101st targets cost cuts, efficiency with first-ever precision fires instructor certification
February 1, 2013
Several months of training culminated in the certification of three 101st Airborne Division targeting officers as precision fires instructors this week -- the first three in the Army to be certified at a division level.
This certification allows them to serve as instructors for the precision fires operator course, which teaches primarily forward observers the process of target mensuration -- or verification -- in order to call for more accurate precision fires.
"The 101st is supposed to have more than 500 operators," explained CW2 Joseph Smith, one of the new instructors. "For a mobile training team to come here and teach a class (of 30 students) it would cost the division $10,000."
That's a grand total of more than $170,000 to certify all of the required operators in the division, and, up until now, that was the cheapest option. Sending the Soldiers to the Joint Fires Center at Fort Sill, Okla., would cost $3,000 per Soldier, for a whopping $1.5 million.
Instead, for less than $5,000, CW4 Jasbir S. Riat came in from Fort Sill, where he serves as the Army's program lead for targeting mensuration, to evaluate and certify the instructors.
Around 2010, the Army stood up its targeting mensuration program through the Joint and Combined Integration Directorate with National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency accreditation, Riat explained.
Soldiers relied on other branches of service to assist or called up to higher echelons. On the battlefield, this could mean the loss of critical seconds to engaging the enemy, or worse, hitting inaccurate targets on the ground because the operating picture was different on the ground than what the higher echelon was seeing on a map. This process was also flawed in that the Soldiers were talking a different language than their joint counterparts who might be the ones engaging the target.
"The fight nowadays is a joint fight," said Riat. "We need to be able to talk the same language in order for them to support us and us support them."
With operator certification, division will no longer have to call to higher echelons. In fact, the ability to mensurate and engage targets may even reach down to the company level depending on the circumstances and munitions available.
Using very specialized software, forward observers use the processes of resection and intersection to determine the exact grids of a target, as well as its elevation. In order to get clearance to engage the target, they have to compare two different views of the target and achieve a Category 1 match. This means the grid coordinates and elevations determined from the two views have to be within very specific measurements of each other. The margin of error in using precision-guided weapons is very low in order to prevent loss of innocent life and collateral damage.
This process varies immensely from the methods used in Vietnam.
"Back then, we might have to shoot eight guns and 30 rounds in order to get one round right on target," explained CW3 Thomas O'Neil, another newly certified instructor. "We're going away from the World War II carpet bombing techniques."
Precision-guided munitions are a large part of how the Army, and the U.S. military as a whole, make that transition.
"It's weaponeering," said Smith. "Achieving the desired effects without firing multiple rounds."
With their newly acquired instructor certifications, the 101st targeting officers will help bring this improved capability down to the lowest level. Three additional targeting officers from within the division are in the process of being certified, which takes several months to complete.
O'Neil explained the goal is to have instructors within each of the brigades, as operators must be tested every 180 days to maintain currency on their certification. Division plans to host quarterly certification, but subordinate units will be able to do their own training as well. The Kinnard Mission Training Complex is facilitating all of the training by providing space and the computers required.
This isn't the end all be all though. Representatives from the JACI directorate and NGA will conduct bi-annual audits on the division to ensure the instructors remain proficient in their certification.