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Observation planning: where are the eyes of death?

Units today have become less focused on the importance of employing "eyes" on the battlefield. The planning process for Strikers, combat observation lasing teams (COLTs), company fire support teams (FISTs) and forward observers (FOs) is not thorough enough to employ them as deadly combat multipliers for the Army.

Even with a number of helpful systems at units' disposal, such as Terrabase and Mr. Sids software and S2 intelligence assets, units still fail to ensure they have adequate eyes to observe templated named areas of interests (NAIs). This would allow the units to develop target areas of interest (TAIs) and triggers to help execute their essential fire support tasks (EFSTs) and fire support events.

The Army continues to expend millions of dollars' worth of ammunition pounding dirt. Simply put, "the eyes" are not there to confirm the targets.

So where are our eyes, and why are we having only limited success employing indirect fire systems? One part of the answer is in observation planning. Maneuver staffs--and especially their fire support officers (FSOs) and fire support NCOs (FSNCOs) working in conjunction with the S2s and S3s--have to be more aggressive in the military decision-making process (MDMP) and position their eyes in the right place at the right time.

When selecting observers and their observation posts (OPs), several factors must be considered: the observer's training, experience and equipment capability; communications; and Terrabase line-of-sight (LOS). The figure lists the steps in choosing OPs.

Once an OP is identified, the FSO or FSNCO must accomplish the following. He ensures the task force tactical operations center (TOC)/FA battalion TOC or retransmission site (RETRANS) is located within the line-of-sight fan of the OP. This impacts on FIST positioning.

The FSO or FSNCO then selects the route to the proposed OP and identifies the unit to travel with and the trigger to move. He verifies tactical and technical triggers that are visible using Terrabase (LOS) shots. If the triggers are not visible, he determines who to pass the target to and establishes alternate triggers.

Next, he selects suitable areas based on the observer's capabilities--does the observer have binoculars, a mini eye-safe laser infrared observation set (MELIOS) or a ground/vehicular laser locator designator (G/VLLD)? This consideration maximizes the effectiveness of indirect fire systems. Maneuver commanders also must consider providing a security element for the observers to ensure they can execute their mission.

Providing proper redundancy in an observation plan is essential. This al lows units to use "deep eyes" to execute tactical triggers and the "close eyes" to execute technical triggers.

A battle hand-off of target responsibility from the deep to the close fight must be planned and synchronized. Units often assign primary and alternate observers to targets but do not take the actions necessary to insert the observer onto the battlefield for target hand-off.

Most of the time, observers do not get to their planned OPs. Some factors contributing to that are poor route selection and map reconnaissance and limited interaction with other battlefield operating systems (BOS) to maintain situational awareness. The result is units execute unobserved fires and miss the target--a waste of valuable indirect fire assets.

One typical example of wasting indirect fire assets is the emplacement of smoke. Using smoke to obscure enemy observation or screen a maneuver element's movements is often critical to the task force's success. More often than not, the smoke is not in the right place and there are no eyes to adjust it properly.

Once the EFSTs are identified, planners must start answering the questions of where the force will first detect the target, who will detect it and when, and who is responsible for tracking it and initiating fires. They also need to plan the weapon system that will attack the target and a backup system designated to detect and track the target and initiate fires on it. All these factors must be considered during the course-of-action (COA) development and wargaming portions of the MDMP.

Fire supporters at all levels must develop sound observation plans with redundant observation on the engagement areas. This will allow their commanders to take advantage of the full potential of their indirect fires and maintain the FA's reputation as The King of Battle.

SFC Kevin M. Mitchell

Task Force FSE Combat Trainer

National Training Center

Fort Irwin, California

RELATED ARTICLE: Steps in Choosing Observation Posts (OPs)

* Locate the target based on the situational template (SITEMP).

* Refine the targets.

* Using Terrabase software, check the line-of-sight from the target to the potential OPs.

* Eliminate unsuitable areas for the OPs.

* Identify suitable OPs.

* Select the observation post and alternate targets.

* Check communications and Terrabase line-of-sight from the observation post to the retransmission site or the FA battalion tactical operations center (TOC).
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Publication:FA Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Words:787
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