Located at Fort Sill, Okla., the Fires Center of Excellence (FCoE) trains, educates, and develops soldiers and leaders; creates and develops capabilities; engages, collaborates, and partners with stakeholders; and sustains and provides a fires force to support the joint warfighting commander across the spectrum of operations in the joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational environments.
The FCoE was established on the foundation of a Fort Sill military tradition that dates to the driving of the first stake by Maj. Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan in 1869. Originally established to help protect settlers in Texas from raids by the Plains Indian tribes, Fort Sill’s missions have changed dramatically over the years. One early change involved the movement of the Army’s School of Musketry, now known as the Infantry School, and the replacement of the cavalry and infantry soldiers by one of the Army’s largest concentrations of field artillery units. That transition was followed by the War Department establishment of the School of Fires (field artillery) at the fort in 1911.
Now, a century later, the field artillery has been joined by the air defense artillery (ADA) and electronic warfare branches as part of the Fires Center of Excellence.
Defense senior writer Scott R. Gourley recently spoke with Maj. Gen. David C. Halverson, commanding general, Fires Center of Excellence, regarding some of the current activities and future challenges facing the “fires” community.
Scott R. Gourley: Can you talk a little bit about how the combat experiences of the last decade have changed the azimuth of any elements within the fires community?
Maj. Gen. David C. Halverson: That’s a great question. We just had a great conference up in Kansas City [AUSA’s ILW Combined Arms Maneuver Symposium and Exposition: “Preparing the Force for the 21st Century Strategic Environment,” July 26-28, 2011] where we talked about wide area security and combined arms maneuver and the changes over the 10 years of war.
Very early on in that period during the invasion of Iraq, we utilized the fires in the old combined arms maneuver concept. That involved things like fires safety and the heavy use of rockets and cannons. That utilization of fires clearly facilitated the destruction of the regime in Iraq.
What does the shift, over the past decade, from full spectrum combined arms maneuver fires to encompass the capabilities of fires within wide area security mean?
That means the “umbrella” of fires and to ensure that no one is outside that umbrella of fires, which then allows you that 24/7 capability to provide protection. And when I talk about “fires” I am talking about both the field artillery and the air defense artillery, because we are using the shaping aspects of both offensive and defensive fires capabilities. And the ADA as I see it provides a defensive fires capability.
Another thing over the last five or six years is that our experiences have shown the importance of not only the lethal but also the non-lethal. And because of our fires background a lot of our guys have been integrators of the lethal and the non-lethal capabilities that we bring to the force.
There has been a lot of discussion about some of the non-standard missions that we have had with the field artillery. It is true that it has taken time to get back some of the core competencies that we have, but it has also given us the agility – from the leader development perspective – that our soldiers need; to be agile and adaptable. So, from my foxhole, when you talk about a poster child for that agile and adaptable leader, that’s been in the fires force. Whether you are working with a maneuver commander or a [coalition/partnership] leader, that fires soldier has been building those partnership capacities as all of these other mission sets unfolded, while maintaining those core competencies like we are doing in Afghanistan.
Many people think that we are not using that much artillery now. But artillery is being used a lot in Afghanistan, along with indirect mortar capabilities. And that planning is falling squarely on the back of our fires soldiers.
We have also increasingly seen a lot of decentralized operations, especially in wide area security. So we have had to get more sensors out there. Along with those sensors we have brought along precision [fires] that have helped us tremendously.
A classic example is the capability we bring with GMLRS [Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System]; reinforced with our ATACMS [Advanced Tactical Missile System], which has longer reach; and bringing on the EQ-36 new sensor capabilities. Those have been essential.
Another thing that has happened is … the enemy’s use of fires, as we have seen in Sadr City and other places, where he has used his indirect fire to put pressure on us. That has caused us to really look at the C-RAM [Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar] – or Indirect Fire Protection Capability. And that’s been a big thing in our ADA defensive fires; ensuring that we have that capability and bring it to the force. We really need to do that, so we are going to be doing some shaping to ensure that we really do provide a capability to sense, warn, and then defeat mortars and the low grade rockets like we have seen.
At the same time, we have had a proliferation of regional missile capabilities. So we are staying vigilant with our Patriot organization and bringing in our THAAD [Theater High Altitude Area Defense] capability and AN/TPY-2 radar. Now you see the fires forces at that higher end with the air and missile defense capabilities that we bring to the fight.
So I think we have to continue our core competencies but reshape our agile and flexible abilities, going from lethal and non-lethal targeting and what’s the best “arrow” to bring out [of the quiver], to working the collateral damage with precision to reduce civilian casualties, to providing high-end defensive fires against the proliferation of regional missiles, to providing sensors that can link into a joint or combined architecture, to maintaining our Patriot skills to defeat those threats.
The fires force is still the best joint integrator that we have, both in ADA and in field artillery. In everything from Joint Fires Observers that we train to assist with CAS [close air support] at the platoon level all the way up into air and missile defense and global missile defense, we are very engaged.
I think those are all exciting things that have happened over the last decade where we have had to ensure that our fires soldiers have the skills in their tool kit.
Would you discuss the challenges of balancing near-term combat commitments with the need to prepare for an uncertain future? Are these challenges unique to the fires community?
I don’t think they are unique. There is just a lot going on. Under guidance of Gen. [Martin E.] Dempsey, first as the TRADOC [Training and Doctrine Command] commander and now as the Chief of Staff, what we have been trying to do is proactively see ourselves and look at some of our solutions not just from a materiel aspect but also as part of the whole DOTMLPF [doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities] process. [Dempsey has since been confirmed by the Senate as CJCS.]
So the rework of [Field Manual] 3-0 [“Operations”] with Unified Land Operations and how we see ourselves as a land power were formed to ensure that we maintain that ability to fight and win our nation’s wars – now and in the future. We are also looking at how we are organized. Are we organized correctly? What gaps do we see in the last nine years of war looking at lessons learned? Did modularity answer everything? If not, what changes do we have to do to modularity? We now have to bring those things forward in what I would say are the challenging fiscal times we are all under.
Then we have to look at leader development, which is what we think is a huge part of TRADOC’s core missions of what we have to do. How do we create agile and flexible leaders who are much more decentralized with their capabilities yet also held more accountable in this information age?
And how do we ensure that they have the character, live the Army’s values, and understand what it takes to be part of a profession of arms, where you are held accountable for your actions and the things that war tests you on, now and in the future?
I do think we have been at the leading edge on that and I offer examples ranging from new doctrine writing – where it is pithier and more focused – to looking hard at our organizations – determining where modularity is right and determining what changes we might have to make.
Part of the balance is that we still have to invest heavily in our leader development. We will also have to iterate our modernization so that the capabilities now and in the future ensure that we are a versatile organization that can “plug and play” in the network. And I think if we do that, we will be much more responsive to the unknowns. As for those unknowns, we are sitting in a time where you never thought we would be in conflict with Libya several months ago. It’s those types of things and the uncertainty of where the next one will bubble up as we go forward.
Where do you see the fires challenges over the next two years? Five years?
I think that obviously there are going to be constrained resources. So how do we get back to basics holistically? If the demands do come back we are going to have to keep our force very engaged. So part of the challenge is that we have to go back to the core competencies underlying our warfighting functions – eyes, brains, and brawn – and getting back to the elements of accurate predictive fire. We must remain subject matter experts – warfighting experts – in what we do best.
I also think that we are going to have to continue to build partnership capacities throughout our operations. The world’s centers of gravity are our armies. And we are going to have to get engaged with our other partners to help build capacity. In terms of the fires communities, many of our partners are not able to have high-end air forces or navies so it is going to be their fires forces that they rely on to provide all-weather offensive and defensive capabilities. And I hope that we will play a big role in that.
So we have to learn how to train better, empowering the battery commanders and battalion commanders to train and certify their crews and be absolute with our standards and discipline. I think we are going to have to optimize our mix of live, virtual, and constructive training. So we are leveraging things like “Danger Close,” the collateral damage decision-making tool, our Joint Fires Observer and Call For Fire training, and our “virtual platoon” capabilities. We immerse them in this so that we can test their character, play it back, and learn to be more innovative. We are also leveraging new digital devices. And I am very proud that at Fort Sill we are using iPhones and similar devices for hard things like Patriot emplacement, where our soldiers can test themselves.
We may not be able to get on our actual equipment as much in the future, so the challenge will be how we can further leverage the live, virtual, and constructive training capabilities.
I do think also that we are going to have to continue to challenge our fires leaders to be the best integrators in our Army. How do you pull a team together to ensure that we get the effects that we want for that commander, be it filling partnership capacity or high-end combined arms maneuver, synchronizing air and ground operations, or identifying with clarity very cluttered airspace to provide timely and accurate fires or properly discriminate targets? We are going to have to fine-tune those skills by making sure we have the right programs in place.
It’s all about trust: trust with our coalition partners; trust with our joint partners; and trust within our own community. It’s also about fitness, which is where the leader development comes in. You have to be morally, mentally, physically, and warfighting fit, in addition to being technically and tactically competent. And then we also have to have the standards and discipline that we need to get back to some of the basics.
Any accomplishments over the past few years that bring a special sense of pride to the fires community?
I’m just very proud of what I have seen in the spirit of the fires soldiers. I see it in the sacrifices of Sgt. 1st Class Jared Christopher Monti, Medal of Honor recipient in 2009, trained to be an integrator and a Joint Fires Observer, who showed that spirit on the battlefield. I see the spirit of fires in leaders like Col. Greg Gadson [Gadson commanded 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery in Iraq where he survived an IED attack that eventually cost him both legs above the knee and severely damaged his right arm], who inspired the New York Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl and is now going to be a brigade commander at the garrison at Fort Belvoir. He has continued to fight through the struggles of war while showing amazing characteristics of leadership. Most recently I saw the spirit in the actions of Sgt. Jacob Perkins, a fire support NCO from 10th Mountain Division who saved people from a burning bus.
And there is also pride in the fact that the fires soldiers know their core competencies. Fires soldiers are vigilant right now in Korea with the Patriot Brigade and Fires Brigade. It’s the same in Southwest Asia. And it’s the same in Germany.
So it is our people that give us the greatest sense of pride. It is their actions that prove why fires leaders are special.
This article was first published in Defense: Fall 2011 Edition.