Colonel Samuel R. White Jr., FA

Fires - A Joint Professional Bulletin for U.S. Field and Air Defense Artillerymen

Colonel Samuel R. White Jr., Field Artillery (FA), is the Acting Chief of Staff for the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Also at Fort Sill, he was a Futures Concepts Integration Officer in the Concepts Division of the Futures Development Integration Center (FDIC), and he commanded 1st Battalion, 30th FA Regiment, part of the Field Artillery School. While in the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, he served as the Division Artillery S3; Chief of Operations, G3; and a Battalion Executive Officer. He also served in a variety of assignments at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, including as a Brigade Fire Support Trainer. During Operations Desert Shield and Storm, he commanded the Howitzer Battery of the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, out of Bamberg, Germany.

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The Fires Brigade—A Critical Capability in an Era of Persistent Conflict

The Army’s Field Artillery (FA) Soldiers and units are engaged around the world. From Korea to Iraq, from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa, Artillery Soldiers are providing lethal and nonlethal fires, manning radars, delivering supplies, securing convoys, staffing command posts, conducting patrols, safeguarding facilities, helping our allies build capacity, regenerating battalions and any number of other critical traditional and nontraditional tasks. Artillery units have become the Army’s “switch-hitters” of choice for those missions because of their functional adaptability and multifunctional capability.

Despite these successes, changes created by persistent conflict, the unanticipated effects of modularity and the Artillery’s expanded skill sets have placed a strain on the Artillery force. The Artillery is “out of balance” and is not postured for the future—there are capability gaps in the formation. Eliminating a senior Artillery headquarters’ relationship and responsibility has created inadequate training and readiness oversight (TRO) for the Artillery and fires system within brigade combat teams (BCTs).

In addition, a combination of reduced force structure and piecemeal commitment of fires brigades into the current fight has left insufficient force field Artillery headquarters (FFA HQ) to support divisions and corps. Lastly, the era of persistent conflict also reinforces the requirement for right-sized and multifunctional headquarters that are capable of coordinating lethal and nonlethal actions across the spectrum of conflict.

Capability Gap. In the past, the division Artillery (Div Arty) and the corps Artillery filled both the TRO and FFA HQ roles. When the Div Arty and corps Artillery formations were removed from the Army structure, these requirements still existed—but a replacement capability was not developed. It was assumed that BCTs could provide sufficient TRO for their organic fires battalions and that a limited number of fires brigades could function as an FFA HQ for a greater number of divisions, corps and joint headquarters. Operational experience is revealing that these assumptions were not valid.

These capability gaps are beginning to have consequences across the operational force. Observations from the combat training centers and a recent Rand study on core skills competency reveal a marked decrease in fire support proficiency within BCTs. BCT and division commanders highlight the lack of an oversight and training capacity for fires battalions as the key contributing factor to the loss of proficiency in fires battalions and the key component in rebalancing the Artillery.

Repetitive deployments conducting nonstandard missions have left most Artillery battalions untrained in their core tasks and drills—at both the individual and collective levels. A generation of junior and mid-level officers and NCOs has almost no experience in their FA duties. There are S3s who executed only nonstandard missions as battery commanders and battery commanders who have not fired an artillery round since their officer basic courses.

In the past, a senior Artillery commander and his staff would provide the experience and capacity to train these battalions. This is not possible now, and the experience drain has rendered many fires battalions severely crippled in reestablishing lethal core competencies— or “healing” themselves.

Division and corps commanders’ observations highlight the importance of an FFA HQ in their operations. An FFA HQ ensures seamless fire support for divisions and corps (and Marine expeditionary forces or MEFs) and synchronizes lethal and nonlethal fires across their formations.

Typically a division is deploying with five to seven BCTs. Division commanders want an FFA HQ to turn to for fires synchronization across their areas of operation (AOs). While it was assumed Fires brigades would fill this role, the supply of Fires brigades neither is adequate nor postured properly to meet this demand. This capabilities gap is an unanticipated effect of modularity.

Force Limitations. There are only enough fires brigades in the Army structure to allocate one to each division committed to major combat operations. Current operations in theater, however, require an FFA HQ to ensure synchronization of the myriad of widely dispersed fire support assets in a division’s AO— across the full spectrum of operations. All division commanders deploying to Iraq have requested this capability, and MultiNational Corps, Iraq has urged every division to deploy with a fires brigade— for the FFA HQ capabilities as well as the multifunctional headquarters capability.

From a force structure perspective, this is not possible. The current fires brigade operational tempo indicates that the Army does not have the capacity to sustain the enduring fires brigade requirements with the current resources. Every fully fielded brigade, active and Army National Guard (ARNG), is committed decisively to the fight or is on a deployment order. There are no reserve fires brigades.

Compounding this challenge, fires brigades are being dissected and deployed in pieces. Battalions, batteries and platoons routinely are separated from their parent modular organizations and deployed with another headquarters, while the fires brigade headquarters is split up to augment other brigade, division or corps headquarters. In some instances, brigade and battalion commanders are deployed without their brigades or battalions or their units are split up and deployed without them. The net result is that even though an entire brigade’s worth of capacity is being deployed, the combatant commander is not gaining a brigade’s worth of capability; and there are no fires brigades available to help division and BCT commanders as an FFA HQ.

Apart from the obvious impact on sustaining the current fight—we are consuming brigades faster than they can be regenerated—fires brigade commanders are hard-pressed to develop their own trained and ready units for the long term. For example, one fires brigade is or soon will be deployed in platoon and batterysized units, and the brigade commander and a portion of the staff is deployed already in support of another headquarters. Ensuring this brigade’s Soldiers are prepared adequately to execute their missions is a challenge now and in the future. Even if no further deployment orders are received by any elements of this brigade, the commander still will not have his entire organization together to begin retraining until June of 2010.

Increasing the Capacity. The demand for Fires brigades looks to remain high for at least the next 10 to 15 years in the current strategic environment. Adaptable and multifunctional organizations like fires brigades give the joint force commander a core lethal and nonlethal fires capability when he needs it and the flexibility to apply the fires brigade against a range of brigade missions with a more efficient footprint than a BCT. To realize these capabilities, the Army must increase its capacity to generate Fires brigades. This requires a two-pronged approach.

Increasing the Number of Fires Brigades. The Army must increase the inventory of active component fires brigades from six to 10. It is time to revisit our force structure assumptions based upon the requirements of an era of persistent conflict. Currently, the Modular Support Forces Analysis and Grow the Army initiative identify the need for one ARNG and one active Fires brigade to support the rotational base (ongoing operations). The actual rotational requirement is much higher.

At present, seven fires brigades are deployed in some capacity. As a consequence, the number of fires brigades available to meet the Deter, Major Combat Operations and Strategic Reserve missions is reduced significantly and will remain so for the long term. Adding three additional active fires brigades to the Army’s structure would allow the Army to meet a sustainable Fires brigade demand—four per year (three active and one ARNG)—during an indefinite period of time, reconstitute the strategic reserve and provide a sustainable FFA HQ capability to division commanders as well as a regional command and control capability to joint commanders.

A tenth active component fires brigade could provide a forward-based, nonrotational fires brigade. The requirement for detailed knowledge of the friendly and enemy situations, a complex environment that demands continuity during the long term and the need for a developed working relationship with host nation forces are strong reasons for maintaining a forward-based fires brigade.

There is no need to include rocket battalions as part of the increase in structure; the organic rocket battalion in the brigade can be supplied from the existing force pool of rocket battalions. The four additional fires brigades should include only the brigade headquarters, brigade support battalion, signal company and target acquisition battery—a total of approximately 635 personnel per brigade. The unmanned aircraft system (UAS) unit is not resourced at this time and would be allocated based on plans and missions (Figure 1).

Employing the Fires Brigade as a “Package.” As an essential component of the Army’s long-term rotational strategy, the Army must establish fires brigades in Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN). Generating and deploying Fires brigades as part of an ARFORGEN force package, rather than in pieces spread out over time, provides a sustainable capability and is the most efficient use of a modular unit. This allows fires brigades to develop and maintain established TRO relationships with divisions and BCT commanders as well as support theater commanders with a right-sized regional headquarters— generating the best capability for the supported commanders.

Critical Capabilities. An inadequate supply of Fires brigades and a nonmodular approach to Fires brigade employment has induced significant risk to predictable, long-term readiness and created capabilities gaps for the force. Fires brigades provide critical capabilities that can rebalance the Artillery (close the gaps) and set the conditions for the future.

Senior Artillery Command HQ. A senior Artillery command HQ is needed to help division and BCT commanders regenerate trained and ready, lethal and nonlethal fires capabilities. The complexity and scope of providing TRO for fires across a division and inside BCTs requires the experience and resources of a senior Artillery commander and his staff. An unintended consequence of modularity is that our Army lost this capability.

Our fires battalions are organic to our BCTs, and there is little capacity or capability within the BCT for self-assessment of the fires system. Our BCT commanders are not trained and do not have the expertise to provide training oversight of a fires battalion because modularity assumed that the fires battalion commanders would be capable of training and certifying their battalions without outside help. In some instances, this is proving to not be the case.

After almost five years of executing nonstandard missions, it is likely that within the next year some of our battalions will be commanded by officers who may have never performed Artillery tasks as an S3 or executive officer. The same holds true for battery commanders —their first day in a firing battery could be as the battery commander. Predictably, this lack of core competency experience at the battery and fires battalion level introduces risk into our BCTs.

Fires brigades can mitigate some of this risk. The fires brigade commander can help the BCT commanders certify their fires battalions and apprise them on the readiness of their fires systems. The fires brigade commander can mentor fires battalion commanders’ execution of their duties and provide much needed technical oversight in support of the BCT commander.

Across the division, the fires brigade commander can help the division commanding general establish training and certification standards for the division fires systems—and then help assess the state of training. He can be the BCT and division commanders’ eyes and ears for lethal and nonlethal fires.

While there is a colonel authorized on the division staff as the fire support coordinator—sometimes filled by a lieutenant colonel—he does not have the necessary expertise on his staff nor sufficient numbers to leave required duties to oversee training on a routine basis. Further, the staff officer is disadvantaged when implementing changes because he lacks the commander-to-commander “opportunities” to help the BCT commanders train their fires battalions.

Division commanders see the need for a fires brigade to support their operations and desire a training and support relationship with a fires brigade. They actively are tapping into Fires brigades now to help train their fires battalions and cells before deploying and to regenerate them once they return—but there simply are not enough fires brigades to meet the demand. Without additional fires brigade capability to help them, division and BCT commanders have limited options in regenerating Artillery core competency in their organizations.

Division commanders also want to deploy with a fires brigade when they go to Iraq. They note that fires brigades would be their “ace in the hole”—a responsive precision capability and an adaptable organization well-suited for the variety of stability tasks that BCTs are performing. The fires brigade gives division commanders options.

An FFA HQ. An FFA HQ helps plan, coordinate and execute precision lethal and nonlethal fires for divisions, corps, MEFs and joint and combined force commanders. The fires brigade is designed to integrate and execute joint lethal and nonlethal precision fires across a supported commander’s AO (300 kilometers x 300 kilometers). It has a rocket and missile battalion, support battalion, signal company, target acquisition battery, UAS capability and a robust command and control structure. These organic capabilities permit the fires brigade to be the commander’s “one-stop shop” for lethal or nonlethal fires integration and application and provide a menu of capabilities across multiple mission sets.

A fires brigade permits maneuver commanders to be extraordinarily agile and flexible. The brigade’s responsive precision fires provide support when needed and allow the supported commander to deploy fewer forces across a wider area. As forces are withdrawn from theater, the need increases for immediately responsive precision protection for those dispersed forces that remain. This also includes protection from enemy indirect fires.

If employed as a unit, the fires brigade can integrate fires requirements for multiple operating bases and outposts and serve as the indirect fire protection (counterfire) headquarters for a division or corps, providing training and operational oversight for dozens of counterfire radars and counter-rocket, -artillery and –mortar (C-RAM) systems and tying them into a divisionwide or corpswide effort—a capability that does not exist in theater currently.

The fires brigade also addresses a current theater operational need for responsive indirect fires for combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) units. These units do not have organic indirect fires yet routinely require support as they make contact with insurgent forces. The Fires brigade can execute the precision fires for the CS and CSS units and provide planning and coordination for other joint fires in support of CS and CSS units without a fire support element.

Additionally, the fires brigade can be tailored with a variety of systems— rocket and cannon, Excalibur and guided multiple-launch rocket systems, electronic warfare and UAS—to provide the right capability to the right unit. In essence, using UAS and a variety of fires systems, both lethal and nonlethal, a fires brigade could provide precision overwatch of CS and CSS elements as they man checkpoints, conduct convoys, repair roads and any number of tasks that require a rapid and precise response.

A fires brigade in theater also allows “flattening” of the lethal and nonlethal fires process. Because there is no fires brigade in Iraq operating as such, all deploying divisions and corps increase the size of fires cells and fire support elements in their headquarters to account for the tasks that a fires brigade would doctrinally accomplish, routinely adding dozens of additional personnel to the staff. Consequently, each division or corps HQ conducts planning and execution tasks which should be performed by a fires brigade—most notably, FFA HQ, counterfire headquarters and detailed lethal and nonlethal targeting and execution.

By transferring these functions to a fires brigade, one organization can develop the target, plan and execute reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, conduct coordination, synchronize the execution, exploit the success and assess the effect—all from a single headquarters with significant targeting expertise and understanding of lethal and nonlethal fires integration.

A Regional HQ. The fires brigade’s multifunctional staff, integrated battle command, efficient footprint, significant sustainment capabilities and nonlethal expertise make it well-suited for accomplishing regional stability missions. In current operations, as Iraqi Forces assume greater responsibility for their own security, it is likely we will withdraw BCTs and eventually divisions from Iraq and replace them with regional stability headquarters. These headquarters will work with provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs)—similar to those operating in Afghanistan. The fires brigade staff structure is a valid blueprint for these regional stability HQs. The brigade staff structure is robust, multifunctional and expandable enough to interact with a number of PRTs. Because of its personnel’s experience and familiarity with coordinating joint and combined fires across many echelons, its staff is very capable. If necessary, the fires brigade also can coordinate and execute lethal and nonlethal joint fires in support of joint or coalition operations. It was designed to have the systems in place to coordinate nonlethal activities across multiple headquarters and integrate these activities with joint headquarters and multinational partners (Figure 2).

Fires brigades are executing these very missions in the current fight with tremendous success. In one instance, a Fires brigade HQ with 20 subordinate units is partnered with a 30-person PRT to help the Iraqis build essential capacities in their region. Unlike BCTs, who concentrate their efforts on a particular town or portion of a city, the Fires brigade and its partnered PRT are focused more broadly, building regional security, governance, finance, medical, infrastructure and essential services capacity.

This fires brigade has leveraged its regional (division and corps) fires integration expertise to develop regional capacity nonlethal actions integration expertise. The fires brigade commander and the rest of his brigade staff have been culturally programmed to be very effective in this environment. The fires brigade commander understands the cause and effect of the multitude of activities across the region because he has spent his career managing, integrating and assessing lethal and nonlethal effects as a fire supporter.

The fires brigade structure also is wellsuited to provide the right-sized force for a variety of stability missions. In support of the peace engagement, the organic rocket battalion can put enough boots on the ground to provide a visible presence in the AO without supplanting local authority or enforcement. Integrating the fires brigade into the ARFORGEN cycle would allow the battalion to train for this mission. The brigade HQ can function as a Military Area Command for geographic regions and can easily receive additional units and capabilities as the mission demands.

In support of stability, reconstruction or humanitarian assistance efforts, the organic forward support battalion can provide almost 100 trucks in support of regional reconstruction programs—including fuel and water support. The brigade support battalion can receive any number of additional sustainment capabilities. A robust signal capability is expandable to allow to the fires brigade to establish multiple points of effort for reconstruction or humanitarian support, allowing communication with a multinational HQ as well as provide reach-down capability to reconstruction or relief teams.

The network operations section in the brigade S6 manages the network, giving the Fires brigade the ability to expand the network as new teams join and new communications capabilities are added. The brigade can use UAS to help extend the situational awareness of the brigade, providing overwatch of the relief teams and helping in relief or reconstruction efforts in remote areas.

For current operations, as we continue the transition process in Iraq, fires brigades should be an integral part of the Army’s solutions. They are being studied now as enduring solutions to the enduring regional headquarters requirement because they are suited for a variety of missions that no other brigade can perform— specifically, as a headquarters integrating lethal and nonlethal capabilities to facilitate stability, governance, essential services, and coordination in support of nongovernmental organizations.

They are performing these missions in theater right now with resounding success. To ensure these requirements are met with the right capabilities, ARFORGEN should transition to match force generation with required capabilities. In an environment where deployment numbers are scrutinized continually, a fires brigade will emerge as a tailor-made and cost-effective capability. With less than one-third the personnel footprint of a BCT, it can provide capabilities needed and enable BCTs the opportunity to train their forces and prepare for more suitable BCT missions.

Fires brigades can be integral enablers for the modular force. They are battle-tested in the current fight and are proven effective. Commanders want fires brigades in their formations; division commanders want them as FFA HQ to train and synchronize the fires for their division and BCTs; and theater commanders view them as a viable solution to a regional headquarters as forces draw down in Iraq.

Fires brigades provide three critical capabilities for the Army and close existing capabilities gaps—a senior FA commander to advise the maneuver commanders on fires application and training, an FFA HQ for synchronization of lethal and nonlethal fires, and an enduring right-sized capability for regional stability missions.

These capabilities meet warfighter’s needs today and will continue to do so in the future—but supply must meet demand. As the Army grows, its fires brigade capacity must grow as well. The Army must ramp up its ability to generate brigades by increasing the number of active fires brigades to 10 and integrating fires brigades into ARFORGEN as an essential component of the Army’s longterm rotational strategy. Doing so will generate a critical capability demanded by operational commanders to meet current and emerging requirements in Iraq.

Fires brigades will be a foundational capability in posturing the Army for enduring success in an environment of persistent conflict.

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Fires - A Joint Professional Bulletin for U.S. Field and Air Defense Artillerymen