(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

A team from Close Combat Weapons Systems Project Office has returned from Afghanistan after a mission to field the latest capabilities to war fighters using Tube-launched Optically tracked Wire-to-command missiles.

The team delivered Improved Target Acquisition Systems that incorporate Far Target Location capability that allows gunners to determine accurately the position of enemy threats well beyond traditional engagement ranges.

The ITAS Far Target Locator Fielding Team consisted of Maj. James Stepien, APM, ITAS fielding for the TOW weapon support division, Close Combat Weapons Systems, PEO Missiles and Space; Jason Morris, government engineer; Greg Mattson, contractor logistician; and Kevin Beck, a Raytheon field service representative. The team spent nearly two-and-a-half months in theater from January to March, including a two-week reconnaissance trip in December.

ITAS is the fire control system for the TOW missile and consists of integrated optical and second-generation forward-looking infrared sights and an eye-safe laser range finder. It offers improved hit probability by aided target tracking, improved missile flight software algorithms, and an elevation brake to minimize launch transients. It is capable of firing all versions of TOW missiles and can be employed mounted on the Humvee or dismounted on a tripod. It provides long-range heavy anti-tank and precision assault fires capabilities to Army and Marine Corps light, airborne, air assault, and Stryker Brigade Combat Team forces. ITAS has played a leading role in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and in Operation Iraqi Freedom since 2003.

The latest upgrade, ITAS-FTL incorporates a global positioning satellite based position attitude determination subsystem. The addition of the PADS to the TOW ITAS system provides the Soldier an instant grid location of his position and of the target that he sees in his ITAS sight. It is accurate to a 60 meter CEP (circular error of probability) at eight kilometers and it gets linearly more accurate at closer ranges. The new capability makes it possible to immediately direct other weapon system fires and to call in close air support or to direct artillery fires without the time consuming task of manually using a compass, map and protractor to calculate the enemy position.

"ITAS-FTL significantly enhances system lethality and Soldier survivability," Stepien said. "This superior surveillance capability enables the Soldier to detect targets at long range and engage and destroy those targets with TOW missiles or by directing the employment of other weapon systems."

The team orchestrated deliveries of ITAS-FTL systems to 14 locations along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After flying into Bagram Air Base, the team set up three main hubs - in northeastern Jalalabad, at the central Forward Operating Base Sharana, and in the south at Kandahar airfield.

The team experienced diverse terrain throughout their mission - steep, snow-covered mountains in the north, significant vegetation and plush growing fields in mountain valleys, and areas of desert in the south. This varied terrain, along with the single-lane, unimproved roads and terraced mountainsides, made ground travel extremely difficult and time-consuming. "Put the enemy threat on top of that and traveling 75 kilometers by ground could take upwards of two-and-a-half days," Stepien said. Thus, the operation relied almost exclusively on aerial transportation, primarily provided by American, Canadian, and Russian contractors, as well as the American military.

"The contracted air support is a real benefit as it frees up Army aircraft to do their mission," Stepien said. The Russian helicopter pilots in particular, many veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, had experience with the terrain and the environment.

The fielding process included new equipment training, hand-off of new equipment, and turn-in of old equipment. Since many of the Soldiers had experience with the ITAS, the fielding did not require extensive training. Units spent time familiarizing themselves with the system and reviewing set-up, maintenance and disassembly. The new training included an explanation of the FTL controls and indicators for surveillance and target engagement. Each unit also received an updated ITAS-FTL manual and a DVD per system. The DVD features a Redstone Arsenal trainer assembling the system and reviewing the controls. These leave-behind training materials are essential for new Soldiers rotating into the units and can be viewed anytime on the Soldiers' laptops.

"Our systems are not too large and we have limited overhead, so it was easier for us to move around the battlefield relatively quickly, without interfering with a unit's ongoing operations," Stepien said. "They told us where they would be and when and we went to them."

Members of the team finished the fielding to an additional brigade in May. In all, 92 systems were fielded, enough to equip three Infantry Brigade Combat Teams plus one battalion.

"We are honored to serve our war fighters - they are heroes and patriots. Morale is good. They are doing their job and serving with honor," Stepien said. "They seemed happy that we came to see them. We were happy to give them an improved capability that has proven effective against the enemy."

The team also educated the Soldiers on the new TOW Bunker Buster missile and its recent availability in theater. The new TOW BB capabilities better suit the target set in Afghanistan than the original anti-tank rounds. The TOW BB warhead consists of a blast type warhead designed to penetrate and then detonate inside Military Operations in Urban Terrain targets such as 8-inch double reinforced concrete, brick-over-block, and triple brick walls. The warhead utilizes both a cast titanium body and chisel style nose to allow better penetration capability while reducing ricochet probability. These blast characteristics make it a very effective overmatch against enemy rocket propelled grenades, mortar and rocket teams and when fired into caves. The new missile arrived in theater at the end of the Redstone team's fielding mission. The Soldiers have recently received the new TOW BB and successfully used it in enemy engagements.

With the new FTL and TOW BB missile capabilities, the TOW ITAS weapon system is more than an anti-armor system. Its precision and effectiveness with minimum collateral damage makes it particularly suitable for the non-tank targets of the current theater environment. Throughout OEF, units are adapting what were traditionally anti-armor systems to defeat insurgent forces. Both the ITAS and the Javelin weapon system, a shoulder-launched "fire-and-forget" anti-tank missile, are seeing increased usage against emerging asymmetric threats in Afghanistan.

"The ITAS is the longest range, precision, direct fire asset available to the IBCT. It has tremendous effect against the target sets we are seeing - RPG teams, caves, and personnel emplacing improvised explosive devices or time-delayed rockets. It is essential that Soldiers are using these weapons to their maximum potential," Stepien said.

The ITAS-FTL provides a significant advantage to the war fighter. It greatly improves his situational awareness while giving the ground commander the option either to destroy a wide array of target sets with a missile or to direct other assets against the threat, such as CAS or artillery.

"Much of the combat in Iraq is fighting in the cities - it is reflexive, close combat," Stepien said. "In Afghanistan, in many cases, it is the opposite. We are making contact with and fighting the enemy at greater ranges."

An ITAS gunner can detect an enemy target on a distant mountainside - far beyond the traditional engagement ranges, even beyond the 3,750-meter range of the TOW missile.

"ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) is critical in this fight. It is about detecting the enemy early on and destroying them before they can affect you," Stepien said. "The ITAS-FTL gives that ability to our war fighters."