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Live bombs to drop for more realistic training

Army News Service

Release Date: 5/3/2004

By Sgt. 1st Class Marcia Triggs

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 3, 2004) - The home to field artillery, Fort Sill, Okla., is re-instituting joint live fire in an exercise this week involving troops from across the country, and a new Joint Fires Course scheduled to debut this fall.

For the first time in about nine years, III Corps Artillery at Fort Sill is hosting a Joint Close Air Support live-fire exercise. Soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., will parachute in. Navy F-18 Hornets and Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons will be used to drop ordnance, including the Navy's MK-83, a 1,000-pound bomb.

"We want to show that we can realistically coordinate and provide fire in support of joint operations safely," said Capt. Albert Huang the operations officer for the 212th Field Artillery Brigade.

The exercise, which continues through May 7, will also integrate multiple launch rocket systems, cannon fires and troops from Fort Hood, Texas, and the Marine Corps, Huang said.

There needs to be interdependence among the different services, said Col. John Haithcock, head of the Joint and Combined Integration Directorate at the U.S. Army Field Artillery Center, Fort Sill.

Artillery, the greatest killer on the battlefield, can't do it alone, Haithcock said. Air and naval gunfire can't do it all, he added. At any time or place a person on the ground needs to be able to call for fire, and get whatever resources he needs - a ship, artillery or a plane, he added.

In March, Fort Sill also began training on how to employ joint fires through live exercises at its officer basic course -- training that was suspended after resources were cut, and an officer was killed in 1996 by a misguided 500-pound bomb, Haithcock said.

"Close air support training was pushed down to the units, but what we found was some units were very good at it and others were not as good," Haithcock said. "We've realized over the years that we need to provide training here at the school house."

Haithcock acknowledged that some of the procedures that occurred in 1996 were done incorrectly. Several safety measures have been implemented so that the Joint Close Air Support exercise doesn't turn tragic.

Huang said that a couple of the measures include using trained, experienced observers and pilots during live drops. Air Force forward observers will guide in aircraft to ensure that pilots have properly identified the targets, and the Army and Marine Corps observers will call in the artillery, he added. Also revisions were made to the air space coordinates to make sure artillery isn't fired at the same time aircraft is flying over, said Huang.

Repetition on how to employ joint fires leads to enemy deaths, not friendly ones, Haithcock said, adding that a Joint Fires Course is being designed. A three-week pilot course is scheduled to begin in September or October, he said.

"What we found is that we grow and train our fire supporters at brigade levels and below, and they understand how the Army works," Haithcock said. "However, they don't get the training at upper-echelon headquarters, which are joint environments."

Eventually Haithcock said the course will be shortened to two weeks. The curriculum will include an introduction on Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force doctrine; rules of engagement to include international law. Other courses will be joint and combined targeting, time sensitive targeting and air support request, and at the end is a command post exercise.

The course is open to senior enlisted, sergeant first class and above and officers, captain through colonel. Any service members from any career branch can attend the course if they are going to be assigned to a fire-support job in a joint environment. This course isn't just for field artillerymen, Haithcock said.

Depending on concepts that are being worked under the Future Combat Systems, there may not be a need for as many field artillerymen at the company level, Haithcock said.

"We're looking at improving the technology of individual Soldier equipment and combat platforms," Haithcock said. "So if we can provide the individual Soldier the ability to engage a target, then you can probably reduce the number of forward observers on the battlefield."

The Global Information Grid, a network that connects Soldiers with platforms and command and control systems, is another factor on whether advanced equipment will be able to replace artillerymen.

"We will always need artillerymen, because they do more than just call for fires," Haithcock said. "They will have to do the planning and execution and have the expertise to figure out how to support maneuver commander's plan."

(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Michael Lavigne from Soldiers Radio and Television contributed to this article.)

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