The Fire Support Coordinator As A Catalyst For Winning CSC 1984 SUBJECT AREA Artillery THE FIRE SUPPORT COORDINATOR AS A CATALYST FOR WINNING Submttted to Mr. R.J. Barens In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for Written Communications The Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico, Virginia Major M.R. Berndt United States Marine Corps April 6, 1984 Outline Thesis sentance: The training of the infantry battalion fire support coordinator must become a higher priority if the Marine Corps is to benefit from available firepower. I. Introduction A. Definition of fire support coordination B. Duties of the fire support coordinator (FSC) C. Evaluation of FSC's abilities D. Consequences of inadequate fire support coordination II. Reasons for the FSC skill problem A. Changes to organization B. Academic preparation C. Different philosophies on the FSC D. Increased importance of the FSC E. Opportunity to train III. Changes impacting on the problem A. Structural changes? B. Technological advances IV. Solving the FSC problem A. Selecting the right officer B. Formal education C. Keeping the billet where it belongs D. Training opportunities 1. Computerized training 2. Simulators E. Longevity in the job THE FIRE SUPPORT COORDINATOR AS A CATALYST FOR WINNING "Fire support coordination is the continuing process of evaluating fire support needs or missions, analyzing the situation, and planning for and employing air, artillery, mortars or naval gunfire so that the targets are attacked with an appropriate volume of fire by the most suitable weapons(s). This process spans both planning and execution of fire support and provides the means by which the commander uses his available fire power to influence the action while ensuring the safety of his troops."1 This definition of fire support coordination describes what in combat are two of the most critical responsibilities of the commander; the safety of his men and the destruction of the enemy. By properly utilizing proven doctrine, common sense, and a great deal of confidence and initiative, Marine infantry units must coordinate supporting arms to win the battle. The commander, cannot shoulder all combat responsibilities by himself. He must be able to rely on trained, experienced Marines to ensure that all of the fire support means available to him melt together to create a lethal weapon. At every level from infantry battalion to Marine Amphibious Force, the fire support coordinator (FSC) is the officer responsible to the commander for the efficient implementation of fire support coordination principles. Although the coordination of supporting arms contributes significantly to combat success, the Marine Officers that are responsible for that coordination at the infantry battalion level lack the skills to do the job well. RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE FSC The duties of the FSC are just as critical to the unit as those of any other staff officer. At the infantry battalion level the FSC is also the weapons company commander.2 He must share his time between both responsibilities during training and peacetime. During combat, he must (by the very nature of his duties), be a full time fire support coordinator. He must leave his company in the hands of his platoon commanders and assume his fire support coordination responsibilities under the guidance of the S-3 Officer. The FSC serves as a special staff officer tasked with planning for and coordinating supporting arms. Although not assigned as his assistants, he has an air officer, naval gunfire officer, artillery officer and mortar representative who act under his direction and supervision. The FSC is personally responsible for the following: - Supervising and coordinating the development of overall fire support plans. - Supervising and coordinating the development of air, artillery, naval gunfire plans. - Resolving conflicts regarding selection of targets and employment means. - Reviewing fire plans. - Receiving and disseminating target information. - Assisting in assigning attack priorities. - Supervising the Fire Support Coordination Center.3 At the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, California, infantry battalions from throughout the Marine Corps are given the opportunity to conduct live-fire combined arms training. This is one of the few places where the FSC can put his fire support plans into effect and practice techniques of coordinating and controlling fire support under realistic conditions. Although not intended to be merely a testing program, the performance of the FSC and all other members of the battalion are evaluated during the exercise. The individual performances of the coordinators vary significantly from one infantry battalion to another. Comments in after-action reports indicate that there is often much room for improving the competence of the FSC. Statements like, "The Fire Support Coordinator had difficulty in exercising and maintaining control and supervision in the Fire Support Coordination Center,"4 and "... there was a lack of understanding of fire support planning techniques and their implementation"5 are indications that today's battalion fire support coordinator is not as well prepared for war as he should be. Unlike others who may be as equally unprepared, the FSC cannot afford to be. His commander and fellow Marines deserve and should demand his being professionally competent. If the FSC does not possess the skill required of his duties, the enemy can simply allow us to defeat ourselves by poorly coordinating supporting arms. It is rare to find a job where mistakes are as unforgiving as they are in fire support coordination, and FSC's are bound to make mistakes. When these mistakes are made in peacetime they are seldom catastrophic and contribute to the education process that increases skill level. In combat however, these same mistakes can cause defeat. The pressure felt by the FSC in combat will approach that felt by the commander. The American people have given the Marine Corps the technological advantage of being able to mass immensely destructive fire power on the enemy at the right time and place. It is the FSC's job to see that this happens. In addition, if he fails to properly supervise the coordination of these fires, the FSC stands the chance of endangering his own forces. One source puts U.S. casualties in Vietnam resulting from either faulty munitions or fire coordination problems at 3,731, or over one third of the non-hostile casualities of the war.6 WHAT HAS CAUSED THE PROBLEM? The question of how to best provide coordinated fire to the infantry battalion has not been ignored. Many changes have occurred over the last few years which have impacted either positively or adversly on the problem. One of the biggest changes was making the FSC an infantry rather than an artillery officer. Although I believe that this change was proper, it has created some additional considerations which must be addressed. In years past, artillery officers served concurrently as both FSC's and artillery liaison officers in the infantry battalion. Some of these officers lacked the confidence and ability to perform under extreme pressure. More often however, they just lacked the training to perform both jobs at the same time and were unable to do either job well. They had been trained as artillery officers at the Basic Artillery Officer's Course at Fort Sill, but this course failed to place adequate emphasis on either naval gunfire or close air support. These two areas, although of interest to Army artillery officers, are critical to Marines. In addition, the course was not primarily charged with the responsibility of producing qualified FSC's for the Marine Corps in amphibious operations. The young artillery officer serving as the infantry battalion FSC had an uphill road to climb from the outset. It is questionnable as to whether any officer can serve successfully as an artillery liaison officer and FSC concurrently.7 In 1979, the artillery liaison officer was saved from possible failure when an infantry officer replaced him as the FSC. The change in the infantry battalion structure in 1979 made the weapons company commander the FSC. This was a significant deviation from previous structure which, like the U.S. Army, had an artillery officer as the FSC.8 This is not to insinuate that the structure of the Marine and Army FSCC's should be alike. Differences between the two exist and are a result of Marine reliance on naval gunfire and air support. Nevertheless, the artillery lieutenant from the supporting artillery battalion (or separate battery if supporting a Battalion Landing Team), remained in the fire support coordination center as the artillery liaison officer only.9 His responsibility as the FSC was given to the captain weapons company commander. This new FSC has to share his time and effort between his responsibilities to his company, and his duties as the battalion FSC. There is not sufficient time available for him to be totally proficient at both jobs. He must establish priorities based on guidance provided to him by his battalion commander. Unless the weapons company commander has had extensive experience with coordinating and supervising the 81mm mortar platoon, he has a poor chance of being able to adequately handle FSC duties. The Landing Force Training Commands (LFTC's) at Norfolk and Coronado established courses to help prepare FSCs for their jobs. These one week and ten-day courses were the first attempt at providing formal education for the FSC.10 Over the last three years the FSCC courses presented by the two LFTC's have grown from the most basic of introductions to an extensive two week resident course. The course also requires substaintial academic study prior to attendance. The finished product is a qualified FSC who must only be given the opportunity to exercise what he has learned to gain and maintain proficiency. Unfortunately, personnel turbulence and training shortfalls often prevent the FSC from ever becoming comfortable with his job. Hopefully, with battlion commanders now serving two years in their billets, a stability will be felt in the FSC billets. Even though the structure of the infantry battalion fire support coordination center and the identification of its members are established in doctrine, differences in training opportunity and contingency preparation seem to be creating two different schools of thought with regard to the FSC. Those units that are better able to train with regimental or Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB) units have the "luxury" of being able to field regimental FSCC's for many operational commitments. This takes a significant load off the shoulders of the battalion FSC. A senior FSCC reduces the amount of planning that the subordinate must do and assists by coordinating fires for the unit as a whole. In regimental training and operations the battalion FSC would have the benefit of a senior FSC to assist him. Perhaps for this reason there has been an attempt to return the artillery liaison officer to the FSC billet in some units where there is significant emphasis on regimental training. Under these circumstances he may then be able to do the FSC and the artillery liaison officer jobs concurrently. This would allow the weapons company commander to return to his company. This situation may answer "local" questions concerning the FSC problem but may compound the problem Corps-wide by creating a different system within a system. Units oriented on battalion level training and contingencies must rely soley on the ability of the battalion FSC to coordinate the fires for the commander during those operations. When the infantry battalion was reduced to 822 men it realized a comensurate increase in relative fire power. The Squad Automatic Weapon, 50 calibre machinegun, Automatic Grenade Launcher and other weapons were intended to make up for the reduction in manpower within the unit. As these weapons are fielded there will be an even greater importance placed on the FSC. His job will be made even more difficult as a result of these increases. In the Second Marine Division, the battalion FSC's spend an average of twenty-five percent of their time serving as FCS's.11 The remainder of their time is spent as the weapons company commander. The opportunity to go to the field for unit training is limited by everything from financial restrictions to training area availability. Although most weapons company commanders would probably prefer to spend most of their time as a company commander, their proficiency as an FSC is reduced when the skills are not practiced. Like any additional duty, fire support coordination is only as important as the commander makes it. When the time comes to take the unit into combat, the FSC cannot take a "time out" to become proficient. His ability as a weapons company commander will become of secondary importance to what is now his secondary responsibility--(FSC). The philosophy that the weapons company commander can be proficient at both of his responsibilities is an unfair one, given today's training restrictions. WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING? The structure of the infantry battalion will not change for the next five or six years. It will take several years for the weapons that support the new Table of Organization to make their way into all battalions. Having just had major changes to its structure, it is doubtful that the battalion will change again soon. It is likely that the weapons company commander will continue to be tasked with the responsibility for coordinating fires at the battalion level. He will continue to share his time between two important responsibilities.12 If called into battle, the weapons company commander will serve as the FSC on a full-time basis. His company executive officer will serve as the assistant FSC and the 81mm mortar platoon commander will "wear the hat" of the weapons company commander. The FSC will not have time to train either himself or his FSCC personnel once the battle has begun. His initial performance will be the result of his efforts at becoming proficient in the seven major functions of his job. His confidence (developed as a result of adequate training), may dictate whether or not his commander can concentrate fire power on the enemy. As technology continues to assist in producing weapon systems which are capable of delivering more accurate, reliable fire on enemy positions, the FSC's job will continue to become more important. The tendency to replace people with weapons on the battlefield will cause a proliferation of fires. The ability to coordinate those fires and ensure that they are producing the desired effect will require a skilled professional who has been properly trained. The accuracy of weapons will be fully appreciated if they are used in coordination with the effects of other related systems. Pre-planning of fires will be a task requiring technical skill, common sense, and a special knack for maintaining flexibility. RECOMMENDATIONS One of the best ways that a commander can guarantee that his fire support plans will be carried out effectively is to be extremely selective when choosing an FSC. When he is faced with the vacancy of his weapons company commander, the battalion commander should select a replacement who can also carry out the quite different and very challenging duties of the FSC. He would do well to recall that an FSC should be forceful, imaginative, decisive, organized, and flexible. Above all he should be an officer who remains calm under severe pressure and operates well when faced with important decisions. Some of these characteristics are difficult to uncover or evaluate in peacetime, but every effort should be made to find an FSC that is self-confident and eager to accept great responsibility. He should be no less a leader than any of the rifle company commanders in the battalion. In February 1954, Landing Force Training Command Alantic (LFTCLANT), expanded their resident FSCC course to a full two weeks.13 This was a significant step in the direction of producing a professionally trained FSC. It would be further advantageous if the FSC could be given the opportunity during the course to engage in a practical application phase. This would help to give him the experience that he will need to return to his unit and continue to train the members of his FSCC. If live-fire exercises are either too expensive or logistically unsupportable, then the use of command post type exercises and simulators can partially fulfill the requirement. Studying fire support coordination without applying the skills in a practical exercise is much like reading about how to drive a car. It does not prepare the FSC for the unexpected hazards that will be experienced once he starts doing it for real. Current fire support training in the computer simulation model should be expanded into more realistic exercises on terrain boards and in wargaming. The Tactical Exercise Evaluation Control Group at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center uses a "staff trainer" to practice fire support coordination Skills. It uses a simulated amphibious command vehicle, a terrain model, and a wire communication system to exercise the plans of a battalion FSCC prior to its execution in the live-fire stage. It is a perfect example of how a good deal of initiative and a few dollars can create a valuable training tool. By utilizing a medium similar to the one described, units throughout the Marine Corps could significantly enhance realism in FSC training. Other war gaming activities that allow the FSC to develop plans and supervise the execution of those plans will increase combat readiness.14 There are some inherent advantages in having trained artillery officers serve as FSCs, but the responsiblity is best placed with an infantry officer as required by doctrine. If properly trained in fire support coordination procedures, the infantry weapons company commander has a better understanding of how the fire support plan ties to the scheme of maneuver. If he has had the advantage of having served as an 81mm mortar platoon commander he will also have sufficient knowledge of indirect fire weapons. The weapons company commander serving as the FSC will have to leave his responsibilities to his company with the 81mm mortar platoon commander. The company executive officer will have to serve as the assistant FSC and will also be unavailable to serve with the weapons company. As most of the weapons company will be employed with the maneuver elements of the battalion during combat, the commander and the company executive officer should be free to serve exclusively in the FSCC. There, due to their close proximity to the battalion commander and operations officer, they will be able to deal with any problems that arise concerning the company and its employment. A formally trained officer should receive an additional military occupational speciality (MOS) as an FSC. The skills of the FSC should be identifiable to future commanders. By assigning an additional MOS to qualified Marines their future service as FSC's or even operation or assistant operations officers could be expedited due to ease of identification. Proven skill as an FSC is as important as embarkation or parachute experience and should be identifyable. When the Commandant of the Marine Corps directed that command tour lengths be two years in duration, he provided a climate for greater continuity in many other areas.15 If a battalion commander is to lead his battalion for an extended period of time it is reasonable to assume that he will want additional continuity in his staff members. A tour length of up to two years for an FSC would greatly improve his opportunity to become adept at coordination skills. Through repetitive training he could develop an FSCC that would work well together and would probably be successful in combat. Normally, the longer a Marine performs in a given billet the better he becomes. The infantry battlion FSC is one of the most important Marines in the unit. His ability to plan for fire support, supervise, and direct the activities of the FSCC members contributes immensely to the accomplishment of the combat mission. The commander blessed with an FSC who is properly trained has a greatly improved chance for success in combat. He can help to create a situation similar to the one described by E.D. SMITH in his book The Battles far Cassino: "26 New Zealand Battalion had to endure continuous mortaring, sniping, and shelling as well as being bombed by 'hit and run' raiders from the Luftwaffe."16 The concentration of fire power on the enemy combined with an awareness of friendly force safety are the responsibility of the supporting arms representatives in the battalion commander's FSCC. The fire support coordinator is the catalyst that makes that organization function. If he can develop the skill required of his job before he needs to apply the principles, his contribution to success will be significant. FOOTNOTES 1MCDEC, USMC, Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1 (Quantico, 1981), p. 1-1. 2Ibid, p, 3-2. 3Ibid, pp. 3-5,3-6. 4 CG, Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Combined Arms Exercise 7-83 After Action Report, July 11, 1983. 5CG, Marine Corps Air-Ground Comat Center, Combined Arms Exercise 8-83 After Action Report, August 12, 1983. 6Bryan, Courtlandt Dixon Barnes, Friendly Fire (New York: Putnam Publishers, 1976), p. 350. 7Captain John Benefield, Fire Support Coordinator Evaluator, Tactical Exercise and Evaluation Control Group, MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, California, personal interview on fire support coordinators, March 16, 1984. 8Department of the Army, The Infantry Battalion (Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger FM 7-20) (Ft. Benning, 1978), pp. 8-4,8-5. 9FMFM 7-1, p. 3-2. 10Captain Dunnigan, USMC, Instructor, Landing Force Training Command Atlantic, personal interview concerning fire support coordination course content, March 12, 1984. 11Lt. Colonel L. Anderson, G-3 Ops, Second Marine Division, personal interview concerning fire support coordination, March 16, 1984. 12Lt. Colonel Button, USMC, S-3, Eleventh Marines, personal interview about fire support coordination personnel, March 29, 1984. 13Dunnigan, March 12, 1984. 14U.S. Marine Corps, HQMC, Director of Training letter, "Manual War Games/Battle Simulation; development of," March 10, 1978. 15General P.X. Kelly, USMC, CMC White Letter 1-84, "Continuity of Command," January 20, 1984. 16E.D. Smith, The Battles for Cassino (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975), pa 142. BIBLIOGRAPHY Anderson, F., Lt.Col, USMC. G-3 Operations Officer, Second Marine Division. Personal interview concerning fire support coordination, March 18, 1984. Benefield, J., Captain, USMC. Fire Support Coordination Evaluator, Tactical Exercise Evaluation Control Group, MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms California. Personal interview about fire support coordination, March 16, 1984. Bryan, Courtlandt Dixon Barnes. Friendly Fire. New York: Putnam Publishers, 1976. Button, D., Lt.Col, USMC. Operations Officer, Eleventh Marines. Personal interview concerning fire support coordinators, March 30, 1984. Dunnigan, W., Captain, USMC, Landing Force Training Command, Atlantic. Interview about fire support coordination training, March 12, 1984. Etnyre, W.R., CG, Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms California, Report of Ninth Annual MCAGCC Planning and Scheduling Conference. December 16, 1983. Etnyre, W.R., CG, MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, California, Combined Arms Exercise After Action Report 7-83. July 11, 1983. Etnyre, W.R., CG, MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, California, Combined Arms Exercise After Action Report 8-83. August 12, 1983. Kelly, P.X.. General, USMC, CMC White Letter 1-84, Continuity of Command, February 20, 1984. Kuci, R.A., Brigadier General, USMC, Director of Training, Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps. Manual War Games/Battle Simulations; development of. March 10, 1978. U.S. Army. Headquarters, Department of the Army. Fire Support in Combined Arms Operation. FM 6-20. Washington D.C., 1977. U.S. Army. Headquarters, Department of the Army, The Infantry Battalion (Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger) FM 7-20. Ft. Benning, 1978. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Commando Marine Air-Ground Task Force Doctrine, FMFM 0-1. Quantico, 1979. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1. Quantico, 1981. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Fire Support Coordination by a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) OH 7-1. Quantico, 1983. Smith, E.D. The Battles for Cassino. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975.
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