FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Oct. 1, 2020) -- That rogue DNA known as COVID-19 has transformed Army transformation itself by inducing the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill to make the 2020 Fires Conference a virtual event.That means radical changes to the format. In past years young officers could scramble over the latest and greatest weapon systems on display in front of Snow Hall, but that’s not the case this time around. Gone, too, is the trade show where multinational defense contractors could showcase their cutting-edge technologies.But for every loss there comes a gain. In what may be a first for this event, planners scored a coup by securing both members of the Department of the Army’s command team as speakers.Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville will lead a discussion at 8 a.m. today on the subject of today’s Soldiers, the Fires profession, and professionals in general, and how they will move forward as an Army profession. Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, who cut his teeth on field artillery systems when he went through basic and advanced individual training here in the 1980s, spoke Sept. 30.Commanders of the newly created U.S. Space Force, the Space and Missile Defense Command, and the Training and Doctrine Command were also on tap to speak.As an added plus, the conference cast a broader net than ever before in its quest to capture the worldwide Fires community. With the sole ex- ception of certain Human Resources Command briefings Oct. 2, all of the livestreamed seminars were unclassified and open to anyone who wanted to watch, said John Dorsey, strategic planner for the commander’s planning group.Viewers could simply go to the Fires Conference web site at https://livestream.com/firescenter and look for the link to the livestream site, then click on the pane that says “Fires Conference 2020.”What’s it all about?The future of the Fires enterprise and its mod- ernization via the cross-functional teams amid the continual development of new leaders.Planners did connectivity tests far and wide, not just in the continental U.S., but overseas, to make sure people could participate from the remote corners of the planet.As host for this gathering of like minds, Maj. Gen. Ken Kamper, commanding general of the FCoE and Fort Sill, welcomed questions from Basic Officer Leader Course lieutenants and captains in Captains Career Course who were in attendance.“My name is Ken Kamper. I am an American Soldier. I am a proud Fires professional,” he told them.He said having the first Virtual Fires Conference shows the adaptability and agility of the Fires force in this COVID environment.“What an exciting time to be in the artillery – the field artillery and the air defense artillery. We’ve got just a tremendous amount of change going on in both branches as our Army focuses on figuring out how we fight in large-scale ground combat ops against a potential near-peer adversary,” Kamper said.He noted that air defenders are in the forefront of providing indirect fire protection capability (IFPC).Iron Dome, an all-weather air defense system designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery shells, is expected to be out this December. It will bridge a gap that’s been in the formation for a while, said Kamper.The Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) and Patriot systems are both alive and well. They’re in demand and as capable as ever, he said.Connected to that is the IBCS (Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System) that just finished a successful user test at White Sands Missile Range.Directed energy and lasers are coming to Integrated Maneuver – Short-Range Air Defense formations, and the first IM-SHORAD battalion is undergoing new equipment training now at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands.“In less than a year we’ll field the first hypersonic battery set of equipment, and by ’23 we’ll see the first ‘all-up’ hypersonic rounds fielded to that battery,” Kamper predicted.The field artillery branch is growing the number of its Multiple Launch and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems crews from 413 to 615.Kamper called that “a recognition of the volume of fires needed in a large-scale ground combat op.”He also highlighted new developments for that branch to be covered later in the conference, such as the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM), a mid-range missile capability to bridge the gap between PrSM and hypersonic ranges, and the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) that will more than double the range of current cannon systems. The next couple years will see the first four battalions fielded with ERCA, he said.In this time of great change, Kamper asked the Fires community “to pause and consider who we are. Although we’re in branches with highly technical systems that require tremendous competencies and technical skills, we’re a group of people, and there is a human dimension that is ever so important … We must not forget that it’s our people who put doctrine into action.”In the Fires 50, the Army Chief of Staff has espoused the philosophy of “people first, but winning matters.”The Sergeant Major of the Army wants troops to feel ownership with his “This is my squad” message.Kamper said that in his squad “we know each other … we know each other’s families … we believe in our Army values, and our actions and decisions reflect our Army values. In our squad we fight through diversity together. In our squad we tenaciously pursue winning. Who are we? We are the legacy of millions of Soldiers who have gone before us.”The theme for this year’s Fires Conference is “Achieving Overmatch in Large-Scale Combat Operations,” but Kamper emphasized that cohesive teams and leader development are necessary to make that happen.FCoE and Fort Sill Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Burnley said the annual Fires Conference is extremely beneficial because it provides the opportunity to talk as a professional group – “where we’re going and what we’re doing and how we’re going to get there.”“In the 27 years I’ve been in the Army we’ve gone through a lot of transition, and the Fires Conference has been the thing that brings us back every year and 're-greens' us. It’s also what allows us to go back and prepare our units,” Burnley said.“We have a lot of students that will be participating, not only here in the auditorium today, but online. We’re integrating it and driving it into our professional military education for our lieutenants, our captains. We have sergeants, staff sergeants, and sergeants first class at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy that will be dialing in, and for the enlisted force as a whole, it’s great to see where we’ll be going with our professional military education and some of the rigor we’re putting back into the course,” he said.