MLRS AFATDS and communications: lessons learned in OIF.
2-4 FA was the first multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) unit to reach the theater with M270A1 launchers and, initially, V Corps Artillery's only MLRS unit firing when ground forces crossed into Iraq. During OIF, the battalion fired 174 Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) Block 1 missiles, 36 Block 1A missiles, 13 unitary missiles and more than 220 M26 rockets.
214 FAB fired suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) missions and preparatory fire plans before crossing the line of departure (LD), then crossed the Iraqi border directly behind maneuver forces and traveled more than 1,000 kilometers, moving as far north as Tikrit. The brigade fire control element (FCE) received fire plans on the move via the PRC-150 Harris HF radio, while 2-4 FA moved into pre-cleared position areas to fire and move again to range deep targets ahead of maneuver forces.
The 214th FAB provided reinforcing (R) fires to the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized) and the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) as well as general support reinforcing (GSR) fires to the 3d and 4th Divisions with V Corps Artillery as the Force FA headquarters. This enabled the brigade to provide fires for shaping operations, close support and counterfire, with targets originating at all levels from individual maneuver task forces all the way up to the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).
The advanced FA tactical data system (AFATDS) was the vital link in providing responsive fires for such a large battlespace. AFATDS allowed us to efficiently service targets throughout the entire Iraqi area of operations (AO) with various munitions for many units. The system is user-friendly and allows smooth processing of fire missions and fire plans once the database is set up and verified. AFATDS provides a significant improvement in fire planning capability over previous fire control systems.
AFATDS works great with mobile subscriber equipment (MSE) and local area network (LAN) communications, and the data distribution is smooth with this setup. Overall the communications setup is simple, and it is easy to switch from LAN to variable message format (VMF), etc. The software layout makes it easy to troubleshoot communications with AFATDS, allowing units to quickly get back into the fight.
We did, however, have some challenges with AFATDS. Once hostilities ended, the brigade compiled some AFATDS lessons learned and workarounds or tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) used during the conflict as well as some recommendations for improvements. This article addresses I AFATDS Lessons Learned with recommendations and TTPs, II Counterfire TTP and III The Communications Structure.
I AFATDS Lessons Learned
Many of the challenges we experienced were MLRS-specific, and Team
AFATDS already is correcting most of them in the next couple of versions of AFATDS software. Until these versions are available, the TTPs and workarounds we used during the war will help units in their training and preparation for our nation's next conflict.
* AFATDS, the System. During OIF, we used AFATDS Version 188.8.131.52, with Service Pack 1. Version 6.3.2 is due out in December 2003, while Version 7 is due out in December 2004.
--Geometries. AFATDS would not display a large number of individual geometries. When providing fires for corps-level operations, we needed to display more geometries.
TTP Solution. Team AFATDS reports the inability to display individual geometries was due to a programming glitch that will be corrected in Version 6.3.2.
Until all units have the 6.3.2, we recommend they use the following workaround: go into the geometry workspace, open "Geometry," click on "Coordinates" and then move all the windows to the side so the geometry is displayed on the screen.
--Compact Computer Unit (CCU). The 214th FAB Headquarters fought from an assault command post (ACP). The brigade FCE opted to use the CCU to fight from the ACP. The section was impressed with how well the CCU held up in the desert. The CCU proved to be very ragged, and the $35 keyboard skins the brigade bought before deploying proved to be invaluable.
When things slowed down, the section rotated back-up CCUs in and cleaned out the two used during the war with an air hose. We all watched the four different colors of dust blow out during the cleaning and were amazed we didn't have more problems with the CCU.
--Jaz Storage Drive. As ragged as the CCU is, it still fell short when it came to the Jaz drive's storing data. Very seldom did the Jaz drive work.
Recommendation. Team AFATDS can either replace the CCU with a Pentium laptop (toughbook) with CD rom (CDR) and floppy disk drives or replace the Jaz drive with a CDR drive.
--Ultra Computer Unit (UCU). While the brigade FCE was fortunate enough to operate with CCUs--on the modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE) for brigade liaison officer (LNO) teams--the battalion used UCUs. The UCUs proved to be bulky, and the battalion had trouble protecting the tactical communications interface module (TCIM) cards from damage due to their large size.
Recommendation. We recommend AFATDS go to laptops. Team AFATDS says laptop replacements for UCUs will starting fielding in FY05, followed by the fielding of laptops to replace CCUs. Beginning in spring 2004, units fielding AFATDS for the first time will receive laptops.
--Free-Text Messages. The free-text message has become a necessity of digital communications. The current version of AFATDS takes an average of seven to 10 seconds to bring up the free-text screen, which is far too long.
Many times, we had to relay time-sensitive digital traffic from higher to lower units with large amounts of text. To relay the message, we had to open a new text message and copy everything from the original message to the new message.
Recommendation. Time could be saved with functional forward and reply buttons. Along with a hardware upgrade providing a faster processor, an audio alert for incoming free-text messages needs to be added--much like the fire mission audio alert.
--Time Drifting. Our AFATDS was powered by either a three-kilowatt or 10-kilowatt generator throughout the operation. Even with a three-kilowatt generator dedicated to running only AFATDS, we still had problems with time drifting. This problem can be attributed to the fact that the AC power supplied from a generator does not stay constant like commercial AC power.
TTP Solution. The easiest procedure is to activate AFATDS using the precision lightweight global positioning system receiver (PLGR) time and to verify the time during each shift change and time hack before conducting fire planning. What we learned is that if you hit the "Synchronize" button when the seconds hit zero, AFATDS takes three to five seconds to establish the time. To compensate for the delay, we synchronized three to five seconds before the actual mark time.
--Time Displayed in Seconds. AFATDS time does not show seconds in the upper right hand corner display. We needed seconds displayed on the screen so AFATDS operators could verify if they were on PLGR time. Team AFATDS provided a procedure to use the system clock; however, the process took a while and periodically locked up the system.
Recommendation. Team AFATDS reports the December software release will add seconds to the display, solving the problem.
* Computing Maximum Ordinate. When the brigade closed in on Baghdad, the 3d Division required maximum ordinate (Max Ord) and the gun target line for every fire mission due to a corps-imposed restricted operating zone (ROZ) placed over Baghdad.
The battalion or battery fire direction center (FDC) had to either compute Max Ord using the chart in the back of FM 309. 60, TTP for MLRS Operations (Final Draft) for max trajectory (then add the launcher altitude) or wait until the launcher fired the mission and get the data off the fire control panel (FCP).
Solution. Team AFATDS reports that AFATDS Version 7 will display Max Ords in the "Mission Monitor" window.
* Coordination Handshakes. Coordination handshakes for violated geometries took too long to process and had to be overridden.
One of the reasons for this problem was the target came to V Corps Artillery through the automated deep operations coordination system (ADOCS) software; then once the decision was made to engage the target with missiles, the corps artillery initiated a fire mission via AFATDS. Therefore, there was no direct or indirect route through AFATDS to the originator of the fire mission at CFLCC; as a result, the establishing headquarters could not override any coordination violations.
Another reason it took so long for coordination handshakes was that not all the units requiring coordination had good digital communications with the battalion's AFATDS, even though they had voice comms with the clearing headquarters. To expedite the process, the 214th FAB considered any targets sent from higher headquarters, reinforced FA headquarters or the supported maneuver brigade combat team (BCT) and higher (division) fire support elements (FSEs) to be cleared. These units all had Force XXI battle command brigade and below ([FBCB.sup.2]) and other automated unit tracking systems that the 214th FAB did not have. This TTP enabled the battalion to pre-clear all fires except counterfire acquisitions from the attached radars.
Recommendation. [FBCB.sup.2] and other devices used to track friendly forces need to be available at the general support (GS) brigade level to expedite clearing fires.
* Unit Icon Distribution. As the only initial ATACMS (Block 1A and unitary) missile shooters in theater, CFLCC required individual launcher updates whenever the launchers moved to expedite the clearance of airspace. With our configuration, AFATDS only would update two levels down. For example, the brigade FCE only could receive the battalion FDC icon and the three firing battery FDC icons.
The procedure adopted was either for the firing battery to go into the unit workspace and send each individual launcher icon to battalion (then battalion to brigade, etc.) or for the firing battery to transfer current units, selecting its individual launcher icons. Brigade, in turn, used the same procedure to send the icons to corps and then on up the chain.
Recommendation. A future software upgrade should allow launcher icons to be distributed to any unit in accordance with the setup in the distribution list--perhaps programming the software to know that any launcher with ATACMS uploaded will automatically update units in the distribution list. A potential solution includes automatic updates any time the launcher is uploaded and in position ready to fire (IPRTF).
* Loaded Munitions Manager (LLM). The classified LMM loaded well. However, the ranges for all the munitions didn't seem to be classified. In the tactical assembly area (TAA), the battalion FDC computed missions outside the unclassified range and would not get a "Green Gumball" allowing it to fire. When battalion sent the "Order To Fire/Fire Order" (OTF/FO) down to the battery, the battery FDC would not get a Green Gumball. However, when the OTF/FO went down to the launcher, the launcher would get a solution.
The effects management tool (EMT) tells if a solution exists; however, a fire control officer (FCO) or fire direction officer (FDO) shouldn't have to go outside AFATDS to find this out.
Solution. Team AFATDS reports this capability will be in the December 2003 Version 6.3.2 software.
* Fire Mission Processing. At times the MSE data link would go down, or the brigade would move out of FM communications range with higher headquarters. The secure tactical satellite (SCTACSAT) and the Harris radio then became the primary means of voice communications with corps artillery.
When the brigade received a fire mission by voice, it had two options. The mission could go down to the battalion by voice comms, or the brigade could initiate a fire mission at the brigade level and send it down digitally.
To initiate a fire mission, the operator must go through too many tabs. The FCE/FDC must go through (potentially) five separate tabs to open one voice mission to process it. Units need a simpler, one-page method of initiating a fire mission, allowing the operator to tab from field to field quickly.
With the current system, guidances should and often do make fire mission processing easier. However, when a missile fire mission comes down via voice, the operator has to go to the munitions tab and enter the desired dispersal pattern for the missile.
Also, while at the munitions tab, operators can't choose between Block 1 or Block 1A. When it comes to selecting the "Fire for Effect" (FFE) shell, "ATACMS APAM" (antipersonnel and anti-material munition) is AFATDS' alias for both Blocks 1 and 1A. This becomes a problem with the classified LMM loaded when a Block 1A mission is sent and the launcher only can calculate a solution for the target with Block 1. The workaround was to send the fire order by voice, directing the battalion/battery to engage the target with Block 1A.
The brigade also experienced issues in supporting several different units with different standard tactical missions because the guidances and standard fire orders changed from unit to unit. The fix was a matter of database management and staying on top of changes.
Recommendation. Only the first two tabs are used to initiate a fire mission at brigade and below. We recommend either taking out the other tabs to speed up the fire mission process or, if upper echelons or units require them, setting up the "Initiate Fire Mission" window to best support each attack analysis level.
* Fire Planning. Fire planning is relatively easy with AFATDS. One problem we experienced with fire plans was that occasionally corps artillery sent down changes to a fire plan to brigade with a duplicate target number but with a different grid. From brigade, this fire plan was sent down to the battalion and its batteries for execution.
When the brigade received last-minute changes to the fire plan (target location refinements) without changes to the target numbers, AFATDS would not accept the fire plan unless all targets associated with the original fire plan were deleted and purged from the inactive target list. In contrast, if a target came down with a different target number but the same or similar grid, that target failed target duplication standards set in the guidances (depending on the guidances). These issues prevented our AFATDS from receiving changes to fire plans at the brigade or battalion levels.
On the first day of the war, a last-minute change was made to a fire plan. Corps artillery updated the fire plan and sent it to brigade, but AFATDS would not receive the plan. The initial workaround was to delete the fire plan and target list so that the corps artillery could resend the fire plan. We then had to do the same procedures at the battalion and battery levels. The battalion had trouble deleting the 20-plus targets in time to send the plan via AFATDS, so the fire plan had to be printed out and carried to the battalion FDC to get "steel on target."
TTP Solution. AFATDS needs to analyze and compare targets by target number blocks, not just location and target type. Target duplication standards prevent attacking a target multiple times when effects are not achieved or when the target is very large, etc. This is a great feature by design, but it causes problems during fire planning when target refinement is continuous.
A lesson learned is to go back to the basics of targeting taught at the schoolhouse and change the target number when the target is refined. AFATDS requires that. We also need to enforce target refinement cutoffs at all levels. This is essential to give units time to process large numbers of targets and changes before firing.
* Continuous Operations (Con Ops). Con Ops procedures for AFATDS are complex. The current AFATDS Version 184.108.40.206 manual (dated 31 October 2002) doesn't cover these procedures.
Recommendation. Team AFATDS reports that TM 11-7025-297-10-1 AFATDS Operations System Software Operator's Manual Chapter 6, "Miscellaneous," Paragraph 6.25, covers Con Ops and that the procedures, by their nature, are complex, requiring training. We recommend Team AFATDS streamline the procedures in future software upgrades.
* Internet Protocol (IP). When units built into our AFATDS sent a free-text message via the LAN with a different IP than in the subscriber table, AFATDS locked up. Sometimes, AFATDS just locked up for 30 seconds or so, but sometimes it crashed. The latter usually occurred during fire mission processing, forcing us to go voice until the AFATDS came back up.
With units' short-range extension network (SEN) support changing as often as it did throughout OIF, AFATDS cannot be locking up every time a new IP enters the network from a unit already in the subscriber table.
Solution. Team AFATDS reports that Version 7 will fully automate AFATDS' recognition of new IPs for units already on the subscriber list.
* MSE. MSE works great with AFATDS. We could easily push geometry and unit icons via the LAN, and data distribution worked perfectly. Crucial to success with the LAN is occupying position areas with good line-of-sight (LOS) SEN shots or having the TSC-93 satellite attached to the unit. We were fortunate to have both during most of the war.
While MSE worked extremely well, VMF had trouble with large volumes of traffic, specifically the large amount of geometries and unit updates pushed down from higher headquarters. In some cases, we had to lower our data rate to allow more data to be pushed over longer distances when comms were degraded. This slowed digital communications down but still allowed us to maintain a link.
Recommendation. The TSC-93s (or newer version of satellite link) and SENs need to become organic to all FA brigade-level units and SEN teams organic to all MLRS battalions. This will allow MLRS units to cover the large battlespace associated with MLRS operations and provide the opportunity to train MSE/AFATDS in peacetime.
Team AFATDS says Service Pack 1 allows AFATDS to communicate with HF radios (MRC 138 and 150s), but units didn't have the radio cables to connect to AFATDS. Team AFATDS is getting cables for FA units still in Iraq.
* Ammunition Tracking. When the launcher transmits its update, AFATDS can track what munitions are uploaded in the launcher but not the ammunition in the stored munitions file. In the past, we used the MLRS fire direction system (FDS) to track munitions by what munitions were loaded on the launcher and what munitions were available by response time. AFATDS should have this same feature.
Ideally, when a unit draws its initial authorized basic load (ABL), the launcher should transmit its update with what munitions it has uploaded. The battery FDO then inputs what munitions are available and their response times, based on what the ammo platoon sergeant reports is on the heavy expanded-mobility tactical trucks (HEMTTs) or heavy expanded-mobility ammunition trailers (HEMATs). When the launcher expends its pods, the update automatically is transmitted to higher headquarters, and when the launcher goes to the reload point, the pods uploaded on the launcher are subtracted from the ammunition tracked by response time.
Solution. Team AFATDS says ammunition management in AFATDS is different than in the FDS; the December software release will facilitate the ammo tracking procedures.
II Counterfire TTP
Due to lengthy clearance of fires procedures required by higher headquarters, it was difficult, at best, to achieve counterfire responsiveness, whether the brigade was serving as the counterfire headquarters or fulfilling a reinforcing role. TTP Solution. When the brigade received TAs in the counterfire AFATDS, the mission was sent directly to the FCE AFATDS and then down the firing battery "At My Command" (AMC) for MLRS or "Do Not Load" (DNL) for cannons. Simultaneously, the brigade cleared the target grid by voice through whichever maneuver unit was the current higher headquarters (V Corps/3d or 4th Infantry Division). The total time to clear a target was roughly the time it took to lay on the target. Once clearance was received from maneuver, the method of control was changed to "When Ready" (WR) for cannons or the command to "Fire" was given, placing steel on target.
These AFATDS lessons learned in OIF allow units to focus future training to provide battalion and lower FDCs a realistic scenario and a chance to work through problems they could face in combat.
III The Communications Structure
The biggest lesson learned during Operation Iraqi Freedom is the importance of a communications structure in a large, fast-pace battlespace. We learned that during occupations, it takes at least 30 minutes to get an MSE data shot in that provides LAN and digital non-secure voice telephone (DNVT) communications. At the brigade level and below, the FM radio was used exclusively and was inadequate for the battlespace covered.
The Harris radio provided continuous voice communications with higher and subordinate units throughout the war. At times we talked with radios more than 500 kilometers away on the whip antenna.
Recommendation. The Army should expand the use of the Harris radios by developing the software and hardware, if needed, to talk digitally. That would enable the artillery to better "Shoot, Move and Communicate" on the move in future conflicts. We also need to expand the capabilities of the SCTACSAT radio and incorporate it into FA MTOEs.
AFATDS Version 6.3.1 was critical to our operations in OIF. We have identified the challenges we faced and our TTP for dealing with those challenges--plus our recommendations for improvements--in hopes of making a good system better for those who follow.
Captain Rhett A. Taylor is the Brigade Fire Control Officer (FCO) in the 214th FA Brigade, III Corps Artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). He served as a Company Fire Support Officer (FSO), Platoon Fire Direction Officer (FDO), Platoon Leader and Battalion S4 with 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division in Germany and Kosovo.
Captain Matt T. Wegner is a Brigade FCO in the 214th FA Brigade and deployed to Iraq for OIF. While serving as a Company FSO with the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, he deployed to Kosovo and Macedonia. He also served as a Platoon FDO, Platoon Leader and Reconnaissance and Survey Officer in the same battalion.
Captain George T. Tatum is the Battalion FDO for the 2d Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, part of the 214th Field Artillery Brigade, and deployed to Iraq for OIF. In the same battalion, he also served as a Firing Platoon Leader and Battery FDO.
Sergeant First Class Wayne Bui is the Senior Fire Control NCO in the 214th FA Brigade and deployed to Iraq in OIF. He also served as the Fire Control Chief for the 2d Infantry Division Artillery in Korea; Chief Tactical Automated Fire Direction Instructor for the FA Captain's Career Course, Fort Sill; and Communications and Electronics Command Advanced FA Tactical Data System (AFATDS) Instructor on the New Equipment Training Team, also at Fort Sill.