Combat Training Center and training unit partnership: Supporting and designing pre-deployment training events for a mixed field artillery battalion






Publication: Fires
Author: Landry, Corey
Date published: January 1, 2012

In the summer of 2010, the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade's long range calendar included force generation, training, and preparation for an Operation Enduring Freedom deployment in the winter of 2011/2012. That timeline afforded 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery, the SIB's organic Fires battalion, ample time to reorganize from a modified table of organization and equipment Army-of-Excellence Paladin battalion to a mixed towed artillery battalion as part of the 1 72nd SIB's transition to an infantry brigade combat team.

In the fall, however, the brigade received notification its deployment timeline had drastically changed, forcing the brigade and Firesbattalion into an accelerated timeline allowing only six months to task organize, field equipment, qualify crews and execute a mission rehearsal exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germany. The battalion's mission in OEF was to be Fires'pure/ makingitimperativeeach crew attain maximum proficiency in their core skills.

Beginning with Joint Multinational Readiness Center's (JMRC) Leader Training Program for 172nd BCT in December 2010, the Vampire observer/ controller-trainer (O/C-T) team (fire support trainers) and 1-77 FA opened a continuous dialogue to determine how the team could best support the battalion commander's training objectives and prepare the unit for deployment. The challenges facing the battalion were many. In short order, the battalion and batteries needed to task organize, borrow towed howitzers from 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and 173rd Airborne BCT, train, and conduct live-fire exercise certification of Paladin crews on M119A2 and M777A2 cannons, all prior to the start of their mission rehearsal exersice (MRE).

The transition and certification on new systems would consume much of the battalion's remaining training time, leaving little time to train tasks outside of their core competencies.

To prepare for deployment, the Vampire Teflmandl-77FAimmediately began working together to maximize the value of the remaining training time. The 1-77 planned several weeks of systems training, section certification and platoon-level gunnery leading up to their MRE. The Vampires would support this with an independent set of eyes from experienced O/C-Ts, helping coach and train battery leadership through platoon certification. As for the MRE, the team needed to design a comprehensive FA situational training exercise lane which would exercise and assess core competency skills, as well as additional counterinsurgency training not fully achieved during train-up.

By maintaining constant communication with 1-77 FA's leadership, the Vampire Team supported and designed training for the battalion, which was approved by the command teams of the unit and JMRC.

P re-rotation gunnery training. At 1-77's request, two months before the battalion's JMRC rotation, the Vampires sent a battery O/C-T team (minus), consisting of a battery senior officer, two 13B senior noncommissioned officers , and a 13D senior NCO, to assist the unit in executing platoon-level gunnery training at the Grafenwoehr Training Area, home of the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command. Because of the relatively close proximity of JMRC to United States Army Europe units, the O/C-T teams frequently work with units prior to a rotation, building solid relationships and establishing communications early.

Thebattalion commander focused the O/C-T's observations towards critical areas which he wanted feedback and coaching, including 6400 mil operations, fire direction center and section crew drills, high angle, direct, and sweep-andzone Fires. Each platoon, having completed their transition to Ml 19 A2 and M777A2 over the previous 90 days, had different levels of proficiency. The O/C-Ts conducted numerous classes at the platoon level to improve proficiency in crew drills . During the unit's combat outpost defense LFX, O/C-Ts instructed sections on tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as doctrine for engaging targets with direct fire and 'Killer Junior' (direct fire with and adjusted trajectory and time fuze designed to achieve a 10 meter height-of-burst) from the M119A2. Sections adjusted crew drills to incorporate 1OfR, which raises tube elevation, achieving the 10 meter height of burst for 'Killer Junior.'

The unit also spent considerable time focusing on special missions they expected to execute during their upcoming deployment: high angle, sweep-and-zone, and actionazimuth (or out-of-traverse), with the latter two missions being focus areas for the O/C-Ts. They assisted gunners and section chiefs in improving crew drills by using their M137 sights as compasses, establishing action azimuth markers, issuing warning orders from the FDC, and establishing alternate aim-ing reference points to support 6400 mil operations. Each firing unit worked through several versions of sweep-and-zone missions, varying the order in which sections fired aim points. O/C-Ts assisted the unit in developing standing operating procedures from FM 6-50, Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for the Field Artillery Cannon Battery, firing the center aim point first, followed by the remainder of the sweep-andzone.

Fire direction centers (FDCs) at each firing platoon were proficient in computing firing data for single targets inside a safety box, but were not yet comfortable with back-up manual computational procedures, as they had only recently received graphic firing tables, graphical site tables, and tabular firing tables. The O/C-Ts assisted the FDCs in establishing manual procedures, including computation of site and extracting data from TFTs. Finally, the team assisted FDCs in developing and implementing standardized tracking systems to incorporate prior to their JMRC rotation.

The O/C-T team would brief the battalion commander and battery commander daily on its observations and recommendations. Based on this feedback, the battalion commander adjusted training as necessary, and gained insight allowing him to refine training tasks for the upcoming MRE and squad training exercise (STX).

STX development. Following the platoon-gunnery exercises, the battalion commander and Vampire Team were able to focus the MRE STX design on observed weaknesses and the commander's additional training objectives. Having achieved section and platoon-level proficiency in core competency tasks, the commander decided to focus STX week during the MRE on platoon table XII live fire and additional mission-essential skills, including fire base operations, air assault rigging, M777A2 direct-fire and crew cross-training on howitzer systems. Furthermore, the battalion was to begin a partnering mission with a D30 artillery battery from the Afghanistan National Army, which required familiarization with the D30 system. To support this, the team designed a week long training schedule consisting of a three-day live-fire STX in a fire base, and one day of each specialty training objective: direct fire, sling load operations and D30 familiarization. Fire base occupation and training events would be conducted by consolidated batteries, allowing commanders to command, control and assess their platoons during training, as well as coordinate the multiple tasks required during fire base occupation. The final schedule is depicted in figure 1.

The Vampires developed the FA live-fire STX as a 72-hour tactical mission, in support of a notional company air assault, and attack of an objective inside the impact area. Prior to occupation, thebattery O/C-T issued a battalion-level operations order to the battery commander, complete with graphics, annex D and schedule of fires. Once each unit issued their order, the Vampires replicated the maneuver fire support team and fire support element while conducting a task force fires rehearsal, which was a first for many of the commanders. Clarifying the rehearsal process, from the combined arms rehearsal through fire support, FA, and finally technical rehearsals, greatly enabled platoons and sections to understand and execute the fire plan. The firing battery was assigned toa200mxl00mfirebasewith6foot berms, a logistics support area and an entry control point. Movement from the forward operating base to the fire bases was unimpeded, allowing the unit to focus on advanced party procedures and TLABSPAP [trails, lay, aiming point identified, boresight verified, safe, pre-fire checks performed, ammunition prepared, and position improvement]. The priorities of the troop to task throughout the STX lane stressed the leadership to manage personnel and accept risk.

The battery was responsible for defending the fire base, operating the ECP, maintaining a platoon-size quick reaction force, and maintaining a platoon prepared to fire in support of the maneuver operation. The battery O/C-T team replicated the maneuver headquarters and coordinated the tactical scenario by providing reports and situational updates.

The 1-77FA combat Operationlaser team (COLT), along with a COLT O/C-T, occupied an observation post, observed and requested Fires as part of the tactical scenario. Additionally, the battalion radar sections incorporated friendly and hostile fire tracking into the STX lanes by occupying radar positions on opposite ends of the impact area. The Q36 and Q37 radars provided secondary observers and sent digital counter-fire missions to the firing platoons with hostile fire replicated by fire markers in and around the fire base. Using embedded trainer mode on the radar systems, counterfire points of origin were generated from inside the impact area, and were completely integrated with the tactical scenario and indirect fire impacting on the fire base.

During the firingbattery STX lane, each battery conducted all Artillery Table XII tasks.

Depending on the task, targets were either built into the tactical fire support plan or sent as targets of opportunity by the COLT or radar section. Each type of mission was initially sent as a do not load mission, and then executed live. The FDCs for each battery received maneuver reports from O/C-Ts; battle tracked, live fired using manual computations, and conducted technical fires rehearsals to prepare for a schedule of Fires in support of the final assault. Additionally, O/C-Ts assisted batteries in solidifying crew drills and SOPs for FDC and gunline operations that included warning orders, battle tracking, fire order Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), out-of-traverse procedures, fire command standards and terrain gun position corrections to streamline communication and increase efficiency. O/C-Ts assisted section chiefs, fire direction officers and platoon leaders in developing sound, yet flexible, fire order SOPs to facilitate rapid crew drills in the FDC and predictability on the gun line. These crew drill modifications reduced the platoons' out-of-traverse mission times by more two minutes and enabled the gunline to orient on an action azimuth while the FDC computed technical solutions. In addition to continuousFA operations, critical operational environment training events were distributed throughout the exercise. Each battery conducted an information engagement in the adjacent village with the elders, mullah, and police chief; reacted to negative villager sentiments and civilian casualties from an improvised explosive device; and defended their firebase from an aggressive attack. Leaders conducted an information engagement immediately after occupation and, after 24 hours of LFX operations, were approached by the populace with negative sentiments regarding the disruption to daily life caused by the artillery Fires. Subsequently, the villagers struck a victim-operated IED leaving the fire base, forcing the battery to deploy its QRF, execute the 5Cs [confirm, clear, cordon, check, and control], and treat civilian casualties (medical rules of engagement). Finally, O/C-Ts focused on developing engagement areas and defending their fire base. Batteries were able to refine and rehearse their defense plans, develop mass casualty event SOPs and observation plans for dead space, as well as reposition and harden crew-served positions. They also established platoon sectors and assigned howitzer responsibilities to sections with reduced manning. Platoons also developed aid and litter teams, refined casualty collection points, and instituted sweep and clear tasks as a QRF planning priority.

Concurrent to the FASTX, each radar section executed STX lanes incorporating movement to and occupying a radar position, reacting to an IED, and unexploded ordnance, as well as survivability moves. Throughout the lanes, the battalion leadership was allowed to observe and assess training, make corrections and retrain as needed. Specialty training during STX week included D30 familiarization training, sling load training, system cross-training, and direct fire training for the M777A2 battery. D30 mentorship training included eight hours of instruction from O/C-Ts on occupation, emplacement, lay, crew drill and fire direction procedures. Units learned to emplace and march order the D30, conducted indirect and direct fire missions, and laid the platoon with the 6000 mil aiming circle. FDCs learned to compute manual firing solutions for the D30 manually and how to operate the Afghan Field Artillery Computer.

In addition to each firing battery, the battalion master gunner and FDC chief, who would be supervising the battalion's partnering mission, participated throughout to gain proficiency. During sling load training, the batteries rigged and hooked up howitzers to German CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters or Slovenian Cougar helicopters, training between 10 and 15 hook-up teams. This training was enthusiastically received by the unit, as these skills are crucial in Afghanistan's operational environment and not easily resourced for training. Another first for thebattalion wastheopportunity to direct fire the M777A2 howitzer. Although this skill had been previously trained on the Ml 19 A2, the ability to execute live, direct fire of a 155 mm projectile was a confidence booster for the relatively new M777 crews.

Upon completion of STX week, the firing platoons were placed under the tactical control of the maneuver task forces for the duration of the MRE. They entered the MRE in a much better position to integrate with and support maneuver operations in a COIN environment. Battalion and battery leaders entered the MRE confident they had gotten the most training value possible from their limited time, and perhaps not perfect, their platoons were certainly proficient in delivering Fires. The flexibility of FA battalion missions and task organization in support of OEF has spawned even more flexible approach to exercise and training design. As a result, each MRE involves early coordination with the rotational unit chain of command and event tailoring to fully meet pre-deployment requirements and prepare units for success. This article represents one such example to maximize the training value for an FA battalion fielding and training on new equipment in preparation for an OEF fires mission. Had early communication not been established between the battalion and the O/C-T team, these events may not have been so successful. The team would have designed and resourced FA STX in a vacuum, with no previous visibility of unit strengths and weaknesses, and not as well-nested with the battalion commander's training objectives and key tasks. Fortunately, the mutual efforts of 1-77 FA and the Vampire Team resulted in a very productive exercise, which yielded great improvement at the most important level - the platoon.

Author affiliation:

By MAJ Corey Landry and MAJ Jon B. Fausnaugh

Author affiliation:

Major Corey Landry's first assignment was with 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Polk, La., where he served as a fire support officer, fire direction officer, battery executive officer, and battery commander for 2nd Howitzer Battery (M198) during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) I. He served as a basic fire support instructor for the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course and Basic Officer Leadership Course III at Fort Sill, OkIa., from 2005-2006. He then commanded Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery Regiment, 214th Fires Brigade, deploying to OIF from NOV 07 - FEB 09. He was then reassigned to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germ-any, where he served as battalion/task force fire support, firing battery, and a field artillery battalion operations observer/controller-trainer (O/C-T). He is currently attending Intermediate Level Education at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Captain Jon B. Fausnaugh's first assignment was to 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery, Fort Sill, OkIa., where he served as a support platoon leader and Multiple Launch Rocket System firing platoon leader. He later joined 1st Battalion, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, where he served as a fire support officer in OIF from February 2005 through January 2006. Following the Field Artillery Captains Career Course, Fausnaugh was assigned as the brigade S3 for 5th Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) during the first nine months of its generation. He went on to serve as the Brigade Assistant S3 until he took command of Bravo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment in December 2008. Fausnaugh deployed with Bravo Battery to Kandahar province, Afghanistan from July 2009 through June 2010. He is now stationed at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germany, where he serves as a battalion operations observer/control trainer.

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