By Kevin Young, Fort Sill CannoneerOctober 30, 2008
The return of the Air Defense Artillery Corps to Fort Sill brings a unique bunch of officers, sergeants and Soldiers to post. The senior ADA officer at Fort Sill, Col. Dan Karbler, commander of the 31st ADA Brigade, said the training and use of the ADA in combat stresses flexibility and responsibility by leaders at the lowest levels.
"We always stress to our battery commanders that while you might be connected to your higher by voice or data, you might not be connected geographically, so you've got to learn how to operate independently," Karbler said.
"Obviously, you're never alone and always operate within the commander's intent. Many times a Patriot commander, a captain, will be dealing directly with a base commander, an air force general. He gets a seat at the table with the rest of the general's staff."
It obviously takes diplomatic skills to work with generals of other services and other nations. Karbler said the ADA officer needs those skills on almost a daily basis.
"In the ADA, you can't be just an Army officer," Karbler said, "because you've got an Air Force guy, a Navy guy and a Marine Corps guy that you interface with from a command and control perspective and from a surveillance/sensor network perspective. We tie in with all those guys and you've got to talk their language and understand how they do operations.
"You take a Patriot second lieutenant's battle station: His radar sees beyond 300 kilometers, sees about 150 kilometers to either side, from ground level up to 25 kilometers. This is his battle station. Think about how many airplanes are transitioning through there. Think about how many other services are operating in that area; the implications of what he's doing in another country - the geopolitical aspect - the range of his missile. He could be shooting at guys 100 kilometers away in another country.
"Oh, and by the way, the value of his equipment is about $350 million. So that lieutenant has got to have a lot of responsibility."
The 300 kilometer square area is big. A local box that size includes everything from Vernon, Texas to Oklahoma City and could stretch east beyond Dallas.
Shooting your missile
When it comes to the basic intent of Patriot missile units, shooting down enemy flying objects like planes, helicopters, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, making the decision to push the button and send a $3 million missile flying can be another challenge.
"It depends on what we're shooting at and what phase of war we might be at," Karbler said. "Let's go with a ballistic missile. The ballistic missile decision is pushed down to the lowest level possible because they can come in pretty quick without a lot of early warning, so we don't want to hamstring the operators with respect to waiting on a lengthy or time-consuming decision process. We try to, at every possibility, to get all the information to the shooter so they can make a decision very quickly.
"Airplane decisions are usually held pretty high."
Karbler said Patriot units don't get many early warnings from other sources, such as the Air Force airborne warning and control system (AWACS), because Patriot systems have powerful radar. He said that AWACS aircraft can help provide warning of cruise missiles - missiles that fly close to the earth to "hide" in the radar "ground clutter" (hills, trees, towers and other objects that reflect radar waves) - but the AWACS radar doesn't provide details Patriot missiles need for launch.
So AWACS can provide warning of an approaching threat, but it doesn't help the battery defend against the threat, according to Karbler.
Though there's an underlying pressure in the Army to treat every Soldier the same, there definitely is something special about a Patriot unit. Patriot units aren't "airborne ranger" special - they're "strategic" special.
For example, the Army officially sent no other unit to Israel for Operation Desert Storm or Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Patriot units deployed there.
"One of the interesting aspects of air defense, and specifically Patriot units, is a Patriot battery is deployed usually as a four-star-level decision to put that battery into a country," Karbler said. "It usually comes from the theater combatant commander who makes a recommendation up to the Secretary of Defense.
"A Patriot system really is a strategic asset when it comes down to it. We'll go into countries if we want over-flight rights or we want air basing rights. Those rights usually come at the cost of a couple of Patriot batteries. A lot of geopolitical defensive assets go into it as well as Patriot batteries to defend assembly areas or headquarters, so you get the whole range of strategic operational assets that we have to protect: geopolitical as well as military. We do get involved with the big picture."
How we fight
As described above, Patriot missile units fight at the battery level, though a battery can defend an area 300 kilometers wide and 300 kilometers long. So, how does a battery fight a defensive battle in its air space, protect its own kilometer-wide defensive perimeter on the ground, supply itself, train, maintain equipment, coordinate with neighboring units and all the other tasks required to survive day to day in combat'
"The battery commander and first sergeant have a huge responsibility," Karbler said. "They're going to be there defending a vital asset - their battery is defending that asset - and they've got to be ready ... just like our captains are doing in Iraq.
They're ambassadors to different tribes or whoever. He has to be a diplomat. He goes and interacts with community leaders, host nation leaders, with coalition partners, with the other services. He's got to tie in with the Air Force and the Navy and the Marine Corps because the air defense fight is all joint.
"They've got a ton of responsibility and, oh, by the way, you've got to run your battery. You've got to make sure the 85 to 90 Soldiers you have are defending the perimeter, they're fed, they're housed, the equipment is up and running and everything else."
Karbler said the good thing about collocating on an air base is that some of the worries of the defensive perimeter fade. At other locations, they'll request security support from the host nation, another U.S. unit or allies.
In the event that things get too hot for a Patriot battery, they have the ability to leave in a hurry. Karbler said that part of the training for the new missiles is to maintain the branch standard of setting up and being ready to fire 30 minutes after they hit the ground ... keeping alive the tradition of the "flying artillery."
And yes, that means putting camouflage netting over most of their equipment.
"It's not small stuff," Karbler said with a frown. "Himmes and radars and launchers are all big and there's plenty of nooks and crannies for camouflage to get hung up on.
"One of the things we don't do is camouflage our launchers in actual war because you get back blast off the missiles and you'll just end up burning up nets and getting it tangled up in your machinery. You still camouflage everything else because you can definitely tell a Patriot from overhead imagery. A Patriot unit has a pretty unique signature. It's good to show lieutenants what they look like from a satellite so they understand the importance of camouflage."
Once the battery is in place and ready to fire, Karbler said the unit rotates Soldiers and platoon leaders through a 24-hour cycle that keeps the missiles and radars manned by a small cell while the rest perform other chores. It takes few people to man the system once it's operational, according to Karbler.
That leaves most of the battery free to fulfill other missions, like security, maintenance and resupply. Like the field artillery, the batteries get a reload of missiles pushed to them in case the missiles are needed, Karbler said. The amount of missiles a battery has available at any time is a state secret, and Karbler said it's another decision that starts at the four-star general level.
Adapt, improvise and overcome
Like all Army units, the ADA mission changes to meet the needs of the force. As late as 2000, maneuver brigades had their own ADA assets, Stinger missile platoons. It was the same Stinger missile system that helped force the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. It was an effective weapon system, Karbler said, but the short range missile was mounted on a HMMV and became part of the Avenger Sentinel system.
Those Stinger missile crews became part of ADA Avenger Sentinel battalions instead of keeping them in maneuver units. The Avenger shoots the missile. The Sentinel provides the radar warning. The 31st ADA Bde battalion stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., is equipped with the Avenger Sentinel system and the counter rocket, artillery and mortar system (C-RAM).
"Now there's no organic air defense in any maneuver formation," Karbler said. "So brigade combat teams do not have organic air defense shooters anymore. They have an air defense airspace management cell, called an 'ADAM,' cell. They do airspace deconfliction, airspace command and control and provide an air picture conduit into the brigade commander's TOC.
"So, whatever UAV's, helicopters or whatever might be flying in the area, the ADAM cell pipes that picture in so the brigade commander can have situation awareness of the third dimension."
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the maneuver commander gets C-RAM coverage on base. The C-RAM not only warns of incoming missiles and mortars, but it also helps the local commander track the threat back to its source and destroy it. When a field artillery battalion has a threat in the air, helicopters or UAV for example, the Avenger Sentinel crew gets the call.
"When your theoretical company or battery commander needs help, the Avenger Sentinel will launch and get at it at a significantly reduced cost but with the same probability of kill," Karbler said. Avenger Sentinel crews provide the airspace radar picture to the ADAM cell in the maneuver brigade tactical operations center, he added.
Not just batteries
Though the brigade can, and does, deploy batteries anywhere around the world, the entire brigade can deploy. "One of the brigades at Fort Bliss is in the process of deploying right now. We're potentially ... well, that's probably classified ... I'll just say that we always have the potential to deploy."
As if the brigade didn't face challenges as it moves from Fort Bliss to Fort Sill, the brigade will lose one battalion and pick up another next year. Karbler said the 6th Battalion 52nd ADA will transfer from Fort Sill to Korea and the 3rd Bn. 2nd ADA will transfer from Korea to Fort Sill (via Fort Bliss). He said the unit will go through Fort Bliss to, "pick up their families."
The brigade won't be at full strength for several years, Karbler added. He said the Army will add another Patriot battalion to its inventory by 2010 and that battalion will belong to the 31st ADA Bde.
Moving on up
Another challenge for the brigade is the continuing upgrade of Patriot battalions to the new third version of their missile systems. Karbler explained that the new missile allows the ADA to better defend an area. He said that the older missile was designed to deflect incoming ballistic missiles from their intended target, while the new missile will destroy the target.
"The way the Patriot missile was originally designed, let's say that I'm on an airbase that I'm defending and pick up a missile coming in," Karbler said. "I get what's called a 'ground impact point prediction.' My radar says that bad boy is going to land here at my air base, so I need to launch. I launch a Patriot and it goes up and blows somewhere near the ballistic missile and it blows it off course so it lands somewhere, but not on the air base.
"That works good for small areas where there are very localized assets. It doesn't work so good when I'm in Tel Aviv, Israel, and I'm defending Ben Gurion Airport. If I knock a missile off course, it could land in a neighborhood. Though my defended asset stays defended, it represents risks to the population."
"Pat-3 is now a hit-to-kill missile," Karbler added. "Now the ballistic missile comes in, and the Patriot is designed to hit it head on. Essentially it obliterates the threat, so you don't have any large missile components or debris hitting the ground."
Though the Patriot system becomes more accurate and reminds people of what used to be science fiction, Karbler said the system gives the Army an important ability to defend itself against threats from overhead instead of relying on the Air Force and air superiority. After all, the Air Force might not think that a UAV spying on an artillery battalion position is worth sending a plane, but that battery commander would have a different view of the situation.
"The Air Force can't get on cruise missiles very well to shoot those down, and unmanned aircraft systems fly too slow," Karbler smiled big and added, "It's probably not cool for pilots to shoot down UAVs because it doesn't have much glamour."