8 organization is needed to produce a unit better capable to meet the
needs of the maneuver commander.
The structural flaws of the 3X8 battalion cause problems in training and employment that
affect the battalion's ability to support the maneuver commander. Since supporting the maneuver
commander is the DS artillery battalion's mission, anything that detracts from the artillery unit's
ability to accomplish it requires immediate correction.
Analysis of Soviet force size, their counterbattery capabilities, and the restricted terrain of
Germany drove the U.S. Army to make a change in the DS artillery organization. The restricted
German terrain required smaller units capable of emplacing in clearings or towns. Conversely,
Soviet counterbattery capabilities forced units to disperse to survive. Above all, the size and
sophistication of the Soviet armored forces required more guns to defeat them. Firing batteries
became organized with 2 platoons (or firing units) of 4 guns each. Tactically, the battalion
commander had 6 units capable of engaging targets in support of the maneuver commander's
plan, an increase of 3 over the previous 3X6 (3 batteries of 6 guns each) organization. These
platoons operated semi-independently of each other and the battalion operations officer (S-3)
coordinated their positioning, firing, and movement. The parent battery's logistical structure
supported the platoons, even though the platoons were occupying separate locations. In theory
this sounds superb. Unfortunately, the realities of the field exposed structural problems which
hurt the unit's effectiveness.
The first major problem for the battery commander in this 2 platoon organization is that of
training. Though the battery commander sets the direction and establishes the training goals for
his unit to accomplish, the execution of his plan is left to the leadership of the 2 platoons.
Delegation of authority is essential to the success of the unit and the development of junior
leaders. The temptation that many commanders give in to is to relinquish all control of the
training to their officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and to become distracted by daily
administrative requirements. The result is a wide disparity in the training levels of the 2 platoons.
In itself this situation is no different then other units and their training problems. For the field
artillery battery and battalion commander, however, this disparity can spell disaster on the
battlefield. Artillery units fight as battalions, not batteries, in order to maximize effects on targets.
This is unlike infantry and armor units that rely more on the abilities of the individual companies
to accomplish missions. The destructiveness of the artillery battalion's fires on a target is far
greater when all of its 24 howitzers are firing on the same target then by having platoons or
batteries firing individually. Training of the batteries, therefore, to meet battery and battalion
mission standards for time and accuracy is important and requires accomplishing. The platoon
concept of organization in the 3X8 battalion, and the manner in which it has been emplimented,
has produced 6 firing units at different levels of training within the battalion. This disparity in
training reduces the ability of the battalion to attack targets accurately and quickly, thus failing to
support the maneuver commander in his mission.
In the field, a firing battery deploys its 2 platoons to different locations. The usual
separation distance between platoons varies from 500 to 2000 meters. Platoons may, however,
operate at greater separation distances depending on the tactical situation. The combat elements
of the platoons are manned and equipped for such dispersion and, for what is essentially,
independent operation. The logistic system of the battery is not. The manning levels for logistic
and support sections of the battery are only equipped and manned to support one location. This
manning level forces the unit to organize either with the majority of its logistical capability in one
platoon with the second platoon containing combat sections and a few support personnel, or, the
battery forms a third element, separate from the firing platoons, serving the battery in all support
functions. In either case, the battery's supplies and rations must be shuttled back and forth from
one location to another. Maintenance, repair, and recovery of equipment is especially hampered
by separate platoon locations.
Battery support personnel are also called upon to perform defense missions, protecting
the platoons from attack on its periphery. The dispersion of the platoons and the shortage of
support personnel make perimeter defense almost an impossibility. Instead, section defense is the
norm with 1 or 2 entrance guards or listening posts to alert the platoon of enemy activity. This
puts the platoons at greater risk and, because of a lack of personnel in the platoon area, diverts
members of the gun sections away from their primary mission to fulfill perimeter defense roles.
Intra-battery communication is also a problem in the 3X8 unit. The battery's
communication section must ensure each platoon is capable of communicating inside its own
perimeter and with its sister platoon. This requires the construction of a wire communication
system internal and external to each platoon by laying large amounts of communication wire
inside and outside the perimeters of the 2 platoons. Invariably, the communication section is
always behind. Once the wire is in and communication is established intra-and inter-platoon, the
communication section personnel must continue to monitor the communication of the battery and
man defensive positions as well. This places a burden on the section to maintain its equipment
and personnel and reduces its effectiveness.
The 2 platoon structure of the 3X8 battery does provide a unique capability of maintaining
2 Fire Direction Centers (FDCs). Each platoon has its own FDC which is responsible for
determining firing data for the howitzers to shoot to engage targets. To accomplish this, the
FDCs must maintain ammunition, weapon, and location information for each howitzer in its
platoon. As a back-up capability the second FDC maintains all the location, weapon, and
ammunition data for the howitzers of its own platoon and those of its sister platoon. This requires
constant updating and checking information for accuracy. Maintaining 8 howitzer's data,
especially when 4 of the howitzers are located in a different location, is a difficult task to
accomplish in a peaceful environment. A wartime environment will prove too much for the FDCs
The 3X8 structure creates unique difficulties in employing the battalion as well. The DS
battalion FDC, headed by the Fire Direction Officer (FDO)) has the responsibility to perform
tactical fire control of the battalion's fires (i.e. the determination of how many platoons to fire on a
target with a specific type and quantity of ammunition). This involves maintaining the location,
weapon, and ammunition status's of each firing unit. In the 3X8 battalion, 6 unit's data must be
obtained and kept current so the FDO can make a tactical firing decision. Though aided by the
TACFIRE computer and its digital communication links to the platoon FDCs, the large amount of
fire unit information to maintain makes the job of the FDO extremely difficult. Management of
this information becomes impossible in heavy firing periods. The FDO must also take into account
the ability of each platoon to inflict casualties on the target. Four howitzers in a platoon can
achieve negligible effects against an armored target of any type. More fire units are needed when
engaging these type targets. This means the FDO must coordinate the fires of more than 1
platoon, often times the whole battalion, on 1 target. It takes extra time and effort to control 6
firing units. Communication with all 6 platoons is the critical link in the process, and invariably
the link that breaks first.
The DS battalion Operations Officer (S-3) is responsible for employing the batteries and
platoons in such a way as to support the maneuver commander in accomplishing his mission. The
S-3 must coordinate locations for the platoons to move to, survey teams to provide location and
direction information for the platoons, and the routes and times of march for the unit. He must
also monitor platoon ammunition and weapon status and coordinate for resupply of ammunition
through the battalion support structure. Six platoons is too much for the average S-3 to plan and
coordinate for. Basic command and control functions of reporting and information dissemination
become difficult when platoons are scattered and communications tenuous. In an effort to
expedite communications, orders are sent from the S-3 to the platoon FDCs. The battery
commanders are then by-passed, the chain of command broken, and bad habits built in the
There is a solution to these problems. Before the 3X8 structure, field artillery cannon
battalions were organized with 3 batteries of 6 guns each. This structure had fewer officers and
NCOs at the battery level than the 3X8 battery and thereby placed more emphasis on the
commander's direct interaction with his unit in training and field exercises. Because of this direct
interaction by the battery commander, the 3X6 battery structure offers many important
advantages over the 3X8 battery. On the other hand, the 3X8 organization gives the DS
battalion additional firepower necessary to fight a mechanized enemy. Blending the 2
organizations, however, produces an up-gunned unit that can be better trained and employed.
This unit is the 4X6 battalion (4 batteries of 6 guns).
The 4X6 unit simplifies the training process. As previously discussed, training for artillery
units, as for any unit, revolves around the commander and his role in the training process. The
commander sets the goals and enforces the standards which training plans and events must meet.
If a commander does not take an active role, the unit's training program falters. Understandably,
an organizational change by itself will not overcome the training deficiencies caused by a weak
commander. However, in adapting the battery structure of the 6 gun battery (with fewer officers
and NCOs), the battery commander can not remain insulated from his battery like a 3X8 battery
commander could. The commander must take an active role in planning and conducting unit
training. His presence influences the conduct of training and allows him to assess the state of his
unit's readiness. This, inevitably, has a positive impact on his unit's, and the battalion's, training
The 4X6 configuration also provides benefits in the field. Logistically, the battery supply,
maintenance, and communication sections must only support 1 location, which is what these
sections are resourced in men and material to do. These sections in the 3X8 organization had to
support 2 or more locations. This requirement stretched, if not exceeded, the capabilities of these
sections to provide adequate support. However, under the 4X6 organization, the consolidation of
the battery makes logistic support more easily accomplished.
The 4X6 battery can establish a viable battery defense. The 3X8 unit does not have the
personnel to adequately man defensive positions in 2 locations. A 4X6 unit can establish a
cohesive perimeter defense because all of its sections are in 1 location. This allows the battery
first sergeant to utilize all of his people to protect the battery.
A 4X6 battery simplifies intra-battery communication. The battery communication section no
longer has to build 2 internal platoon communication systems and then link the 2 platoons after
each move. Instead, the communication section establishes internal communication in 1 area.
This speeds the intra-battery communication setup and provides almost instant contact between
critical command and control centers of the battery. It also reduces the amount of field wire
required by the section to carry and recover.
A 4X6 battery simplifies delivery of fires. Under the 3X8 design, each platoon had it its own
Fire Direction Center (FDC) that determined data for the howitzers to fire. Consolidating the
battery's howitzers in 1location simplifies the FDC's job. Difficulties with data are rectified
quickly within the battery location because of the proximity of all the unit's firing elements. For
the battery commander, the supervision of the battery's howitzers is simplified because all 6
howitzers are in 1 location and under 1 chain of command. The commander can then concentrate
on fighting 1 unit with all of its firepower consolidated. The result is more timely and accurate
fires in support of the maneuver commander.
For the Battalion Commander, Executive Officer (XO), and S-3 the 4X6 battalion offers
unique benefits over the 3X8 unit. The 4X6 battalion is simpler to command and control. In the
4X6 unit, there are 4 separate firing units requiring resupply and control. The reduction in the
number of units (6 to 4) to supply and control simplifies the efforts of the battalion's logistical and
Logistically, the consolidation of equipment at battery positions means reducing ammunition
and maintenance resupply trips from the battalion logistic support area to the firing units by 2.
This saves personnel and equipment usage. Battery maintenance sections can collect damaged or
inoperative vehicles within the same perimeter. This allows concentration of effort by all the
battery's mechanics to fix or evacuate disabled pieces of equipment. Though this does not sound
like much, in reality this is a major saving in personnel, equipment, and fuel usage.
Operationally, the Battalion Commander and the S-3 can provide more responsive fires to the
maneuver commander with 4 batteries. Though the number of howitzers remains the same as the
3X8 battalion, the reduction of fire units from 6 to 4 streamlines the command and control of
these howitzers. Communication and information requirements at the Battalion FDC are reduced.
The Battalion FDO can make better and quicker decisions with the 4X6 configuration on how to
attack a target than he could with the 3X8 structure. Tactical fire direction decisions are
processed more quickly because the FDO can make decisions faster with less data to evaluate
and compare. Effects on targets will increase when 1 battery is fired versus a platoon. The S-3's
movement plans are less complicated with fewer units to plan for and to control. For the same
reason, his requirements to coordinate future battery locations and march routes with the
maneuver commander is also simplified. And, the battalion's survey section will better able to
meet the battalion's location and directional control needs with 2 fewer units to have to provide
survey data for.
Tactically, the Battalion Commander can influence the battle more easily with a fourth battery
than he could with platoons. A battery, with its complete chain of command and logistic
structure, is more deployable than individual platoons. Therefore, 4 firing batteries gives the
battalion commander a great deal more flexibility in the way he organizes his battalion for combat.
He can position his batteries in such a way as to weight the brigade commander's main effort and
influence battlefield operations.
Execution of this plan will not be quickly accomplished. The United States Army Field
Artillery School will have to develop the Tables of Organization and Equipment (TOE)
authorizing the equipment and manning levels for the 4X6 units. The Artillery School will also
need to address doctrinal changes for employing a 4 battery battalion vice the traditional 3.
Because of the nature of the change (i.e. taking existing firepower systems within a battalion
and reorganizing them) equipment distribution from 3 to 4 batteries can be accomplished easily in
the current 3X8 units. This is especially true of the artillery specific equipment (i.e. howitzers,
ammunition carriers, FDCs, and command and control vehicles). Personnel changes will also
have to be made. Field Artillery specific Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs) of all ranks
are already in the 3X8 unit and can be easily redistributed. The difficulty lies in adding special
MOS qualified personnel to the fourth battery. These are personnel trained in supply,
maintenance, and communication skills which are vital to keep the battery support systems
operating. These MOSs are traditionally short in tactical units Army wide. This problem will
require extensive work as the Army faces significant reductions in personnel.
The 4X6 battalion is not the perfect answer to the DS artillery battalion and will not fix all of
its problems. However, it offers such significant improvements in training, employment, and
deployment that the United States Marine Corps is changing from the 3X8 battalion to the 4X6
structure for its DS artillery battalions. Many of the reasons listed above are the reasons the
Marine Corps used to justify this transition. The United States Army needs to make this change
also. By making this change, many of the DS field artillery battalions weaknesses will be solved
and will again prove to be the best supporter of the maneuver commander in the execution of his
1. U.S. Army, U.S. Army Field Artillery Center, FM 6-20-40 Fire Support for Brigade
Operations (Heavy), 5 January 1990.
2. U.S. Army, U.S. Army Field Artillery Center, J Series Tables of Organization and
Equipment. Date dependent on specific unit identified.
3. U.S. Army, U.S. Army Field Artillery Center, TC 6-50 The Field Artillery Cannon
Battery, 29 September 1988.
4. U.S. Army, U.S. Army Field Artillery School, Legal Mix 5. A Study in the
Effectiveness of the 3X8 and 4X6 Configurations. 1978
5. U.S. Deparment of Defense. Joint Munitions Effects Tables. Effectiveness Data for
Howitzers M198 and M109A1/A2/A3. Classified. 61S1-2-25 1 September, 1984. with
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