By Mitch MeadorMay 2, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla., May 2, 2019 -- Coming soon: Live fire of the Avenger weapon system on Fort Sill. Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, commanding general of the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, dropped this bombshell during his opening remarks at the 2019 Fires Conference here April 24.
That's big news, because when the Air Defense Artillery (ADA) School moved here from Fort Bliss, Texas, it was thought that Fort Sill's smaller ranges would prevent air defenders from doing any live fires here. They would have to train on simulators, and if they wanted to do a live fire, they would have to convoy to McGregor Range, N.M. -- which they have.
Shoffner announced that under Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson's leadership as commandant of the ADA School and chief of the ADA branch, the schoolhouse will now have the ability to conduct live fire of the Avenger weapon system at Fort Sill, which hasn't been possible before.
"That's a huge deal. That's a really big deal," Shoffner said, adding that it's especially important to the ability of countering unmanned aerial systems.
Co-hosting the conference were the CG and the other half of the FCoE and Fort Sill command team, Command Sgt. Maj. John Foley. Shoffner welcomed guests after a few brief introductory remarks by the director of the commander's planning group, Lt. Col. Damon Wells. As Wells noted, the audience included many distinguished Army and Fires leaders from across the country and around the globe, past and present.
"Globally Integrated Fires" was the theme of the 2019 Fires Conference. It was also the title of a high-energy, Hollywood-style music video that showed what the Fires community brings to the battlefield.
After coaching attendees on how to say "sesquicentennial" in honor of Fort Sill's 150-year anniversary, Shoffner got down to business.
"What's the problem we're trying to solve here, as the Fires community? I would argue that it is this. It's MDO. It's Multi-Domain Operations," Shoffner said.
And that topic was front and center for the duration of the Fires Conference. Shoffner said MDO is about how the U.S. Army fights, as part of a partner coalition. It is nested in the national defense strategy.
"What we're going to talk about is how we go from a state of competition which we're in now, to an armed conflict, and then return to competition," he told listeners.
That's what's driving change at the FCoE. Air-Land Battle was the way NATO once hoped to defend Europe against the former Soviet Union, but it has been displaced by MDO.
"Air-Land Battle was defensive, MDO is offensive," the CG summed it up. "The task before us is, how do we set the Fires force to be able to do that, to dominate?"
Shoffner highlighted three major institutional changes to the Fires force, which includes the FA and ADA branches. He also touched on the cultural change in the Army with regard to fitness -- both the proposed Army Combat Fitness Test that would replace the Army Physical Fitness Test and the healthier meals Fort Sill has introduced as part of the Healthy Army Communities initiative.
The general said the changes "are pushing us in a different direction -- in fact, in a better direction."
As was the case last year, captains in the Captains' Career Course made up a sizeable segment of the audience.
"That's by design. The whole point of this conference is to be interactive, to have a discussion about what we're going to do, because we don't have the right answers. We know that. But we know that we do have a lot of folks here who can help us get to the right answer," Shoffner said.
The general presented a slide of second lieutenants in FA Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) out on a fire support coordination exercise at Fort Sill.
"What's important about it is that they are in the impact area. What we've done is we've gone out with some engineers and we've cleared about a 5-kilometer path through the impact area. What that allows us to do, is those second lieutenants are simulating a dismounted rifle company in the attack ...
"They're calling in 105-mm and 155-mm fires fired at minimum safe distances. So what you see here is about 750 meters in front of them. We're going to work to get those probably a little closer. But keep in mind, it's all second lieutenants on the guns, it's all second lieutenants on the fire direction center, firing at minimum safe distance."
It's all about rigor, he pointed out. It's one example of what the FCoE is doing to ensure that the experiences lieutenants have at Fort Sill are as tough and challenging as they can possibly be, because the junior officers will have to do this for real.
On air defense, the FCoE is well into an effort called Maneuver Stamp, where the training teaches 11-series Infantry and 19-series Maneuver Soldiers how to use the Stinger MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense System) and sends them back out to brigade combat teams, the CG noted.
"We've done dozens of those. We'll continue to do that. That's putting our Stingers back into the force. We do have some SHORAD (short-range air defense), primarily in the Guard, already. That's well under way, and that's going to continue."
It was at this point that Shoffner announced Gibson's work in bringing Avenger live fires to Fort Sill.
After a third video, Shoffner recounted a recent visit by the chief of Ukrainian artillery, who talked about his devastating experiences with modern, longer-range Russian field artillery and electronic jamming during the Russian invasion of the Crimea in late 2014.
The 2019 Fires Conference was the biggest ever, according to Michele Flanagan, Fort Sill FMWR marketing director.
Twelve nations, including the United States, were represented at the conference, said Kati Trump, registration contractor with FMWR. There were 718 attendees, 174 of them booth representatives for the 21 companies participating in the trade expo that accompanies the conference. The expo encompassed 36 spaces inside Snow Hall and nine outside.