Fire and maneuver: versatility in COIN.
Deployed in March 2007, for the next 14 months the battalion conducted multiple missions in three provinces across Iraq, executing detainee operations in the largest detainment facility in the world, providing terrain denial fires in Baghdad and Basra, and owning the largest operational environment in Area of Operations (AO) Hammer.
This article describes the preparation, tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) TF Rock learned during previous deployments and the challenges it faced delivering fires in support of COIN operations.
Predeployment Training. While preparing for deployment, the brigade commander ordered the battalion to train as a maneuver headquarters; one firing battery transforming into a motorized rifle company and one conducting traditional Artillery operations--the norm for most Artillery battalions in Iraq. Though the battalion becomes very busy with COIN operations, there still are FA missions that have to be resourced and executed, presenting more challenges than the typical maneuver headquarters faces.
Lessons learned from the unit's previous deployments led the battalion commander to modify the training for combat operations. He chose to remove training normally integral to high intensity combat (HIC), such as smoke missions, coordinated illumination, and large irregular shaped targets.
Removing these missions, which have no relevance in support of COIN operations, allowed the battalion to conserve critical ammunition needed both to familiarize the fire direction centers (FDCs) with proper calibration procedures and for numerous multiple-round missions. Both firing batteries conducted Qualification Tables VIII and XII. Then A Battery conducted the required motorized rifle-company training, while B Battery performed Table XV qualification and conducted additional training, preparing for counterfire and terrain denial operations.
With the uncertainty of the types of missions facing Artillery battalions, firing batteries should qualify their sections on a modified Table VIII, including a low-angle fire-for-effect mission (counterfire), a low-angle adjust-fire mission (terrain denial), a calibration mission, a priority target mission, and, if possible, an Excalibur mission. These allow the units to perform multiple-round missions that section chiefs need to refine their crew drills.
Knowing that the entire battery would not be needed to conduct FA operations, TF Rock faced the challenge of training all Soldiers in COIN operations basics. This demanding training paid off, ensuring that everyone was proficient in COIN basics, key Arabic phrases and cultural concepts. The battery prepared for full-spectrum operations while at NTC, such as providing fixed-site security for the joint security station and manning the firing headquarters, command-security detachment, forward operating base (FOB) quick reaction force and the detainee holding area.
Our brigade and battalion generated multiple smart cards containing pertinent data, such as improvised explosive device (IED) defeat, culture, useful Arabic phrases and combat lifesaving skills. Carrying these smart cards helps each Soldier and allows sergeants and leaders to conduct hip-pocket training during any downtime no matter where they are.
Full-Spectrum Operations. Shortly after arriving in theater, MultiNational Corps, Iraq, ordered TF Rock to Camp Bucca--the world's largest detainment facility--to conduct detainee operations. The Soldiers quickly grasped the skills, providing the proper custody, control and care for more than 3,500 detainees on a daily basis. The cultural, language and COIN training they had received in the states was integral to their ability to quell riots, attempted escapes and many other harmful situations during their tenure at Camp Bucca. Their competent actions helped bring dangerous and radical insurgents to justice.
Many of the unit's officers and NCOs took part in detainee release boards, and their experiences armed these leaders with the knowledge they would need later in conducting COIN operations. Because many of the detainees were released due to lack of evidence, these leaders learned that precise and comprehensive detainment paperwork can ensure the proper people are brought to justice.
Also, this assignment provided an opportunity to serve with our sister Services, the Air Force and Navy, in joint operations.
Joint Operations. After four months at Camp Bucca, the battery fielded the new Excalibur precision-guided munitions (PGM) with a follow-on tasking to support British forces at Basra Air Station--the "incoming indirect-fire capital" of Iraq. Along with this mission, the battery assumed control of firing operations out of FOB Hammer in support of 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division.
Integrating a platoon-sized element into Battery A, 1st Royal Horse Artillery Regiment, better known as The Chestnut Troop, proved easier than expected. Aside from the daily rocket barrages, the biggest challenge was adapting to the British Artillery operational style. Our battalion operations sergeant major and fire control NCO initially joined the battery to smooth over these few integration issues.
Soldiers of both units took many lessons learned and the feedback was that they thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with their greatest ally. From shooting artillery side by side, participating in a pick up game of volleyball or sweating during a heated game of soccer (or "futball," as they call it), the experiences will last throughout our careers in the Army as well as some new friends who will last a lifetime.
At FOB Hammer, the battalion chain of command decided to place the battery FDC in the brigade tactical operations command (TOC), collocated with the brigade fire support element (FSE), eliminating the need to man the battalion FDC. This TTP proved very effective and was used throughout OIF V at FOB Hammer.
Instead of communicating through FM radio, the FSE and FDC were in constant face-to-face communication, alleviating much of the confusion that can come with distance. Along with the FSE, all other fire support assets were in "arm's reach" of the brigade aviation element and the air liaison officer, greatly reducing fire mission processing times and allowing for a faster counterfire battle drill. This enhanced the brigade's ability to clear the ground, Army and Air Force air and simultaneously lay the howitzers. The result was a smooth fire mission process that eliminated the normal lag that comes with communicating over FM, my internet relay chat (mIRC) or secure voice over internet protocol (SVOIP).
Lessons Learned. One important lesson learned was to, if at all possible, collocate the battery FDC with the brigade TOC during training leading up to the mission readiness exercise and perfect counterfire battle drill before arriving in theater. This allows for a smooth process from day one of operations. Also, removing the need to man a battalion FDC allows military occupational specialist (MOS) 13D Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems Specialists to fill other key areas in the TOC. This frees more Soldiers to man the command group's security detachment, which came "out of hide" from our battalion.
Providing fires 24-hours a day, on two fronts, called for a meticulous troop-to-task list. Managing leadership of the battery's firing units, howitzer and FDC sections during environmental and morale leave was a challenge and had to be met with precise planning to ensure firing capability was not lost. To alleviate such issues, the battery conducted numerous Table VII certifications, certifying almost every gunner with each section chief in the battery.
In some instances, certifying a strong gunner with an experienced cannoneer was also an alternative. During normal operations, the latter might be unadvisable with multiple occupations and other requirements requiring an experienced gunner, however in a stationary environment, an experienced cannoneer proved very reliable at cutting charges and verifying firing data. This technique eased many of the issues with breaking crews and certifications during environmental and morale leave.
TTPs. TF Rock adopted several TTPs in theater to the unit's needs. When conducting Table VIIs, the battery leadership generated a more refined certification, focusing on terrain denial, counterfire, Excalibur, calibration, voice commands and troubleshooting procedures. The missions were processed during the certifications just as during a live terrain-denial or counterfire mission.
All missions initially were given in a "lay but do not load" status to allow for clearance of ground and air. Also, all firing data was verified by voice back to the FDC to ensure safety. Terrain denial missions were sent as "adjust fire," with the first round used to verify accuracy and adjust onto the target, followed by the fire-for-effect portion. The counterfire was sent as a "fire for effect" from the start with the radar used as an observer.
Once cleared, the FDC changed the method of control to "when ready," also sending the command quadrant. The Excalibur portion of the certification covered system initialization, fire mission processing and troubleshooting procedures. To ensure that the sections maintained their gunnery skills, the chain of command conducted certifications quarterly.
Our fire mission processing relied heavily on voice fire commands that initially were very rusty. As a battery, we got "back to the basics" of voice fire commands to alleviate the confusion. At shift changeover, the FDC would send dry fire missions to the howitzer to shake off the cobwebs and to ensure voice and digital communications. For upcoming terrain denial missions, the FDC would gather the mission data and conduct a technical rehearsal to ensure there were no delays during the actual fire mission.
Shortly after assuming duties at FOB Hammer, operational tempo created a need for a third firing unit location. This generated a definite need for outside help to man three FDCs continuously. The battalion provided a few outside MOS 13D NCOs and Soldiers to ease the strain of manning the battery's FDCs. Mixing battalion FDC personnel into battery-level FDCs during the transition from tactical to technical fire direction seemed to alleviate issues.
Leaders Empowered/Complacency Avoided. One piece of advice to offer an Artillery commander preparing his unit for combat is to empower leaders at the lowest level to make command decisions. The term "Strategic Soldier" is very common today in Iraq. No matter the mission being conducted, one Soldier's actions can have a strategic impact, and commanders cannot be everywhere they are needed.
Along with challenging the FDCs, the expansion to three locations also required a meticulous troop-to-task list. Managing personnel, administration, environmental and morale leave, ammunition and supplies for three different locations throughout two different multinational divisions was very challenging. A strong first sergeant and a mature executive officer made the process much easier, as TF Rock split the battery headquarters with the first sergeant at FOB Hammer and the battery commander in Basra. The battery ran three firing locations for three months before departing Basra Air Station and consolidating the headquarters at FOB Hammer.
Running 24-hour operations from two locations and 12-16 hours at a third proved taxing for sections. Realizing that long hours in the stifling turret of a Paladin could lead to complacency, the battalion commander recommended that, when possible, the battery should limit time in the turret to eight hours.
The shortened shift gave the battery the flexibility to perform weekly maintenance on all of the howitzers and other taskings. Late in the tour, the same decision was made for FDCs as promotions and experience led to more flexibility.
To combat complacency throughout the tour, as lulls between fire missions can be extensive, the howitzer and FDC sections conducted hip-pocket training. Topics ranged from manual gunnery and computations to ammunition management and specialty munitions fire missions processing techniques.
Ammunition/Weapons Issues. The quality of Class V ammunition throughout the tour was troublesome. The many pushes the brigade received were poor with multiple lots; Vietnam-era propellants had lost their stabilizers (bottom on the base charge turns denim blue), and there were also dry-rotted and eroding propellant increments. Numerous attempts through the brigade to request lots we already had calibrated were unsuccessful.
These ammunition issues led to complications with calibration. Many of the different lots did not have enough propellants to calibrate effectively, giving the unit fewer attack options. It also led to the disposal of multiple propellants for every push received, further amplifying the need for effective and accurate calibration to ensure that all projectiles fell within the constraints of the collateral damage estimate. Units should become familiar with the calibration process while at home station and conduct a base line calibration with their equipment while in Kuwait before moving north.
However, inference of muzzle velocities, normally a useful method to save rounds, is not as important because in most cases there only will be two howitzers operating on a given firing point. We sacrificed the few extra rounds necessary to calibrate both our hot and warm gun, as actual muzzle velocity variance readings are more reliable than inferred calculations.
When new ammunition is received, calibrating both hot and warm howitzers ensures firing capability when maintenance issues arise. Also, preparing the FDCs to juggle multiple lots and square weights, as done at the NTC, sets them up for success.
Another TTP was setting a standard turret load in the hot and warm gun based off of the most recent fire missions. In doing this, the howitzer sections knew exactly which area to restock from and greatly reduced the possibility of errors in ammunition reporting between the FDC and the howitzer sections. This was no easy task, as the multiple ranges possible for fire missions forced us to keep a multitude of propellants in the ammunition holding area.
This alone required a precise count and thorough organization of ammunition. All like ammunition was stored together to streamline the restocking process. Also, to give our forward support company flexibility needed with flat racks, the battery stored ammunition on Air Force 463L pallets, readily available around the FOB.
An overabundance of M795 extended range high explosive (HE) projectiles throughout the latter stages of the tour generated the need to calibrate M795 with all charges. Although this was a new TTP for the unit, calibration proved relatively simple; and we experienced great success in shooting the M795.
Our unit found that getting solid calibration data with the modular artillery charge system M232 was nearly impossible. The propellants were erratic with rounds periodically falling outside the target area. This problem, along with the recently released safety message stating the need for some extreme calculations for muzzle velocity variances due to shortfalls in the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System software, caused some doubt between the FSE and FDC and forced the unit to discontinue usage of the M232, except with Excalibur.
The Excalibur PGM proved somewhat difficult to keep operational. The hardware was cumbersome with cabling and components strewn throughout the Paladin's turret. This allowed less freedom of maneuver in the turret and led to damaged cables while preparing ammunition for firing. There were multiple issues with faulty ruggedized personal data assistant cabling and uncooperative software. Our experiences have shown that the system is prone to issues if it is run continuously.
The field support representatives in country were willing to help us when possible, but the shortage of repair parts in theater produced a lag in our Excalibur firing capability. If at all possible, bring repair parts from Excalibur systems fielded at home station and coordinate with the unit you are replacing to establish communication with field service representatives in theater to prepare for maintenance issues.
Another challenge brought about by Excalibur was the need for a unique transmission encryption key and the erratic monthly key distribution. Often, the communications data needed to run the system was not given to the unit or was missing vital portions.
The Excalibur PGM is a good tool, but the time needed to clear the upper levels of airspace needed to fire, along with the safety restrictions required for the base plate, make the use of the projectile less desirable for a BCT. With a Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) battery located on our FOB, the Excalibur system became a secondary option for the BCT, behind the GMLRS or readily available fixed-or rotary-wing aviation assets.
The Air Force's Meteorological (Met) messages are a very useful tool. With correct latitude, longitude and region, 26 lines of accurate Met data can be received. This frees more personnel to conduct COIN operations.
COIN Operations Results. The Artillery piece of COIN operations in AO Hammer provided the intended effect on the local Iraqi citizens' minds. Civil affairs Soldiers attached to the battalion conducted numerous surveys asking the local citizens about their feelings concerning the terrain denial fire they commonly heard. Almost every response was positive, saying it was comforting to know that the US Forces can and are willing to protect the populace.
The Artillery was used in retaliation to attacks from certain areas throughout AO Hammer. If a patrol was ambushed or attacked with an IED in a certain area, it was not uncommon to fire terrain denial missions throughout the night in that area to help "root out" the culprits and to deny them further access to the scene of the attack.
The predeployment COIN training definitely paid great dividends. The TF continues to make substantial improvements along all lines of operations in its AO, providing security through the Sons of Iraq, creating jobs by increasing the operational strength of the Narwhan Brick Factory, providing much needed water for families, medical supplies for the sick, veterinary care for animals and a myriad of other improvements throughout the AO.
Whether, providing cannon fires, conducting detainee operations, patrolling the streets of AO Hammer, or providing vital force protection, these Artillerymen are making great strides in the COIN environment. With the versatility to fulfill its traditional role of shooting artillery while also acting as a maneuver TF headquarters, the battalion has become an integral piece in the overall success of the BCT.
Despite the assigned mission, it is still very important to continue training for our FA mission. As any Artilleryman would agree, the skills used in the delivery of cannon fire, whether in the FDC or in the turret, are perishable. However, with continued battle-focused training on COIN operations, partnered with training on our traditional Artillery tasks, Redlegs will continue to uphold that outstanding reputation that they have earned as versatile Soldiers capable of accomplishing any and all missions.
By CPT Christopher R. Vegas and 1SG Theodore M. Brock, both FA
Captain Christopher R. Vegas, Field Artillery (FA), is on terminal leave. Previously, he served as the Commander of B Battery, ist Battalion, 10th Field Artillery (B/1-10 FA), serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (01 F) Vat Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer, Iraq. He has served as a Battalion Rear Detachment Commander, Combat Observation and Lasing Team Platoon Leader, Firing Battery Platoon Leader (deploying in support of OIF I), and Platoon Fire Direction Officer, all in 1-10 FA, Fort Benning, Georgia.
First Sergeant Theodore M. Brock, FA, is the First Sergeant for, C/2-12 FA, 4th Brigade, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, at Fort Lewis, Washington. Previously, he was the Chief Fire Control NCO and Projects Purchasing Officer for B/1-10 FA, deployed in support of OIF V at FOB Hammer. He has served as a Platoon Sergeant and Battalion Fire Control NCO for 1-15FA, Camp Casey, Korea; an Observer/Controller and Trainer for 2-78 Training Support Battalion, Fort Drum, New York; Battalion Fire Control NCO for 2-82 FA, at Fort Hood, Texas; and a Fire Control Sergeant in both 1-320 FA, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and 3-311 FA, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
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|Author:||Vegas, Christopher R.; Brock, Theodore M.|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2008|
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