101st Division Artillery in Afghanistan: USFOR-A Force Field Artillery Headquarters 

Posted By: James Nemec Professional Content,

101st Division Artillery in Afghanistan:

USFOR-A Force Field Artillery Headquarters

MAJ James Nemec  

In early 2018, as part of a larger force manning increase related to the South Asia Strategy, the Commander of United States Forces- Afghanistan, General John W. Nicholson, ordered the establishment of a Force Field Artillery Headquarters (FFA HQ) for all surface to surface fires across the Combined Joint Operations Area- Afghanistan (CJOA-A).  According to ATP 3-09.90, the Force Field Artillery Headquarters (FFA HQ) provides mission command of all fires forces in the (Division) AO including the authority to position and task allocate Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery Units.  With the 3d Infantry Division Headquarters deployed in early 2018, Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was established by the 3rd Infantry DIVARTY.  Full Operating Capability (FOC) for the FFA HQ was the responsibility of the 101st DIVARTY, deploying with the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division Headquarters in March of 2018.  This article is a review of how the 101st DIVARTY as the USFOR-A FFA HQ operationalized their approach to best synchronize and integrate fires in support of the commander.   

Previously participating in three Decisive Action Warfighter Exercises, the 101st DIVARTY was trained and cohesive when deployed in March of 2018.  Mindful of force levels, adjustments to manning were required for the mission in Afghanistan.  When the 101st DIVARTY transitioned authority with 3ID DIVARTY, assessments were made to determine how to get from IOC to FOC.  The USFOR-A FFA HQ produced and disseminated a Fires Common Operating Picture (COP), a twice daily status report of fires assets across the CJOA-A including: number of fire missions, expenditure reports, non-reported movements of radars, M777s and included a window of upcoming operations.  The FFA HQ identified the need to establish clear and concise Command Support Relationships for firing units and the requirement for a standardization and certification program.  Responsible for Counter Rocket and Mortar operations across the CJOA-A, the FFA HQ also had oversight for Counter- Unmanned Aerial Systems.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the FFA HQ served as connective tissue between Fires Advisors across the CJOA-A and the Combined Security Transition Command- Afghanistan (CSTC-A).

            To achieve FOC, the Force Field Artillery Headquarters, and J34 targeting, applied a Fires Operational Approach including 4 Lines of Effort: Resource the Train, Advise, Assist Commands (TAACs)/ Task Forces (TFs), Synchronize and Prioritize Operations Across the CJOA-A, Develop Afghan National Defense Security Force (ANDSF) Fires Capability, and Protect the Force.  The FFA HQ’s vision was to provide mission command and synchronization of Joint Fires assets and enablers across the CJOA-A, integrating effects into all operations in order to facilitate reconciliation, assist with security, and promote a peaceful and secure Afghanistan.  All lines of effort established measures of performance, set as objectives across time and working toward a common endstate. 

The first line of effort, Resource TAACs and TFs centered on resourcing firing unit’s expeditionary capability to support forward advising efforts with lethal fires.  This included the integration of platforms and sensors, adjusting radar, gun, and launcher coverage to meet operational requirements, and the certification/ validation of howitzer and fire direction sections.  The FFA HQ was able to manage information and requests for assistance coming from the TAACs and TFs by holding bi-weekly video teleconferences with all stakeholders.  These battle rhythm events were well received by the firing units and provided an outlet for the Fires Warfighting Function.  

For certification and validation, FFA HQ Master Gunners validated all M777 sections and FDCs once in country, then conducted battlefield circulation to provide oversight and enforce standardization during Artillery TBL VI certifications.  TBL VI certification provided firing units to ability to maintain a readiness level through redeployment.  For validation, the FFA HQ utilized a checklist with input from CENTCOM, Doctrine, and the FFA HQ commander for howitzer, FDC, FiST, and radar sections. 

Crucial to fire support and expeditionary advising efforts, command and support relationships were defined and established.  Regardless of relationship, every unit and platform had a defined relationship with the FFA HQ to expedite targeting and fire mission processing times and alleviate duplication of effort.  

The second line of effort, synchronize and prioritize operations across the CJOA-A, was a refinement of our targeting process to meet operational and strategic objectives.  Led by the FFA HQ Commander in his role as the J34, this line of effort required input from multiple stakeholders including Special Operations, Air Force, and intelligence agencies.  Susceptible to changing strategic and operational priorities, this effort by far took the most time and resources, requiring concurrence across multiple organizations and levels of command.

The third line of effort, protect the force, was primarily executed by 2d Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery with mission command and oversight from the FFA HQ for all Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (CRAM) operations as well as Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (CUAS) across the CJOA-A.  Having Air Defense Artillery fall under the FFA HQ was a natural fit and made for efficient and effective reporting.    

The last line of effort, Develop (ANDSF) Fires Capability, was to improve the capability of Afghan Artillery to provide independent fire support for combined arms maneuver operations and effectively integrate Joint air and fires assets.  Identifying a gap between Afghan Corps Artillery and the Ministry of Defense (MOD), the FFA HQ became the interlocutor between fires advisors at the Corps, Brigade, and Battalion (Kandak) level, Combined Security Transition Command –Afghanistan (CSTC-A), and MOD advisors. 

Although each TAAC, TF, and 1SFAB had advisors at each level, the capability gap made coordination with the MOD cumbersome and time consuming.  The FFA HQ supported advising efforts by pooling information and synchronizing resources across the CJOA-A, similar to support given to Coalition Fires assets.  Bi-weekly advising synchs with the FFA HQ were established and a CJOA-A wide fires conference or Shura, was held including Coalition, Joint, and Afghan fires, targeting, and air component stakeholders to discuss best practices and the Fires Way Forward in Afghanistan. 

As a result of the Fires Shura, the requirement to assist in advising the Afghan Chief of Artillery and the Afghan Artillery Schoolhouse Commandant became apparent.  The FFA HQ assisted with advising by developing a Corps Fires Assessment plan.  Each Corps assessment shed light on the conditions of firing units, D-30 locations, current maintenance statuses, ammunition statuses, and associated challenges.  The assessments concluded with a tour of each Corps’ Regional Military Training Center to assess the condition and disposition of faculty.  After each visit, information was plugged into a briefing slide in both Dari and English addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the Corps Fires.  These assessments gave advisors an additional opportunity to raise resourcing concerns with the FFA HQ.  As a result, the Afghan Chief of Artillery and his staff took ownership of the process, identified Corps level issues and issues requiring MOD involvement, and addressed more complex issues through advisors channels through the Force Field Artillery Headquarters.  This took the burden off the advisors, allowing them to focus on the fight.

In conclusion, this article was a review of how the 101st DIVARTY as the USFOR-A FFA HQ operationalized their approach to best synchronize and integrate fires in support of the commander.  The ability to execute our Lines of Effort while remaining agile and adaptive was a direct result of our gated training strategy before the deployment, and our deliberate and defined operational approach.  Our ability to train, advise, and assist our Afghan Artillery partners was predicated on maintaining positive relationships.  For the future, FFA HQs will continue playing a crucial role in the ability to deliver fires in support of the commander.  In Afghanistan, Artillery advising will remain important.  With assistance from the FFA HQ, Artillery advising efforts will

undoubtedly impact the fight going forward.