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Fires in the Close Fight Newsletter
Getting Fires Back into the Close Fight
by Colonel Leonard G. Swartz

Previously published in the January-February 2002 Field Artillery Magazine

The integration of fires into the close fight remains a challenge for rotational units at our Combat Training Centers (CTCs). The Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, working closely with the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the CTCs, has developed an aggressive Negative Trends Reversal Program to solve problems that have plagued units for the past two decades.

The program’s strategy encompasses doctrine, training, leadership, organization, material and soldier (DTLOMS) initiatives to meet the many challenges inherent in making close supporting fires more accurate and responsive. As a part of this strategy, the Fire Support and Combined Arms Operations Department (FSCAOD) in the FA School focuses on enhancing home station training to help prepare units for the graduate-level CTC rotations. Because the Army DTLOMS are so interdependent, FSCAOD’s training includes aspects of all the DTLOMS, some of which are mentioned in this article.

FSCAOD’s Training Strategy. Our strategy is a two-pronged approach to improve the integration of fires into brigade and task force operations at the CTCs. First, we work with one light and one heavy brigade combat team (BCT) and its supporting FA battalion each year to enhance their home station training in preparation for a CTC rotation. At the rotation—called a “Fires Focused Rotation”—we evaluate the units’ effectiveness after training and determine causes of other indirect fire challenges. Since FY00, FSCAOD has worked with three Fires Focused Rotation battalions.

Second, using this fires focused training and research, we have developed training support packages (TSPs) in concert with other departments in the school to help FA units and fire supporters Army-wide reverse negative trends during their home station training. (See the article “Fires Training XXI: A Training Strategy for the 21st Century” by Colonel John K. Anderson, also in this edition, for an explanation of the tools and methods for designing home station training, including how to access the TSPs on line for the various levels of training.)

The conduct of Fires Focused Rotations has produced benefits for both the FA School and units in the field. The improved coordination with the CTCs has brought to light issues, such as the need to more realistically replicate and adjudicate effects at the CTCs as well as update fire support tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). It also injected new life into the Project Warrior Program that brings observer/controllers (O/Cs) from the CTCs back to the schoolhouses where they have a significant impact on their branches.

We found our Fires Focused Rotations necessitated improved interaction with units in the field. The FA School Trends Reversal Training Team gained a new appreciation for the competing priorities units face and had a chance to see units validate or learn TTPs.

Units in the field benefited from assistance from school subject matter experts (SMEs) during video-teleconferences (VTCs) and mobile training team (MTT) visits. The Trends Reversal Training Team includes officers, NCOs and warrant officers whose primary jobs are as FSCAOD instructors and SME doctrinal writers/reviewers.

The FA School nominates units to participate in the Fires Focused Rotations through the Combined Arms Center (CAC) at Fort Leavenworth, then through Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Headquarters at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and Forces Command (FORSCOM) Headquarters at Fort McPherson, Georgia, to commanders in the field. The FA School generally nominates units scheduled for spring CTC rotations so home station training visits have little impact on instructor turnover during the summer and large class sizes at the FA School in the late summer and fall after college and high school graduations.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The results of our work were mixed. Not surprisingly, we found that FA observers, such as combat observation lasing teams (COLTs), Striker teams and fire support teams (FISTs), did a better job of providing accurate target location and, as a result, effective fires. Some of their accuracy was due to better training and better equipment: the Bradley FIST vehicle (BFIST), Viper laser range finder binoculars and digital mini eye-safe laser observation sets (MELIOS). However, fire supporters are just a small percentage of the eyes on the battlefield, and we continue to have problems with basic accuracy in target location.

We found that maneuver shooters (scouts, maneuver platoon leaders or platoon sergeants and commanders) were executing poorly triggered missions based on spot reports with no identified observer. Such procedures consistently degraded the FA’s ability to bring timely and accurate fires to bear on the enemy.

We saw a real improvement in units’ ensuring fires tracked with the commander’s guidance for fire support. During both heavy and light force Fires Focused Rotations, units used a mission analysis worksheet and a task/purpose format to bring focus and clarity to the commander’s guidance.

The increased awareness of the essential fire support task (EFST) doctrine elevated the units understanding of how to integrate the fire support battlefield operating system (BOS) with the other BOS during the military decision-making process (MDMP) and helped focus both the planning and execution of fires. Despite significant differences between the battlefields for the heavy and light brigade task forces at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, California, and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Fort Polk, Louisiana, respectively, units did a good job of integrating fire support issues into the MDMP.

With regard to fires in the close fight, improvements in the use of close air support (CAS) and target location were counterbalanced by continued weaknesses in mortar integration, battle tracking and information dissemination plus the continued use of cumbersome clearance of fires procedures. Low volumes of fire and limited integration of fires into the BCT movement planning hampered Paladin operations during NTC rotations. Fire mission execution times were too varied and too slow.

We also found units were somewhat limited in their ability to focus on preparation for their rotations due to competing priorities. Simplified procedures and new equipment were not always used during rotations successfully or even at all because personnel were not trained well enough to execute the procedures or operate the equipment.

Compounding the FA training challenges, the replication of fires during training at the CTCs and home station is woefully inadequate, leading to a perception that fires don’t contribute to the combined arms fight. One of our long term issues is improving the adjudication and replication of fires at the CTCs. We continue to work with the CTCs and the other agencies to more realistically depict indirect fires during these invaluable training rotations.

Also compounding the training challenges is the fact that nearly 70 percent of the FA is in the National Guard. National Guard units participate in fewer CTC rotations and, thus, will benefit more from the observations and TSPs derived from the Fires Focused Rotations.

Fires Focused Rotations. Our FY01 strategy was to focus on three to four topic areas and work with units six to eight months prior to their CTC rotations. The topics were Target Location, Commander’s Guidance for Fires, Fire Support Planning, Fires in the Close Fight and Paladin Utilization.

In support of both the heavy and light rotations, our Trends Reversal Training Teams were made up primarily of former O/Cs and had a combined arms “flavor.” We were able to provide focused coverage from the brigade to company levels, looking at both fire support and FA issues.

The team members attended CALL Collection Observation Management System (CALLCOMS) training at Fort Leavenworth and then accessed the CALLCOMS database and products from the CTCs to develop detailed observer checklists to help focus their efforts. Our goal was to enhance existing unit training plans by conducting monthly VTCs from a menu of potential subjects selected by the commander

We also coordinated MTT visits during existing home station training exercises where we presented instruction, conducted seminars, assisted in hands-on training and served as O/Cs for the commanders. We provided regular feedback to our counterparts, conducted exit after-action reviews (AARs) and provided a written report to the commanders.

During CTC rotations, we sent a couple of observers to work with the O/Cs and collect data for a CALL publication. Once we concluded the heavy and light rotations, we began working with SMEs in the FA school to develop or refine TSPs. Another goal is to write a series of professional journal articles in conjunction with the rotational units and CTC personnel. We have published a “Task Force FSO [fire support officer] Handbook” on line. (See the brief piece "FSO Handbook On Line” on Page 4 of the September-October edition.)

Lessons learned are being incorporated into all aspects of instruction in the schoolhouse. We are sharing the refined TTPs with fire support instructors in other TRADOC schools.

Other Initiatives. Of particular note are our doctrinal initiatives to improve the responsiveness of fires. We have developed TTP to flatten the fire support architecture by sending the call-for-fire directly from the observer to the firing battery with the other levels of fire support copied on the message.

We also are clarifying the clearance of fires process to increase responsiveness. With the increased situational awareness of where friendly force units are on the battlefield, we are placing responsibility for clearance of fires back on the company commander—with no triple checking or second-guessing.

Because too many fires are unobserved, bottom up refinement is broken. Our refined TTP does not wed the guns to specific target locations in the task force sector. Instead, it identifies target areas of interest (TAIs) in which likely enemy targets will appear and then gives those areas priority of fires (POF) so the guns already are poised to shoot into that area when the enemy does appear. This procedure gives the task force commander and FSO more flexibility in planning and executing fires.

In addition, we are developing fire support element (FSE) battle drills to improve FSE performance.

We have begun developing CD-ROM and web-based instruction on tactical fire support that can be used by other TRADOC schools, field units and individuals in their training programs. We are pushing for better training aids, devices, simulations and simulators (TADSS) to integrate maneuver and fires at home station training and better devices to replicate the effects of indirect fires at the CTCs and, eventually, home station training. These initiatives should rekindle maneuver commanders’ appreciation for fire support.

Because of a lack of joint training at home station, fire supporters have had problems coordinating air space for CAS and other air support at the CTCs. We are working actively with the Joint CAS Joint Test Force at Nellis AFB, Nevada, to refine the air liaison officer (ALO) qualification course. The goal is to improve the coordination and integration of air-to-ground fires during exercises and instruction.

Clearly, improving the effectiveness of fires in the close fight will not occur overnight. Much remains to be done. However, the FA School has “stepped up to the plate” and is working with the CTCs, CALL, our TRADOC counterparts and commanders in the field to build the foundation for more effective fires in the close fight. Our goal is to strengthen fire support as an integral operating system within the BCT and reverse the negative CTC trends that frustrate fire supporters and maneuver commanders alike.

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