The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


The Fire Support Coordinator As A Catalyst For Winning
CSC 1984
                         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
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
 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
	"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.
     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
     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
     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
     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
     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
     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.
     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
     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.
     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.
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,
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,
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.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias