The King & I

Apologies for long post, but I am aware that some will have difficulties downloading this.

The document below is a white paper entitled 'The King and I', penned by 3 former Brigade Combat Team commanders with current operational experience. In simple terms, they are deeply concerned about the erosion of core competencies in the Field Artillery branch of the US Army and have written this paper as a consequence.

Have a scan and see what you think, and ask yourselves if 3 of our Brigade Commanders (or similar) would write about this subject. Also, is the Royal Artillery in as parlous a state - the DRA certainly thinks not...

I am directed to tell you that the text below and the downloadable document have been transcribed from the original and has been reproduced as is. I hope this generates some concise, erudite and sensible comment.

As BCT commanders we have watched the deterioration of the Field Artillery branch with growing alarm. We are former maneuver commanders who recognize the importance of having reliable, fast and accurate fire support and wish to provide our Army’s leadership with a ‘customer’s perspective’ on this issue. All of us believe that the Army is on the right track with modular BCTs, but we believe that we now have accrued enough experience to recognize that some adjustments are necessary, the most pressing of which is addressed in this paper.

No branch of the Army has suffered a greater identity crisis than the Field Artillery, as a result of transformation, COIN-centric operations and the non-standard firepower demands of OIF/OEF. The once mighty ‘King of Battle’ has been described by one of its own officers as a ‘dead branch walking’. Now the Army is beginning to see real consequences in our ability to integrate fires with maneuver – an important capability for both COIN and High Intensity Operations (HIC). In fact, one could argue that speed and accuracy counts for much, if not more, in COIN as in HIC. We believe that it’s urgent that we take another look at the structure of this important combat arm.

TRADOC is now briefing fire support trends to pre-command course attendees. Some of their observations are worrisome. Here are the big ‘take-aways’:

CTC Observations:

•Fires Annex only produced on 20% of rotational units OPORDs.
•No Fires net is maintained and if there is one, it isn’t monitored.
•90% of fire supporters are serving outside of their MOS.
•90%+ of fire supporters are uncertified.
•Counterfire is seldom executed (except by mortars).
•Inability to fire plan prevents effective CAS application.
•Most cannon platoons would have fired ‘out of safe’ if not prevented by OCs.
•Firing incidents during every rotation.
•Crew drills are very slow and any type of friction halts operations.
•Leaders no longer understand the need to calibrate or use MET data. The culture of relentlessly pursuing accurate fires is eroding.
•The brand new 2LT is usually the most competent fire direction officer.
•Key leader shortages (2 of 9 13B40s and LTs per battalion is typical).
•The entire sensor to shooter chain is broken – Fires Battalions appear unable to fix the Forward Observer problems.

CTC Trend Analysis

•We have already passed the point at which most artillery units will be able to re-train themselves without external support – with help, it will take the average unit 6-12 months to retrain, assuming the unit is protected exclusively for this purpose, which has not been our experience.
•OPTEMPO has prevented EXVALs of most units since the late 90s.
•Modularization places responsibility for fire support training on maneuver commanders who are neither trained nor resourced to perform these tasks.
•There is no competent higher FA headquarters to coordinate resources and enforce standards. [There are no more Corps Arty or Div Arty HQs and the number of FA Brigades has been reduced – we have lost a total of 15 O-6 level FA headquarters in recent years]. This leaves battalion commanders to handle ammunition management, doctrinal review, New Equipment Training, TACP Integration, JAAT Training, MORTEP support, and FCX coordination, among other responsibilities. The Army fought hard for the Joint Fires Observer (JFO) capability after lessons learned in Operation Anaconda, but the BCT is not resourced for this training and certification. Division FSEs are not the answer. They do not support separate brigades, are led by non-green tabbers and are staffed by soldiers not qualified to certify subordinate units (nor are they empowered to do so).
•The only remaining source of expertise is now the FA School at Ft. Sill and the Combat Training Centers. Even the AC/RC Training Support Brigades are on the verge of losing core competencies. TSB Sill is training USAF units for ILO missions focussing on pre-deployment training and certification, Convoy Ops, CIED and MDMP. TSB Travis is running mobilization training at Fort Bliss and TSB Meade is running mobilization training at Fort Dix for units mobilizing to conduct in lieu of missions.
•Units are seriously challenged conducting Combined Arms Live Fire Exercises in support of maneuver due to poor level of FO training, fire direction and gunnery skills.

As maneuver commanders, we are concerned by these developments. And to make matters worse, FA Branch is losing the very talent it will need to fix itself.

FA Captains are increasingly dissatisfied with their branch and are amongst the most likely to leave the Army. If not for stop move/stop loss, attrition for FA Captains would likely top 17%. The rationale that we heard most in our discussions with our own departing officers is a lack of job satisfaction. In other words, they didn’t sign up for motorized infantry, transition team membership, ‘in lieu of’ transportation units, detainee camp guards, or any other of a number of hole-filler duty descriptions. They wanted to be artillery officers and ended up being anything but. This frustration was on top of the stresses and strains of repeated deployments that these officers share with the rest of the force. Also on their minds – if an artillery officer stays in the Army and is lucky enough to command an artillery firing battery, he is very likely to be unprepared because of a lieutenancy spent doing non-artillery tasks. What’s more, many of their NCO’s skills, upon which commanders rely for success, will probably be degraded for similar reasons.

If a young artillery officer has a successful battery command and goes on to command at the battalion level, he may once again find himself unprepared. As an artillery battalion commander in a BCT, he is the Fire Support Coordinator and senior indirect fire trainer. But where are the senior mentors in the artillery community to guide the development of mid-grade officers? As mentioned earlier our experience bears out that the best artilleryman are superb integrators of all the elements that comprise a BCT, and the very best are more than capable of commanding at the next level. Unfortunately, as we mentioned earlier, there are only six artillery brigade commands left in the whole Active Army. A branch with a built-in glass ceiling is not likely to retain or attract the best and brightest. If it isn’t already, FA accessions will begin to decline as well. Not long ago, artillery was one of the most sought-after branches for the top graduates of West Point. Today, it is one of the easiest to get into. As maneuver commanders, with only limited technical expertise in putting high explosive projectiles in the air over our heads, this is a source of concern to us.

As BCT commanders, we were fortunate to have FA battalion commanders who grew up under the old system and were tactically and technically superb. We had the best of both worlds – highly trained artillery that was tactically integrated into our BCTs. Our FA battalion commanders and their staffs were highly trained subject matter experts, which meant we didn’t have to be. Given the complexity of the organisation and the missions of our BCTs, that was a good thing. But the current BCT commanders are now struggling with the consequences of an inadequately resourced FA branch. If we act soon, with the help of some of the remaining ‘old guard’ we can salvage the king of Battle’s old reputation for excellence. The longer we continue down our current path, the more difficult that will be.

With each passing month that we continue to let these perishable skills atrophy and lose our expert practitioners, we are mortgaging not only flexibility in today’s fight, but our ability to fight the next war as well. This is similar to what happened to the Israeli Defence Forces. Israel’s years of COIN-focussed operations in the occupied territories cost them dearly in South Lebanon. When the IDF attempted to return to HIC operations, it found itself unable to effectively plan fires, conduct terminal control or deconflict airspace. The IDF’s ability to conduct combined arms integration had simply atrophied from neglect. We should consider ourselves fairly warned. We can’t afford to lose sight of the critical role artillerymen play in our ability to plan, coordinate, integrate and synchronise our combined arms operation. This is not an artillery branch issue, this is an Army issue, as the Israelis learned...the hard way.

So what’s the fix? It seems to us that we need to make several changes quickly before we loser so much expertise that we have to reconstitute the branch from ground up.

First, consider more Fires Brigades. We had better bring them back soon, while we still have a cadre of qualified young O-6s, who came up under the old system. It seems that a ratio of one per division or UEx/UEy equivalent is about right with special attention to ensure separate BCTs are included in the alignment. A habitual relationship would engender better training, mentoring and support. It would provide a Force Field Artillery HQ for each Division and for any/all BCTs deployed in proximity and would help all brigades with A2C2 and clearance of fires. In this regard, special consideration would need to be made for separate BCTs located in Alaska and Europe. Even if there is no nearby division, a habitually associated fires brigade could still provide support.

Although a Fires Brigade at Ft. Lewis might be able to support units in Alaska, USAREUR may require its own fires brigade, just as it requires its own CAB. This headquarters could also help manage force modernisation and development for associated FA units. It could also serve National Guard artillery units in their region until the Guard builds enough Fires Brigades of its own. Ten active duty, seasoned Brigade level commanders will be able to provide a leaner FA school at Ft. Sill with a much more seasoned and experienced sense of the needs of the force than 48 active duty battalion commanders. They can also provide more responsive and tailored support than Ft. Sill could as ‘the Divarty for the Army’. Certainly Ft Sill has an important role to play, but it can’t be the sole solution to ever fire support issue.

Each Fires Brigade should have one or two battalions or rockets or cannons for general support or reinforcing fires, target acquisition assets, and other supporting elements. The Headquarters Battery would be a ready source of external evaluators for Battalion EXVALs. Finally, it provides career progression opportunities for the FA officers and NCOs. We leave to separate discussions whether there should be some sort of command relationship between the Fires Brigade and the BCT Fires Battalions.

Second, we need to resource artillery training with both ammunition and time. No matter what their expected mission while deployed, artillery units need to maintain their proficiency in core tasks. This enhances their flexibility on the battlefield and enables a more rapid return to the full spectrum capability upon redeployment. It also helps to ensure the long term health of the force.

Third, we should re-examine the FCS artillery plan. Two man crews will make it very difficult for this small, 215 man unit to conduct continuous operations on a complex battlefield. With such a small crew, a single soldier on a FOB support tasking, R&R, wounded, or just on sick call would make an important combat system ineffective. Maintaining a single hot gun would take the better part of a firing platoon.

Fourth, an artillery battalion should be made part of the Armoured Cavalry MTOE. An ACR faces all of the same challenges as a BCT when it comes to artillery training and expertise, only worse, because it has three batteries embedded in its cavalry squadrons with no battalion commander or staff.

Fifth, ACRs and all separate BCTs, should also be formally and habitually aligned with one of the new Fires Brigades to ensure safety, standardization and proficiency.

How will we pay for this? Although the manpower for four new fires brigades would probably amount to something less that one of the planned new BCTs, that trade-off should probably not be necessary. Some of the bill could be offset by absorbing the newly created Division FSEs into the Fires Brigade HQ. The current Fires Brigade MTOE could also be trimmed to provide spaces for additional HQs. Most, if not all, of the rocket battalions and target acquisition batteries for these brigades already exist. Whatever the solution costs, though, it’s worth paying the price. Our Army is in danger of becoming unbalanced with too much maneuver and not enough fires and we must make the necessary trade-offs to ensure that our soldiers continue to enjoy world class fire support.

Respectfully submitted by the undersigned. We stand ready to discuss this in further depth with you or any appropriate office. Army Strong!
A copy available for download (45kb) can be found here.
Straight off, here my stab from a UK viewpoint.

1. It seems that the RA have utterly neglected their dedicated training system and have failed, by any measure, to invest significantly in their core trainers. The perception is that the median quality of GCC is dropping away, and the IG stream continues to be an absolute laughing stock. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better - if it does, of course.

2. We have a tradition of aligning CS Regiments with Brigades, and GS Regiments one level higher. However, I seriously question the residual core expertise within those Regiments i.e. VP and fire discipline, basic CS TTPs and so on. Connect with Land OFT and countless PORs.

3. I don't think we're at the stage where the most experienced people are our most junior officers - yet. How much training do RA Adjutants receive? Nil. BCs? Hardly any. COs? Yeah right...

4. RA Regiments get next to no time to conduct essential CT1-3 training, and where they do, it is always coupled to another training 'opportunity'. Recent PORs have made a real issue of this, citing needless duplication of effort and replication of activity. Whatever happened to the Regimental Firing Camp?

5. Why are our young Captains leaving in droves? Pissed off? Bored? Probably not - I suggest 'operational satisfaction' is a factor as much as anything so perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.... :D

6. I am simply not convinced that RA PLC have any real handle on just how parlous the situation really is at the coal face, particularly where the delivery of training is concerned. As more of the training burden from Ph1-3 is passed back to the Field Army, nothing has been put in place to assist, rectify or mitigate the scale of the problem. It's not all doom and gloom, and the current Col RA Trg is all over this with his hardcore team around him, but...

There is a danger that we'll agonise about this sort of thing endlessly, and a great deal of good is being done in RSA to actively assist the Field Army with their needs, but there needs to be a fundamental shift in mental focus away from purely tribal endstates and petty Larkhill turf-wars towards doing the right thing for the good and benefit of the Army.

An interesting (but long) read. My tuppence worth:

From my point of view, we aren't losing the core skills just yet, because we just get thrashed between ops to ensure we maintain Gunnery standards. I belive this will soon change as the heirarchy listen to the complaints/sound of boots marching out of the army and reduce the tempo between ops - even if it means degrading Gunner capability. There is of course the watering down of skills, where RA units are deploying out of role, using other kit and being off their core eqpt for too long - this will be an issue soon.

The massive haemorrhage of RA captains is due to the operational satisfaction issue (or it is with everyone I know that has signed off at that level). Why stay in to do another 3 years as a FOO (best job in the Army don't forget), when you have done FST Commander in Afghanistan already, because your unit had to send on the FOOs course early to plug the gaps? 2 FOO tours back to back, maybe up to 5 years - no thanks. And then what do you look forward to - thrashed as an Adjt or equivalent, brain melted at ICSC and then an SO2 job somewhere (probably deployed), before you might pick up that covetted command job at the helm of a Gun Bty, where you will be in the office until 11pm every night dealing with niff naff and trivia.

Much the same as the US doc mentions, how will we maintain interest in the RA if we end up being used out of role more than in? And not everyone gets to do FST, undoubtedly a gucci role - but how many times.

Me, I am now in to stay, the pension trap has me. On my timeline, I have just missed the point where I can get dissatisfied with my lot as a FOO (although I didn't do FST unfortunately). I am past that now and look forward to finishing my promotion earning tour, then doing ICSC (hopefully - no guarantees of promotion), then an SO2 job - but when do I become a Gunner again? Where is my Gunner motivation? I can't see much of one for a few years in the sense of "doing" Gunnery or FOOing, so really I'll be a General Service gunner officer waiting for a Gunnery position...but that will take me even closer to the pension, so bring it on!

Lots of my colleagues though are slap in the middle of the winter of dicontent - they are FOOs early or FOOs now on time, or waiting to be FOOs doing another job (training mostly) and aren't happy. Lots are being chopped about mercilessly to fill the "op requirement" and short notice "needs of the service" postings. It can't go on. And the talk of giving RA captains the re-engagement bonus or retention bonus or such like - will that keep people in for long? Will it be a big enough pull? For some, but most RA Capts are not driven by the money - I predict that they would rather cut there losses and lose the bonus, than stag on and get stiffed.

Phew. Rant on ARRSE - Done!
Well they're the ones talking of offering a retention bonus to Captains. If there is no problem, why chuck money at it?

Having recently heard a fair bit of chat on this, apparently they don't view it a critical yet - we can manage by raping every Regiment for FOOs, sending 2 month old captains on FOOs course 2 years early (hence embittering them when they run out of jobs to do) and generally pi$$ing off and alienating that area of the Officer Corps. I doubt it is much rosier at junior major level - those that have survived/stayed in as Captains then get stiffed with jobs they dont want post ICSC as they dont have enough bodies to fill all jobs - essential jobs first - so probably not one you want.
GunnersQuadrant said:
Interesting stuff, although I am still slightly hazy on where you see the fulcrum of the problem being.
Mate, if I knew that, do you think I'd actually be in the Army, or earning a small fortune as a 'management consultant'... :D
Proximo said:
GunnersQuadrant said:
Interesting stuff, although I am still slightly hazy on where you see the fulcrum of the problem being.
Mate, if I knew that, do you think I'd actually be in the Army, or earning a small fortune as a 'management consultant'... :D
That's broadly what I now do - and as ex Gunner and AAC do you think that I:

A - Roundly praise the careers and expectations management systems for Officers and Soldiers alike as practiced by the MCMS, hilighting the sound methodologies used to reconcile busy operational tempo against the need to carefully manage the career demographics of very high quality and dedicated individuals?

B - Use the MoD 'experience' of crisis management, anodyne blandishments about Interests of Service, consistent reapplication of discredited yet favourite fixes that are inconsistent and injust as an object lesson in how very high quality and dedicated individuals with a sound appreciation of their role and excellent training are left feeling truly shafted by some totally unconnected systems and disconnected managers?

Funnily enough I barely do either, although there are more lessons to be learned in exploring B. The reason why the Army approach is not as relevant as I would hope that it should be is because most modern commercial organisations have at least a spirited attempt at making the career experience sort of match the graduate recruiting poster and terms of reference. There's been some career drift? The RA still tells everyone that they'll make it to FOO, and the AAC charmingly omits to mention that a flying career is for some, more of a hobby...
I hear from "Harry Larkers" that there is an RSA/Jt Fires version out called "A Farewell To The King", which is designed to kick off debate in the Gunners. I gather it is rather negative, with few ideas of how to solve current issues, just stating the obvious. Certain parts of the Arty Centre come in for criticism - again.

Not seen it myself yet, anyone got a copy?
Victorian Major - if an officer doesn't make FOO in the Gunners they must be proper rubbish (to use poor england).

They are sending Lts on the FOOs course (i.e. at least a year early) to make up the numbers.

Captains are the haemorrhage point, each Gun Regt needs at least 11 FOOs for basic commitment, probably more to meet FST commitments. Each Regiment also has 10 or so subbies, all aspiring to:

a. Leave at the 3 year point
b. become FOOs

And that is just the Gun side. Under LoTs Commission, most Officers from the other disciplines get fed the "you must be a FOO to advance" line - so nearly everyone will do FOO (I once asked, out of interest, what else you COULD do in AD, Radar, UAV, MLRS, etc - I got looked at in a funny way "what, you don't want to be a FOO?").


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Good to see that the disbandment of US HQsRA is now being seen for the error it always clearly was. This paper will hopefully give some decent ammunition to counter those calling for a similar pattern within the RA.

We also have the same support issue: 8 CS Regts and 10 Man Bdes. An uplift (never going to happen) is the logical answer.

At least now we are only committed to primary and tertiary roles, we have less of the out-of-role dissatisfaction that was coming a couple of years ago and still seems to be endemic in the US.

Would add more, but supper calls....

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