3 x 2 Distributed Rocket Artillery Operations
LTC Joseph J. Russo
As U.S. and coalition forces enter their ninth year of combat in Afghanistan, the current operating environment reflects a complex mix of both kinetic operations and unique counterinsurgency considerations. Fires must be arrayed to enable the mobility and responsiveness of mortars, the massing effects of cannon artillery on enemy concentrations and air- and ground-delivered precision fires on high value targets, time sensitive targets and targets requiring low collateral damage. As the protection of the population and sensitivities toward civilian casualties become center-pieces to counterinsurgency operations in Operation Enduring Freedom, the ability to assess requirements appropriately and effectively, position and employ assets is critical to the success of this dynamic three-block fight. The M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System brings a revolutionary range and precision fires capability to both Operation Enduring Freedom and Marine artillery arsenal in general.
In May 2008, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, successfully completed its new equipment transition from the M198 medium towed howitzer to M142 HIMARS. While physically fielded, trained and capable of employing the new system and its associated equipment, employment concepts arguably remained entrenched in legacy cannon tactics, techniques and procedures.
Examining existing U.S. Army Multiple-Launch Rocket System doctrine, Army, Marine Corps and British HIMARS employment lessons learned from Operation Enduring Freedom and possible future contingencies across the range of military operations, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, adjusted its training and organizational structure to support the requirements of decentralized command, control and sustainment of its subordinate batteries. From June through August 2009, 5/11 Marines conducted a series of command post and live-fire exercises to assess and validate decentralized, precision rocket fires in a highly distributed operating environment.
Battalion-level distributed operations July 27 to July 29, 2009. The battalion dispersed its batteries between Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., and Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, Calif. Initially focused on the validation of long range tactical satellite and high-frequency communications, these exercises matured to the level of live-fire execution over an operating area in excess of 150 miles.
Upon completion of these exercises, firing battery commanders were directed to reorganize their units into three firing platoons of two launchers per platoon (designated 3 x 2), and a general assessment and validation of personnel and equipment requirements was undertaken across the battalion.
Platoon-level distributed operations October 14, 2009 to November 1, 2009. The 5/11 Marines' platoons operated from five separate locations at Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and the Naval Shore Bombardment Training Area at San Clemente Island, Calif. Rocket artillery liaison teams were employed with Marine Expeditionary Forces Fires, 1st and 5th Marine Regiments.
During this assessment, 5/11's Headquarters Battery was reorganized and distributed in support of independent firing battery operations. Administrative and logistics capabilities were task organized into direct support teams, providing platoon-level units with the necessary support functions to operate semi-independently throughout geographically dispersed locations. The battalion combat operations center was reorganized to replicate a 24-hour Marine air-ground task force-level fires cell. The replicated fires cell, operating from the I Marine Expeditionary Forces Battle Simulation Center at Camp Del Mar, was capable of both voice and digital long-range communications through a tactical satellite and other high frequency systems, and exercised control of both the command post exercise and live-fire operations of the battalion's deployed platoons, distributed across nearly 500 miles. It further conducted a long-range command post exercise with 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines (Reserve HIMARS battalion), in Grand Prairie, Texas. This training culminated during the division's Steel Knight 09 exercise with the live firing of 12 rockets at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms by a two-launcher platoon, which was controlled by the I Marine Expeditionary Forces fires rocket artillery liaison team within the fires cell at Camp Pendleton. The battalion headquarters' role transitioned from command, control and sustainment of battalion-level operations to dispersed, task organized support of platoon operations and facilitation of distributed training.
Introduction and employment of rocket artillery liaison teams. Marketing the M142 HIMARS' capabilities to supported maneuver commanders was among the greatest challenges initially faced with its fielding. Now capable of providing deep, precision fires, previously only delivered by air platforms, HIMARS provides a dramatically increased fires capability and options to the Marine air-ground task force. Recognizing the need to provide rocket expertise, mission processing facilitation and long-range communications capabilities validated in the battalion's command post exercises and field exercises, 5/11 Marines reorganized its liaison personnel into four-man rocket artillery liaison teams. Their training focused on the capabilities listed in Figure 9-1. Constructed to provide flexible rocket mission processing expertise, application of a rocket artillery liaison team at the appropriate force fires coordination center or fire support coordination center is deemed essential to facilitate timely and effective rocket fires integration.
Long-range communications. Having identified the requirement for sustained, long-range voice and digital communications, the allocation of secure tactical satellite and high frequency communications was assessed as operationally critical. The allocation of dedicated satellite time, bandwidth, frequencies and appropriate equipment must be viewed as a necessity to harness and integrate the capabilities of this weapon system fully. Simply put, the autonomy and complexity of the newly developed long-range communications infrastructure and distributed operations concept entail a need for augmented communications equipment, prioritization, supervisors and operators. A table of organization and equipment change request, identifying an additional 45 Marines, representing key supervisory and military occupational specialty critical billets, an additional technical representative and a suite of long-range communications equipment has been submitted to address these requirements.
Figure 9-1. Rocket artillery liaison team training focuses on the capabilities above.
Strategic lift and ground convoy raid capability. In each of its battalion-level exercises, 5/11 Marines conducted fly away training and embarkation preparation for raid employment by both C-130 and C-17 aircraft platforms. Establishing a strong working relationship with the C-130 squadron Marine Aircraft Group-11 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, these aircraft raids have included movements to the expeditionary airfields at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and San Clemente Island, as well as the airfield at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. The significant range capabilities of the system require minimal movement of the launchers to range targets throughout an area of operations. As such, numerous established and expeditionary airfields throughout an area of operations potentially offer adequate, secured position areas from which to provide coverage of all contingencies. Additionally, each 5/11 Marines' platoon has conducted considerable training on ground convoy/improvised explosive device defeat movements to support off forward operating base/camp vehicular raids and movements. To conduct raids, either by air or ground, and while mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support dependent, augmentation of the raid unit by non-organic security must be considered based on the operating environment.
Resupply operations. The current HIMARS battery table of equipment allocates 12 resupply supply systems. Comprised of a resupply vehicle with organic hydraulic crane capability and a towed resupply trailer, each resupply supply system is capable of transporting as many as four rocket pods, each carrying six rockets or one Army Tactical Mission System missile per pod. Each launcher is supported by two resupply systems capable of transporting a total of eight pods. The launcher transports a ninth pod. In extraneous conditions, pods can be double stacked to double the lift capacity. The battalion also has developed medium tactical vehicle replacement/logistics vehicle system bed "kits". These kits are intended to modify medium tactical vehicle replacement/logistics vehicle system truck beds with pod "shoes" to enable the transportation of rocket pods.
Training has been conducted with the Marine Logistics Group to enhance battery-level organic helicopter support team capability to load and offload heliborne, sling loaded resupply operations. Each battery will maintain a helicopter support team-trained capability at each of its three distributed platoons. Further, it has been determined through the spring and summer exercises and assessments that, as the artillery regimental logistics trains typically are focused forward in support of its cannon battalions, it is likely they will be separated by significant and arguably unsupportable distances from HIMARS units. The Marine Logistics Group or designated combat logistics battalion, therefore, would best be suited with the requirement to resupply rocket ammunition. Marine Logistics Group familiarization training regarding rocket ammunition handling and resupply operations is planned within the battalion's fiscal year 2010 training schedule.
Conduct of HIMARS 3 x 2 operations. Recognizing the range and fire power of the HIMARS battery and assessing requirements in support of current and future operations, the ability to operate HIMARS as 3 x 2 formation was found to be sound operationally. To adequately man a HIMARS firing battery for sustained 3 x 2 operations, the current table of organization and staffing goal were assessed as inadequate to provide sufficient supervision in several key billets. Supervisory billets such as platoon commander, fire direction officer and operations chief positions require the augmentation of additional Military Occupational Specialties 0802 Field Artillery Officers and 0848 Field Artillery Operations Chiefs. Additional communications infrastructure requires enhanced radio operator and technician augmentation as well.
As HIMARS tactics, techniques and procedures continue to develop, the range and precision capabilities of rockets in the Marine artillery arsenal must be understood. HIMARS should not be viewed simply as a long range cannon. Rather, the system should be viewed as a long range, precision fires platform. While HIMARS can and should respond to close fight maneuver requirements, its worth on the battlefield must additionally be felt in its range and precision capabilities. Target types should be such that a low collateral damage estimate, Global Positioning System-guided, high-explosive unitary munitions are the effect of choice. The penetrating effects of its vertical angle of fall and delay fuse capabilities make it uniquely capable of destroying reinforced mud/brick positions while producing minimal collateral damage to surrounding structures.
Future initiatives. There are several future initiatives to orient and train maneuver units on HIMARS and its employment.
Mojave Viper integration. Mojave Viper exercises offer a superb venue to orient and train maneuver units throughout the Marine Corps. With the establishment of the rocket artillery liaison team concept, the entry argument for access to rocket fires is established. When fully trained, the rocket artillery liaison team provides both mission processing tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as professional military education on capabilities and logistical requirements.
MARSOC/ANGLICO/NSW Training Integration. Having developed relationships with each organization, the continued integration of Marine Special Operations Command, Naval Special Warfare and air naval gunfire liaison company sensors to distributed operations is deemed essential. Furthermore, the integration of the unmanned aerial systems as a viable rocket observation platform requires development.
Development of distributed operating areas. While working to develop viable rocket artillery firing areas further aboard Camp Pendleton and San Clemente Island, future exercises will include long-range raids and command post exercise training from Naval Air Station, El Centro, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, Naval Training Center at Warner Springs, the U.S. Army Reserve Center at Camp Roberts, Nellis Air Force Base, and the expeditionary airfield at Imperial Beach. To truly demonstrate the system's capabilities, live-fire Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System exercises also must be enabled. See figure 9-2 for some additional initiatives.
Revolutionary in its capabilities, the M142 HIMARS brings a level of range and precision lethality never before seen in the Marine artillery arsenal. As with so many newly developed systems, interest in HIMARS has grown as its capabilities have been demonstrated in both peace-time training and in combat. With the resources, advocacy and training integration necessary to employ HIMARS effectively, innovative development will continue to maximize its worth across the full spectrum of conflict.
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012