Field Artillery fires in the mountains of Afghanistan.
During the seven years since September 11, 2001, our Army's Field Artillerymen have been called upon to perform countless nonstandard missions leading to what many have described as an alarming degradation of core competencies across the Branch. The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (BCT) Redlegs have deployed to combat three times since 2003 and stand out as an exception among our Army's Artillery formations as their mission each time focused primarily on delivery of fires.
This article highlights Field Artillery (FA) tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) and lessons learned by the Sky Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne BCT during its most recent 15-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Activation of a New Battalion. The Army's modularization birthed the uniquely split-based 173rd Airborne BCT in the summer of 2006. The brigade headquarters and its two infantry battalions remained garrisoned in Vicenza, Italy; while it's reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition squadron activated in Schweinfurt, Germany; and fires, special troops, and brigade support battalions activated in Bamberg, Germany.
On 8 June 2006, the 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne FA Regiment (4-319 AFAR) activated, recapitalizing personnel and infrastructure from the inactivating 1st Infantry Division Artillery in Germany. This occurred while simultaneously restationing D Battery, 319 AFAR (D/319 AFAR)-the BCT's long standing organic firing element-from Vicenza to Bamberg. The fall of 2006 was characterized by a massive, but necessary, personnel turnover that provided 4-319 AFAR with the appropriate personnel composition for its modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE).
Mission-Iraq (Maneuver). With the Sky Soldiers' projected deployment to Iraq's Kirkuk Province in summer 2007, 4-319 AFAR, the King of the Herd, began training in October 2006 to perform as a maneuver task force. While howitzer sections and fire direction centers (FDCs) did conduct live-fire artillery certification, the bulk of the battalion's training time was spent on mounted and dismounted infantry skills at individual through platoon levels.
Though the battalion's mission eventually changed, training through the winter with the mindset of "every Soldier a rifleman" proved to be time well spent. With more than 70 percent of the battalion new to the brigade, this focus on basic Soldier skills served the battalion well throughout its deployment.
Change of Mission-Afghanistan (Delivery of Fires). While the Army surged forces into Iraq in early 2007, another less publicized surge occurred in Afghanistan. In the waning days of the brigade's final premission readiness exercise (MRE) training event at Grafenwoehr, Germany, the Sky Soldiers received a change of mission-the brigade would deploy to Afghanistan on an accelerated timeline. The 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division-which was conducting a relief in place (RIP) with 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division-was extended in theater. Upon completion of RIP, the unit shifted to Nangahar, Nuristan, Konar and Laghman Provinces in Afghanistan to prepare the way for the 173rd Airborne BCT's arrival.
The change of mission from Iraq to Afghanistan was significant for the 4-319 AFAR because it also meant shifting its focus from maneuver operations back to delivery of fires. While the battalion headquarters and its headquarters battery would retain a maneuver mission, each firing battery was assigned the task of providing three two-gun firing platoons that also could be used as forward operating base security forces if necessary. An added degree of difficulty in preparing for this mission was the requirement for four of the firing platoons to crew M198 (155-mm) howitzers, instead of the battalion's organic 105-mm weapons system.
Task Organization. With requirements to provide six firing platoons (two more than authorized by MTOE), field an infantry platoon, and train and certify on the M198, the battalion conducted a thorough analysis of manning requirements to task organize for the mission. This process began with picking the right combinations of leaders at the platoon and section levels, balancing talent and experience across the battalion without regard to current battery of assignment. With platoons spread across the breadth of the brigade's area of operations (AO) to provide fires for five maneuver task forces, Artillery platoon leadership was a key element of providing accurate, timely, decentralized fires.
The demand for company-grade FA officers exceeded supply across the brigade. In addition to providing platoon leaders and fire direction officers for the two additional firing platoons, maneuver task forces wanted the augmentation in their fire support elements (FSE) to manage lethal and nonlethal effects planning. Ironically, as a maneuver task force, 4-319 AFAR also required a non-MTOE supported FSE to conduct operations in AO King. The solution rested in "dual-hatting" some platoon leaders as fire direction officers and augmenting FSEs from the task forces' S3 sections.
After setting leadership teams, the next critical task was building competent FDCs with adequate expertise and manning to conduct continuous operations. With the decentralized array of firing platoons under the operational control of maneuver task forces, the battalion disbanded the battalion FDC, keeping only the battalion's fire direction NCO assigned to battalion headquarters.
This enabled the unit to optimize the pool of available Military Occupational Specialty 13D FA Tactical Data Systems Specialists. Augmented by computer-literate 13B Cannon Crewmembers and communications specialists, the battalion fielded six FDCs able to conduct continuous operations for 15 months.
Through approved requests for stay-behind equipment and operational needs statements, the King of the Herd acquired sufficient fire direction equipment to provide each platoon two independent, reliable means of data calculation with additional computers and manual computations to provide backup for any maintenance issues.
Nonorganic Weapons System Training. The stationing of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and its M198-equipped 5th Squadron in Vilseck, Germany, was fortuitous. Its presence enabled 4-319 AFAR to sign for, train with and certify on M198 howitzers before deploying to Afghanistan. While this short training period was invaluable, it still left some experience gaps that required attention upon assumption of mission in theater.
Time, range limitations and ammunition availability were all constraints that hindered the battalion's ability to execute realistic, mission-oriented, live-fire training replicating Afghanistan's operational requirements. The battalion sacrificed its situational training exercise train-up for its MRE, substituting five days of live-fire training with the larger howitzer-the only live-fire training time available with the M198. However, the unit was able to self-train only adequately on the basics.
In Nangahar, Nuristan, Konar and Laghman Provinces, most fire missions are fired out of traverse, at high angle and at ranges greater than 20 kilometers. Range restrictions at Grafenwoehr, Germany, limited 4-319 AFAR to firing strictly low angle on a single azimuth of fire and-due to ammunition availability -with single lots of high-explosive projectiles and low-charge propellants.
The inability to train and familiarize with the myriad types and lots of projectiles and propellants that the unit needed to master in Afghanistan proved to be significant. During its first week in theater, the battalion fired two missions with incorrect ammunition (incorrect square weight and incorrect projectile type).
The unit requested and received prompt support in the form of a mobile training team (MTT) from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The MTT spent two weeks with the battalion's firing platoons and dramatically improved the battalion's knowledge base and experience. Incorporating an MTT into a unit's training cycle is the optimal solution for units deploying with a nonorganic howitzer system in the future.
Fighting with Fires. The King of the Herd greatly benefited from the brigade's professional and knowledgeable team of fire supporters and maneuver commanders. Experience from two previous deployments to Afghanistan imbued the brigade commander with a deep understanding of the need to integrate fires and to fight with fires. On a daily basis, troops in contact (TIC) suppressed anti-Afghan forces (AAF) with small-arms while defeating them with fires. The 4-319 AFAR fired more than 15,000 rounds during its deployment-well over 60 percent of which were in support of TIC situations with devastating effects to the AAF.
Fighting with fires goes well beyond the FA's ability to deliver steel on target. Integration of all fire support assets-field artillery, mortars, Apaches and Kiowas, and close air support (CAS)-into the fight proved decisive in most of the hundreds of engagements between the Sky Soldiers and the enemy. The ability to synchronize all of these assets requires practice and skill.
As fire supporters gained experience in combat and continued to train in theater, they confidently deconflicted artillery and mortars from air platforms by altitude and lateral separation rather than defaulting to deconfliction by time. Simultaneously bringing all available assets to bear on a target is an area that should be a training focus. Company commanders, platoon leaders and their observers must have the opportunity to practice the complicated synchronization of these assets during live-fire training events before and throughout their deployment.
Fires in Mountain Warfare. Fighting in the mountains comes with unique challenges that require deliberate planning and preparation. Positioning howitzer platoons to support operations simultaneously with overlapping coverage optimizes flexibility and minimizes the challenge of firing at targets on the reverse slope of mountains or hills. Firing high-angle missions at long ranges dramatically increases the probable error (PE) in range compared to low-angle, short-range fire missions executed during home station training.
An examination of tabular firing tables shows a five-fold increase in PE in range between firing a 155-millimeter round low-angle at a range of 6,000 meters (PE in range is 21 meters) and firing at high-angle at a range of 25,000 meters (PE in range is 106 meters). Accounting for nonstandard conditions and assuming accurate target location and a normal dispersion pattern (see figure), a round fired high-angle at 25 kilometers would produce a 424-meter (plus or minus) variance in range on flat terrain.
This fundamental element of ballistics can be exacerbated greatly when firing at a reverse-slope target. Educating observers and maneuver commanders about accuracy expectations for long-range, high-angle and reverse-slope targets allows for proper selection of firing unit based on positioning-or selection of an alternate method (such as attack aviation or CAS) of engaging the target.
Direct Fire. An aspect of FA operations in the mountains that proved advantageous to the battalion was the ability to conduct direct-fire calibrations. Many firing positions' proximity to nearby uninhabited mountains facilitated a more efficient and timely calibration of many ammunition lots, eliminating the need for dedicated observers.
Direct fire is another skill set that should be practiced, particularly when deploying to an area where there is constrictive terrain where the enemy easily can approach to within small-arms range of firing positions. During the course of the brigade's deployment, two King of the Herd firing platoons valiantly defended themselves and their bases with direct fire, effectively engaging AAF and ending the fights with their direct-fire skills.
Lightweight 155. The attachment of C/3-321 AFAR Cobras in January increased the tube strength in AO Bayonet by 50 percent. Recently fielded with the M777A2 howitzer, the Cobras arrived well trained and ready to fight. They assumed responsibility for the position areas with the highest operational tempo and flawlessly sustained the high-level of accuracy and responsiveness expected by the maneuver task forces.
Sustaining a new, low-density weapons system comes with challenges. The most significant challenge for the battalion was finding long-term, reliable power generation to keep the systems' electronics functioning. Dedicated two-kilowatt generators with a high-mobility multipurpose, wheeled vehicle as a back-up worked in the short term; however for static position areas such as those found in most of Afghanistan, the long-term solution should be hard wiring. Overall, sustaining the M777A2 was an efficient process, with parts flow and maintenance systems working well.
With the Cobras came the Excalibur precision-guided projectile that turned out to be a valuable addition to the brigade's arsenal. Following a test fire, during which Excalibur impacted on target and functioned properly, the battery was called upon more than one occasion to deliver precision fires at pin-point locations. The Cobras did not fire an Excalibur during their new equipment training (NET), so this test fire was their first live Excalibur mission and allowed them to test and refine their TTP for subsequent fire missions. Live fire of Excalibur should be incorporated into future M777A2 NET.
Ultimately, the success of any unit in combat derives from the Soldiers, NCOs and junior commissioned officers serving in our formations. The TTPs and lessons learned described in this article are a function of being "in the right place at the right time" and of having the opportunity to execute a standard FA mission in combat.
LTC Stephen J. Maranian, FA
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen J. Maranian, Field Artillery (FA), commands the 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment (4-319 AFAR), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Bamberg, Germany, which redeployed in July from Operation Enduring Freedom. He has served as Special Assistant to the Commanding General, US Army Europe, Heidelberg, Germany; Deputy G3 for 1st Infantry Division in Tikrit, Iraq, and Wurzburg, Germany; 1st Infantry Division Artillery Executive Officer (XO) and Battalion XO for 1-6 FA, all in 1st Infantry Division in Bamberg, Germany; and as Brigade Fire Support Officer in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy. He commanded C Battery, 2-82 FA and Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Cavalry Division Artillery at Fort Hood. He holdsa MasterofArts in Human Resources Development from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri.