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138th Field Artillery Brigade mission cites communication

By Kentucky National Guard | March 5, 2018

GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany - Mark McNeilly wrote the book "Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare." The book was his reflection and application of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War." McNeilly arranged Sun's work into six principles and their relevance to military strategy. The fifth chapter, titled, Shaping the Enemy, described shaping the enemy as the action of "mastering the enemy and making them conform to the leader's strategy, rules, and will."

Shaping the enemy is a key strategy in field artillery. Sgt. 1st Class Justin Cron, a senior fire control sergeant for the 138th Field Artillery Brigade, described shaping the battlefield, "In order for a maneuver component to progress you have to identify targets that may pose an opposition for them to make a way for where they are going. In order to provide them the means to do that, you have to take away the opponent's offense against it."

However, before an artillery fires mission can begin shaping battlefields, they must be coordinated. Until the early 90's the most common way to plan fires missions was through analog transmissions. A forward observer would identify the coordinates of a target and then, through various means, get them to the gun section to execute.

This can be especially challenging during NATO operations with each country providing a different way of doing things, not to mention the language barrier.

Today, that mission is executed using digital technologies. Instead of coordinates being communicated verbally over the radio, fires missions can now be keyed into networked computer systems. As a result, missions can be planned with greater accuracy, efficiency, and speed. However, a new communication challenge exists. How do U.S. forces communicate with partner nations in a digital world? Just as operating systems on the world's phones and computers vary, so do the digital languages that direct the world's artillery systems.

To solve this, Kentucky's 138th Field Artillery Brigade along with twenty-seven nations have gathered in Grafenwoehr, Germany, to participate in Dynamic Front 18. The training exercise is designed to offer fighting forces the chance to execute fires missions in a joint environment. Capt. Steven Hojnicki, Observer, Coach, Trainer (OCT) for the 7th Army Training Command explained, "the big picture of Dynamic Front is to work on the major challenges that are facing the fires community in Europe. Specifically how we talk to each other."

Cron added, "to be effective you have to be able to communicate effectively and that depends on your systems."

Chief Warrant Officer Jody Lyddane, targeting officer for the 138th, arrived with the advance party to set up these systems. "Every training exercise I've done in the past is very dependent on networks and systems. We arrived early to make sure all these systems were talking. Networking was the biggest piece. Most training exercises only involve U.S. Forces. This training exercise involves our NATO partners. How do you get a European system talking to an American system?"

Cron continued, "there's a certain means and a certain way to do that. Over the past year we've been training on how to do those types of things. We've had subject matter experts, civilian employees, and contractors to assist. The learning curve has been steep and broad."

For the 138th, the preparation phase is concluding and the Dynamic Front training exercise is rapidly approaching. Hojnicki spoke to the value of this exercise, "it's one thing to do these things in a classroom, it's another to be able to perform in the field and get these systems wet and cold and to put them in a variety of hazardous situations and make sure they work and that we have the processes and procedures in place to deliver timely fires."

With the exercise kicking off soon, Cron feels like the 138th is primed for growth, "we are prepared to learn and that is exactly what we're here to do."