by Samuel “Joe” Nirenberg
During the past nine months, I was fortunate to command 1-5 FA while it served as a part of the rotational ABCT in support of Atlantic Resolve. Up front, I will say that the Atlantic Resolve mission allows units to build readiness. Additionally, when coupled with a Combat Training Center (CTC) rotation, the training provided does an excellent job of replicating the challenges that brigade combat teams will face in the European theater.
This mission allowed us the opportunity to conduct all artillery tables (I-XVIII) in theater and prepare for a Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) rotation aimed at increasing our lethality and ability to support emerging requirements. For those reading this who have trained at JMRC, it is no secret that the world class OPFOR and terrain can present many challenges and opportunities for a rotational unit. By my estimation, the battalion prepared appropriately for the fight ahead at JMRC, but there are certain things you just cannot replicate without the friction levied by a CTC. Most importantly, at the conclusion of the training our team identified ten things that we wish we would have known ahead of time. This list by no means captures all the things that a rotational direct support field artillery battalion must do to be successful, but it is a start.
- Mission Partner Enterprise (MPE): We will not fight alone in this, or any, Area of Responsibility (AOR). The MPE is a necessity. Knowing that we will have to utilize the MPE network as the backbone to the fires enterprise, it is essential that incoming rotational units bring MPE hard drives for the AFATDS and receive NATO Classified keys for their SKLs as soon as possible. This should start at home station as early as 6-12 months prior to the first boots touching European soil. In kind, digital sustainment training should be run on the MPE architecture as soon as the units touchdown in theater or even while executing home station validation exercises if possible. The sooner you can establish your databases on the MPE back bone and start practicing it, the better off you will be. This not only supports the technical dimension of interoperability, but adds to a rotational forces ability to function as a credible deterrent. Our multinational partners are often far more proficient in this area than we are and we need to keep pace.
- Aggressive Ground Based Observer Plan: Due to the inclement weather that will inevitably ground the Brigade’s Shadows or enemy Air Defense Systems that will target them, you need to establish an aggressive ground based observation plan that is both well-planned, well-resourced, and well-rehearsed. We created two teams designated as our Joint Fire Support Teams (JFiST). It harkens back to the old COLT teams from years past. We established two four person teams consisting of 2x 13F, 1x 19D and 1x JTAC that were task organized under the reconnaissance squadron with the intent of pushing forward of the screen line to assist in identifying brigade high priority targets. This provides additional brigade deep area observers in the absence of UAS and supports the squadron by allowing more time to fight for information through the prosecution of targets that could drive early displacement of BCT scouts and reduces the risk of bypassed enemy formations. Critical to this is the end user’s knowledge of HF as they will be forward of the FLOT/ CFL and will be required to talk directly back to the BCT TOC.
See section 5 in reference to PACE plans and the need for a more robust HF capability within an ABCT.
- Unit Airspace Plan and Prioritization: Airspace use needs to be prioritized based upon the predominance of the assets used in specific areas of the battlefield. For a Division and CORPS, the majority of their shaping operations will be conducted via the use of rockets and Air Force fixed wing aircraft. Brigade’s shaping operations during LSCO will be conducted through the use of Field Artillery cannon fire. It is essential to brigade operations that the Division and CORPS have the ability to route their supporting aircraft swiftly from the rear area out to the Division CFL and Joint Force Commander’s FSCL unencumbered so that they can shape the enemy in depth prior to the BCT meeting them on the battlefield. However, it is also essential to BCT, Division, and CORPS operations that the Brigade Combat Teams are able to fire their cannons from their rear area to the Division CFL and potentially beyond unencumbered (within reason). The use of ACMs along Brigade, Division and CORPS boundaries to route aircraft from the rear area to the deep area needs to be the norm allowing Brigades the ability to develop airspace plans in their battlespace that allows them to quickly clear air internally to the BCT below 18,000 feet. The use of sectored ROZ stacks that account for the max ord of the artillery fire, from the rear area to the Division CFL and beyond, will be essential to making this happen.
- Counter Fire Cell Location: The location of the Counter Fire Cell is something that Field Artillery Battalion’s struggle with because doctrinally there is no definitive answer as to where the Army tells you to put the counter fire cell. You might find the CF Cell at the FA BN in order to shorten the kill chain from sensor to shooter. You also might find it on the BCT CUOPS floor in order to streamline the clearance of air thus shortening the total fire mission processing times. I would strongly encourage others to look at a third option that we were forced into due to the unfortunate reconfiguration of our BCT TOC and CUOPS floor that resulted from poor RSOP, but that is another lesson learned all together. By happenstance, we could only put our CF Cell into the Brigade Intelligence Support Element (BISE) Cell next to the Field Artillery Intelligence Officer. Positioning them there provided the Brigade S2 and FSCOORD a more robust artillery presence in the intelligence nodes that allowed them to have a better picture of the enemy artillery locations. This allowed the battalion the ability to target and destroy the enemy artillery formations more effectively earlier and be less reactive.
- Full PACE Plan: The Fires Enterprise should not be reliant on upper TI and digital FM solely because both are vulnerable to enemy jamming, challenging terrain, and the law of Murphy. You need to develop a PACE plan that is practiced during digital sustainment training. That PACE plan should be discussed in detail during your intel collection fires (IC Fires) rehearsal to ensure everyone knows the plan and how to process fire missions up and down the kill chain. It may be beneficial to rename the Fires/IC rehearsal to the Intel Collection, Fires, and Communications (ICFC) Rehearsal to put special emphasis on the importance of being able to communicate. One thing that definitely needs to be discussed during the RXL is COMSEC changeover and when and where it is expected to happen during the operation due to friendly conditions or enemy activity.
A fires enterprise PACE plan could look something like this: (P) Upper TI (A) HF (C) Digital FM (E) JBCP.
- MCP/TAC Transition: It is not enough to ensure that your TACSOP outlines the way you transition the fight between the Main Command Post (MCP) and the TAC. Your TACSOP also needs to address how a battery will take the fight from the TOC in the event of enemy attacks that take the MCP out of the fight . This is something that needs to be addressed and rehearsed during AT XV and AT XVIII qualifications. Every battery needs to be prepared to execute; you never know when the enemy will strike. However, it more than likely will happen when you least expect it and, as a result, your primary battery may not be in position to assume the fight.
The BN should codify standardized battle tracking products for the Batteries and put the onus on the Cold BOC/BTRY CDR to keep their COP updated in the event that they assume BN fire control or ops responsibilities.
- Battle Rhythm: Maintaining a battle rhythm is a struggle at any CTC, but it would help to identify the 1-2 daily synchronization meetings required to keep the unit on track. Specifically for the FA Battalion, we identified the Commander’s Update and Assessment (CUA) and LOGSYNC as those two meetings that required either in person attendance or attendance via FM. Ideally the CUA is in person to either the S3 or XO (based upon which hat the FA BN CDR/ FSCOORD is wearing that day), but the LOGSYNC can occur via FM after the CTCP is able to compile the reports from the BTRY 1SG/XOs. The notes from each of those meetings will be captured and pushed out via JBCP to the Commander if he is on the road, which he usually will be. There is only so much information you can put in a JBCP message though and much of it can lose meaning without context. Context is best provided through back-and-forth conversation. I recommend that regardless of injects, OPFOR actions, or changes in the BDE’s battle rhythm, the BN CDR has at least twice daily conversations with his three field grades in order to discuss sustainment and operational requirements. My final thoughts on this would be that, much like the kill chain, the battle rhythm also needs a PACE plan of its own. An underutilized TTP is to use the JBCP chat feature for certain battle rhythm events. When functioning correctly, this provides a near real time sharing of information that can also be captured and referenced in the chat log.
- BN XO Location: The BN XO needs to stay on the road as much as possible between the SSA, BDE TOC, and the BN TOC. Our Brigade executed a daily maintenance meeting that the BDE SPO conducted over UTI. We were unable to gain UTI connectivity, which forced us to attend in person. This ended up being a major sustain because the BN XO, along with the BN S4 and Master Gunner (MG), were able to coordinate in person daily with the BDE XO, BDE SPO, BSB XO, and the BSB S3. We would recommend the BN XO staying “light” and able to base from any of the three CPs (excluding the BSA). The S4 and F Co CMD team can keep the CTCP/UMCP operational without the BN XO consistently being on ground.
- Unforgiving Weather and Terrain: The weather and terrain at Hohenfels Training Area (HTA), in the winter especially, is unforgiving and hard to replicate in Torun, Poland or at Fort Riley, Kansas. The mud, ice, and snow makes even the simplest of movements difficult and dangerous. As soon as you receive your equipment at HTA, take the time to conduct classes on the use of tire chains and recovering vehicles in these conditions. It is also strongly advised that you conduct day and night driver’s familiarization training in the box to ensure that everyone is confident in their ability to maneuver the terrain.
Our adversaries in this theater believe that they have an advantage in this type of weather and we must do what we can to discredit this perception.
- Vampire Team/JMRC/7ATC Recommendations for follow on RAF Units: Every RAF unit that comes into the European Theatre comes with differing levels of understanding of Multinational Interoperability and what it means to this specific theatre. The European theatre, due to the NATO alliance, requires a different understanding of interoperability than does the Pacific or Central Command Theatres of operation.
All theatres have a similar understanding of the human and even to an extent the procedural dimensions of interoperability but with ASCA, and the use of the Mission Partnered Enterprise technical interoperability becomes a challenge and is something that during home station training/ CTC validation and qualification exercises is not practiced, rehearsed, or known. It is not until a unit gets to a Combined Resolve Exercise that they get the opportunity to utilize MPE networks and are partnered with NATO artillery formations who are full ASCA partners. In fact, there are probably some units who arrive in theatre who have never heard of ASCA before. As General Cavoli said during the 2022 International Fires Warfighting Forum, this can pose a real problem if we have not developed headquarters at echelon who are capable of integrating our multinational partners. If this is to be fixed, every exercise needs to include specific interoperability training objectives that units train towards before they even make it to theatre.
Once a unit is identified to a RAF rotation to Europe, they need to immediately begin operating on an MPE tactical network at home station. This will require Division HQs, Division Artillery units and home station Mission Training Centers to be able to operate on both SECRET and MPE networks as well to support their training. It might also be necessary for either the Vampire Team, JMRC, 7ATC, or even possibly V CORPS along with a team from Fort Sill to be prepared to provide a traveling road show to the supporting RAF HQ to assist them in executing a Brigade wide MPE and ASCA university utilizing the units own equipment prior to deployment.
As I said, many of these points will be teased out further in future white papers and journal articles. 1st Battalion 5th Field Artillery Regiment has prided itself over the last couple years to be a learning and transparent organization. Hopefully these points can and will help future RAF Brigades and Field Artillery Battalions prepare for their deployments to Europe and for others who are permanently stationed in the theatre to see some of the difficulties RAF units experience deploying from their CONUS locations to Eastern Europe.
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LTC Samuel “Joe” Nirenberg is a career field artillery officer, with 18 years of active service, currently serving as the Battalion Commander for the 1st Battalion 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. He commissioned from The University of South Florida ROTC in 2003 and holds a Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from The United States Naval War College. LTC Nirenberg has Fire Support and Targeting experience from the Company to the CORPS levels having just served prior to assuming command as the CORPS Targeting Officer for the NATO Rapid Deployable CORPS in Valencia, Spain.