Infantry Mortar Leader Course focuses on constant modernization of FDC.
An Infantry commander's mortar sections are responsible for providing immediate and accurate indirect fire support. Proper training of the three elements of the indirect fire support team provides the commander with the confidence to use them to their full potential. The elements the forward observer (FO), the gun line, and the fire direction center (FDC) require continual assessment of their respective complex individual and collective tasks to demonstrate technical proficiency and tactical awareness. Improved weapons, ammunition, and fire direction technology create training challenges for mortar leaders.
The Infantry Mortar Leader Course (IMLC), based at Fort Benning, Ga., is considered the mortar leader's master gunner course. This distinction requires an evolutionary training philosophy that means the professional instructor must remain a consummate student and be at the vanguard of recent advancements. As IMLC instructors, we take this responsibility seriously and provide the Infantry's future mortar leaders with the skill sets they need to build their commander's confidence in their ability to perform their mission.
The IMLC provides FO and gunner skills training to facilitate conceptualizing the synchronization of the three elements of a commander's indirect fire team. What the course focuses on, however, is the constant modernization of the fire direction center. The FDC is the brains of the mortar section. Soldiers in the FDC, called computers, must translate forward observer information into the gun commands, which ensure timely and accurate fire support.
Technological advances in the 1980s began the transition from manual fire direction tools to digital. In 1985 the M23 Mortar Ballistic Computer (MBC) ushered in the digital age of fire direction technology. The MBC is lightweight, handheld, and powered by either an internal battery or external cables to various power sources. The MBC software enables the FDC to receive digital transmissions from the fire support elements (FSE) and process updated weather information to maintain weapon accuracy. The MBC was designed to support all types of U.S. mortars and ammunition with multiple fire mission scenarios. It weighs seven pounds (including the battery) or eight pounds (including the battery and case assembly). It is portable, can be used in all-weather operations, and has built-in self-test circuits. The MBC requires fire mission data input to compute fire commands needed to effectively execute a mortar fire mission. When the MBC is connected to an external communication device, such as a digital message device (DMD) or the forward observer system (FOS), the FO fire mission inputs are automatically entered and may be reviewed and edited by the MBC operator. When the MBC is not connected to an external communication device, the MBC operator manually enters all fire mission data. The fire commands are then relayed to the gun line in accordance with the unit standing operating procedures (SOP). FDC computers can decrease mission response time while processing data for all types of fire missions safely and accurately. Rudimentary by modern standards, the MBC remains a viable back-up fire direction system for many Guard and Reserve units.
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Improved hardware and software design during the 1990s provided the FDC with a revolutionary system for delivering mortar fires. Initially fielded for the vehicle mounted heavy 120mm mortar, the M95 Mortar Fire Control System (MFCS) uses digital technology and GPS positioning to enable a mortar section to send and receive digital call-for-fire messages, determine the pointing and position of the weapon, and calculate ballistic solutions.
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The MFCS is currently installed on the M1064 mortar carrier and the Stryker mortar carrier to support a wider and deeper tactical situation. Future fielding options include the trailer-transported and Bradley-vehicle-mounted 120mm mortar. The MFCS enables a mortar section to set-up, fire, and move within seconds rather than minutes. The improved accuracy reduces response time and fratricide, and the software and hardware are maintained at unit or higher maintenance levels. The digital interface enhances the mortar section's situational awareness with battlefield updates of fire-plans and fire support coordination measures. The MFCS is also capable of producing ballistic solutions for the 60mm and 81mm mortars in the ground mounted mode and for multiple fire mission scenarios. The MFCS, however, lacks the mobile flexibility that our light Infantry and Special Operations forces require. Hardware and software engineers then set to work on a replacement for the M23 MBC.
Twenty years after the MBC reached its maximum effectiveness, the Army introduced the M32 Lightweight Handheld Mortar Ballistic Computer (LHMBC). It is a one-for-one replacement for the MBC in our light Infantry, Airborne, and Special Operations units. It uses similar MFCS software to provide ballistic solutions in a handheld ruggedized personal digital assistant (RPDA) case. The LHMBC weighs about three pounds and is powered by internal rechargeable batteries. External cables maintain a constant charge for extended periods of operation. The LHMBC gives the FDC improved capabilities over the MBC with a faster processor and a Windows operating system, and it is expandable with GPS and digital communications. While software upgrades can be handled at the unit level, hardware upgrades are direct support or above maintenance level. Similar to the MFCS, the LHMBC provides firing solutions for all U.S. mortars and ammunition in a variety of fire mission situations. While the LHMBC can send and receive digital messages with the FSE, the FDC must send the ballistic solutions to the gun line by voice.
Prior to 1985, our primary means of fire direction rested with manual tools. The 107mm or 4.2" mortar used the graphical firing fan (GFF), while the 60mm and 81mm mortars used the M16 or M19 plotting boards. Each of these devices are limited only by the operator's knowledge and skill. With the elimination of the 107mm mortar and the GFF, the M16 plotting board has stood the test of time to remain the primary manual tool for the FDC computer. Mastering this device requires practice and situational awareness. The computer receives and transcribes an observer's call for fire into a graphical portrayal of the battlefield onto the plotting board. He then manipulates the device to read and translate the proper data to the gun line for accurate fires. With a three-dimensional mindset, advanced users consider deviation, range, altitude, observer perspective, and even changing weather conditions to process any type of fire mission into a timely and accurate fire for effect. The computer constantly updates the plotting board to evolve into a quick reference situation map for the FDC.
As IMLC instructors, we believe that keeping our mortar leaders up-to-date on the technical challenges of hardware and software advancements is only part of their professional development. While digital fire direction enhances communication and speed, there is no substitute for the knowledge gained from mastering the manual tools. When elements of technology fail, the FDC and gun section must seamlessly revert to the degraded, or manual, method of fire direction. Also, the digital devices' accuracy and effectiveness are contingent on the operator's skill and attention towards establishing the correct set-up information. Any incorrect information will result in inaccurate firing data. IMLC instructors stress the value of technological advancements while instilling an appreciation for the mindset of knowing what right looks like while using the manual tools. The M16 plotting board remains the best tool we have to help our Infantry mortar leaders conceptualize the synchronization between the three elements of a commander's indirect fire support team. That conceptualization contributes to fully trained mortar sections that gain and maintain their commander's confidence.
For more information on the IMLC, visit https://www.benning.army.mil/infantry/197th/course/imlc/index.htm or call (706) 545-9730.