By Sgt. William Reinier (82d Airborne)January 26, 2014
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- During simulation training exercises like those held on Fort Bragg, the visual effects of indirect fire support leave a void in realistic training due to the present limitations of the technology available.
Soldiers currently wear the Instrumental-Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (I-MILES) gear which has a sensor that is able to detect signals from a device mounted on an opposing forces' weapon. When soldiers' I-MILES beep, it lets everyone know who has been hit. Because mortars are not a direct fire weapon, they are unable to send that signal to the Soldiers they're firing on.
1st. Lt. Chris Cox, a mortar platoon leader assigned to 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said that the old way took away from any realism the training provided.
"It used to be, we would shoot our fire mission," Cox said, "and we would send a supervisor out there and they would assign a casualty around the area."
Because of the new One Tactical Engagement Simulation System (OneTESS), that will no longer be the case. Currently in its final stages of testing, Paratroopers from across the Falcon Brigade spent last week training on the equipment.
Lt. Col. Scott Tufts, the product manager for the OneTESS system, said the new equipment fills an important need for the mortar teams to train in the field.
"This is a training gap that we have," he said. "Mortars don't get to train because there's no way to do the fires in a safe environment."
The OneTESS is a device that attaches to the current mortar systems used by infantry mortarmen. They can input the type of round to be fired, as well as the information they receive from forward observers who communicate where opposing forces are located. That information is then transmitted by radio from the soldier's gear to a Homestation Instrumentation Training System (HITS) which broadcasts a signal across the training area. Any soldier located in the area where the simulated rounds hit receives a signal on their I-MILES that informs them that they are out of play.
The system not only increases the training benefits for the mortar team, but it also brings together the forward observers and the fire and effects coordination cell, ensuring all elements of a fire mission run smoothly.
"This system is designed to reinforce techniques, tactics and practices and allows soldiers to train together to build teamwork," Tufts said.
The new training system provides immediate feedback of where the round hits and the damage it caused.
"Bottom line is there is no force on force training devices for the forward observers or indirect firers at all," said Vic Elsey, military analyst for the OneTESS system. "They do a lot of dry fire missions to simulate fire missions, but there is no visual effect and no feedback mechanism."
OneTESS is the first of its kind and will change the way mortar teams train in the field.
"Now a mortar crew will be able to fire the weapon and achieve effects on force on force targets," Elsey said. "We've never been able to do that."
"It's revolutionizing the training for indirect fire guys."
In addition to enhancing training at the unit level, the OneTESS system will have a major impact on the training used at the advanced individual training school for infantry mortarmen.
"Right now, they go and fire three to five rounds at the artillery school," Elsey said. "Imagine being able to fire hundreds of rounds using this system. Imagine the confidence level that soldier is going to achieve."
As the confidence levels go up, Army spending on live mortar rounds goes down.
"Instead of using live ammunition, they can call for fires with this system," Tufts continued. "They can get accurate feedback and practice so when they qualify, they use less rounds."
Feedback from the soldiers has been positive. Not only does the OneTESS system bring the mortars into the I-MILES fight, but it makes the Paratroopers on the front lines better able to visualize the immediate effects of a call for fire mission.
"Now, the line guys are going to be more prone to using the fire support assets because they're going to put down real notional casualties in the field," Cox said. "It brings the forward observers and the mortars into the fight and allows us to better train."
If no issues with the system are found during the operational tests at Fort Bragg, the OneTESS system will go to the Pentagon for final approval before it is produced for use Army-wide.