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The COLT is a high technology observer (HTO) team designed to maximize the use of smart munitions. Although originally conceived to interface with the Copperhead a COLT can be used with any munition that requires reflected laser energy for final ballistic guidance. Thus, at present, the team can also lase for smart munitions delivered by Air Force and Army aircraft. Within the heavy force structure, the team is composed of three soldiers equipped with a ground/vehicular laser locator designator (G/VLLD) and the necessary mobility and communications assets.


Each team is composed of one sergeant, who is the team chief and primary operator of the G/VLLD; one fire support specialist; and one PFC, who is the driver and RATELO.

Each team is equipped with the following:

  • One M981 with G/VLLD.
  • Two radios -- one AN/VRC-46 and one AN/GRC-160.
  • One forward entry device.

General Considerations

The COLT laser (G/VLLD) can be used for target ranging and/or designation. A COLT can provide observation for both standard and laser-guided weapons. The G/VLLD is the current organic laser for heavy forces. However, other Army (laser target designator [LTD] and OH-58D helicopter) or Marine (modular universal laser equipment [MULE]) lasers may be available.

Target Ranging

A COLT can use the G/VLLD to provide accurate range, azimuth, and vertical angle to locate targets.

Target Designation for Laser-Guided Weapons

The LGW homes on reflected energy to attack a target. A G/VLLD can be used to designate for a variety of LGWs. These include 155-mm Copperhead (Army FA), Hellfire missile (Army aviation), Pave Penny (USAF), laser-guided bomb (LGB) (USAF), and Laser Maverick air-ground missile (Marine). For effective use of laser designators, certain criteria must be met:

  • The PRF codes of the laser designator (G/VLLD) and the LST or LGW must be the same.
  • Prearranged direction of attack (geometry to ensure necessary laser energy reflection is obtained) must be coordinated. For example, Copperhead firings require an angle T of less than 800 mils.
  • The laser must lase at the correct time and for the required duration.
  • The delivery system must place the LGW into the required footprint or envelope.

Environmental Restrictions

Laser designator and acquisition devices are designed to enhance current capabilities of fire support. Several factors--environment, laser system inherent limitations, and target types--affect laser employment. Tactics and techniques must take these factors into consideration.

Line of Sight. There must be line of sight between the designator and the target and between the target and the laser acquisition device or laser-guided weapon.

Visibility Degradation. Visibility can be degraded as discussed below.

Clouds. Clouds attenuate laser energy and degrade LST and LGW ability to see the spot. Since the laser spot is acquired only after the bomb comes out of the cloud, laser energy acquisition time is short; thus, ballistic accuracy is essential. Typical minimum ceilings and times of flight must be considered. In conditions of reduced visibility, present laser systems provide signal transmission ranges only slightly in excess of visual range.

Darkness. Laser energy transmission is unaffected by darkness, but darkness makes locating, identifying, and tracking targets more difficult for the COLT. The night sights for laser designators enhance operator target identification and engagement during night battlefield operations.

Battlefield Obscuration. Smoke, dust, and chemical particles in the air may attenuate or reflect the laser beam. This prevents sufficient energy reflection from the target for lock-on by LST or LGWs. Laser energy reflected from such particles also may present a false target to either the tracker or the munition. When faced with enemy obscurants, a COLT can reduce the impact by following some simple rules of thumb. Generally, if the observer can see a target through either day or night optics, he can successfully designate it. Positioning is key to reducing obscurant degradation of laser performance. Lasers should be positioned on the flanks or on terrain where smoke is likely to be less heavy along the line of sight. Transferring the mission from a laser being obscured to an unobscured laser is another simple way to counter enemy obscurants and tactics. These techniques would require use of COLTs in pairs or in combination with other laser designators.

Concave Targets. Tunnels and other targets that do not reflect laser energy cannot be directly laser-designated. Instead, the designator must be aimed at a nearby surface. For example, aiming the laser slightly above a tunnel opening would allow a weapon to impact at that critical point. For weapons that tend to miss short, like LGBs, this could guide the bomb to enter the tunnel opening.

Obstructions. Optimum positioning of ground laser designators is essential. Obstructions (trees, leaves, grass, and so forth) between the designator and the target may prevent a clear, unobstructed view for ground laser designator employment. Thus, jungle operations may preclude the use of ground designators and limit the effectiveness of airborne laser designators (ALDs).

Temperature Extremes. Extreme temperatures affect battery-powered laser operation. For example, a cold, soaked battery may have a much-reduced capability to power the laser.

Solar Saturation. Laser seekers look for a spot of IR energy that stands out from the background. This can be a problem when engaging with low-angle LGWs or LST-equipped aircraft, especially against targets above the horizon just after sunrise and just before sunset.

Seeker Characteristics


A laser seeker looks for laser designator energy on a specific PRF code, A designator and a seeker must work together as a team on a specific code. Thus, seekers do not detect or interfere with designators set on other codes.

Field of View

All seekers have a limited field of view, They must be pointed close to the target to see the laser designator spot.

Acquisition Time

To avoid detection by enemy forces and to conserve battery energy, a COLT limits the amount of time it designates a target. Therefore, laser seekers and munitions have a very short time to detect the laser spot and guide to the target.


Different laser guidance and/or acquisition systems require various amounts of reflected laser energy to operate. Under ideal conditions, a G/VLLD must be within 5 kilometers of an average stationary target to provide optimum Copperhead guidance; whereas under ideal conditions, a Pave Penny LST can acquire an LTD spot as much as 30 kilometers away on a clear day. Less sensitive seekers are more susceptible to reflection and the relative positions of the target, designator, and seeker.

Seeker Types

Airborne Laser Spot Tracker

An airborne LST points out laser-designated targets to the pilot. The pilot can then attack the target with any weapons on board. Pilots require this target cue; without this assistance, it is very difficult for them to see camouflaged targets at long ranges and from high-speed aircraft. Normally, an LST uses a laser pulse code established by the COLT. An LST has a narrow field of view, and the pilot must accurately point the airplane so the seeker lines up on the laser energy.

Laser-Guided Missile and Copperhead Cannon-Launched Guided Projectile

The laser-guided missile (LGM) and CLGP must be precisely aimed to see the laser energy on the target. To optimize LGM or CLGP terminal guidance, laser designation must be timed according to the LGM or CLGP predicted time of flight. If the laser designator is turned on late, the LGM or CLGP may miss; turning the laser designator on early will not cause a miss.

Laser-Guided Bomb

The LGB must be aimed so that the target is within the field of view by the seeker. If the aircraft does not have an LST, a visible target mark may be required as an aiming cue. Since the laser pulse code is preset on the LGB and cannot be changed while it is airborne, the COLT must use the code set in the bomb. When the lofting or shallow delivery method is used, if the laser designator is turned on too early, the LGB will steer to the laser mark too soon and miss by falling short of the target. Whenever possible, the pilot should communicate directly with the COLT so the laser can be turned on at the best time. Delaying designation until the last 10 seconds of weapon flight is ideal. A low-level laser-guided bomb (LLLGB) does not have the LGB early lock-on characteristic.

Designator and Seeker Pulse Code

Coding for laser designators and seekers is based-on pulse repetition frequency. This system uses either three- or four-digit numbers made up of the numbers 1 through 8. The three- and four-digit devices are compatible. When a mix of three-and four-digit equipment is used, the first digit of the four-digit code is always 1. For example, a three-digit code of 657 would be set as 1657 on a four-digit code system. To go from a four-digit code to a three-digit code, drop the first number. For example, a four-digit code of 1246 would become a three-digit code of 246.

The joint force headquarters has overall responsibility for code management. Corps FSE manages ground switch settings and provides blocks of settings to divisions (div arty). Brigade FSE is the lowest echelon that manages code settings. It ensures that FDCs and lower FSEs have positive coordination of assigned codes. When COLTs designate for Air Force delivery systems, the FAC receives the designator code from the pilot and passes it to the COLT.

NOTE: The lower the PRF, the faster the lase pulse and the better the paint of the target. Lower codes should be assigned to the priority COLT.

Using two or more COLTs in different locations, on the same target, and on the same code offers some advantages when attacking high-payoff targets. The main advantage is that if one designator fails, the round will still have reflected energy from another laser to guide it. The LGW locks on and tracks for the designator with the strongest reflected energy.

Employment Options

The COLT is primarily used as the designator for 155-mm artillery-delivered Copperhead. However, it can be used to optimize Air Force and other aviation systems by providing target designation and laser guidance for air-delivered munitions. The COLT gives the commander a powerful capability to attack hard and point targets as well as area targets if the delivery systems are available. To maximize the effectiveness of the COLT while minimizing the mobility limitations of the ground designator, positioning must be carefully considered. Positioning factors include the following:

  • Ability to support the commander's intent.
  • Intelligence preparation of the battlefield.
  • Angle T consideration for each potential shooter.
  • Altitude as close as possible to that of the expected target. (Minimize vertical angle of attack.)
  • Survivability of the COLT.
  • Desirability of survey.
  • Maintenance of good communications.

COLTs are positioned by the FSCOORD or his representative to support the maneuver commander's overall intent. The commander approves the COLT's positioning as meeting his intent during the rehearsal and/or as part of the published operation plan and/or order. The FSCOORD must consider two aspects in the COLT positioning decision--tactical and technical. The technical aspect concerns positioning to accomplish the commander's intent on the basis of where he wants to engage targets or target sets. The technical aspect concerns the angle T target engagement parameters of the Copperhead.

COLTs assigned to div arty may be task-organized to subordinate artillery battalions or retained centrally. In task-organizing COLTs, all fundamentals of organization for combat should be considered. To provide the best coverage and to allow the greatest survivability for the COLT, COLTs often are employed in pairs. This allows continuous COLT coverage during the operation. Since the COLT is a limited, valuable asset, careful consideration must precede a decision to decentralize the COLTs below brigade level. Any decentralization should be for a designated period of time, not as a matter of SOP.

Considerations in the offense are as follows.

  • Recommend to the commander appropriate targets for laser-guided munitions.
  • Consider using COLTs for both marking and designating operations.
  • Consider using a COLT as an independent observer when LGMs are undesirable or unavailable.

Considerations in the defense are as follows.

  • Consider using COLTs in pairs to ensure coverage in depth.
  • Survey COLT positions as a high priority in the survey plan.
  • Consider using COLTs to survey in obstacles and to cover obstacles by observation.
  • Consider using COLTs with night sights as an early warning system.

Current and Projected Laser Systems

The tables below show:

  • Current and projected laser spotter tracker systems, their general functions, and their characteristics.
  • Descriptions of each laser designator system.
  • Descriptions of laser-guided weapons.

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