Field Artillery Core Competencies: Much More than Just "Shoot, Move, and Communicate"

Posted By: Gregory L Lankford Professional Content,

Field Artillery Core Competencies: 

Much More Than Just “Shoot, Move and Communicate”

21 MAY 24

COL (R) Greg Lankford


We have been taught for decades that the Field Artillery’s primary tasks are to "Shoot, Move and Communicate", but experience will tell you that the order and emphasis is backwards and this simplistic list of core competencies is far from complete.  Now is as good a time as any to address the shortcomings of this approach to the delivery end of our business.  

“Shoot” is listed first and for good reason since it is ultimately what we must do to deliver timely and accurate fires, but we often put too much emphasis on the actual shooting, and not enough on the other tasks that we must master just to set the conditions for us to put rounds down range. FA BOLC students spend much of their time learning the science of delivering indirect fires (shoot), and rightfully so because of the highly technical skills required for this task, but how much exposure do they get to communications or how to move a firing element tactically?  We talk in terms of “Shoot, Move and Communicate”, but we tend to focus more on this one key element.  It’s no wonder that we’re typically proficient at firing, but less so on the supporting tasks.     

Just how important is our ability to communicate?  I’ll go so far as to label comms as the FAs center of gravity because if we can’t talk, we definitely can’t shoot.  Just ask any FDO.  In fact, we shouldn’t even roll out of the motorpool if our comms aren’t up, so clearly the “Communicate” piece of our business is not only as important as “Shoot”, it must be addressed first.  Units conduct Digital Sustainment Training (DST) to build proficiency with our comms networks, but how much institutional training do your Soldiers get on all of these critical systems during PME?  I suspect that our schools are not providing the same level of attention to this task as we are “Shoot” even though everything we do is completely dependent upon it.  And how often are we exercising our comms networks at echelon?  Is our DST conducted only at the battery or battalion level or are we habitually establishing and exercising the entire PACE for each of our comms nets from the DIVARTY or FAB level all way down to every subordinate battalion, battery, platoon and firing platform at operational ranges?  If this is a rare occasion, then we are not training as we intend to fight.  

Our ability to move is just as critical as our ability to communicate and shoot.  What good is a firing element if they are unable to get into position to range their intended targets at the proper time and place?  Not much good at all because if a unit can’t rapidly reposition and maintain pace with maneuver, they’re just as ineffective as one that can’t communicate.  Moving tactically, under all conditions, across all types of terrain and rapidly emplacing and displacing is just as important as our ability to shoot.  How much time do we spend in our schools educating our young Soldiers on the “Move” aspect of our business?  More than we do on “Communicate” I’d bargain, but still not likely enough.  RSOP procedures and tactical movement concepts for all of our platforms should be burned into our young leaders’ brains just as much as manual gunnery.  Likewise, movement at echelon up to the DIVARY/FAB level while maintaining C2 and firing capability is an operational necessity.  It’s good to see the amount of effort that is being put into regaining mobility at all echelons within the Field Artillery, but the fundamental principles of movement must be trained and reinforced starting with our junior officers and NCOs. 

With all this being said, it stands to reason that both “Communicate” and “Move” are legitimate FA core competencies, but our focus for the “Shoot, Move and Communicate” tasks may not be sequenced properly.  Arguably, we must be able to communicate before we should move and we must move into position before we can shoot, so these tasks should be logically stated as “Communicate, Move and Shoot” in order of precedence.  It doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as well, but it clearly articulates not only what needs to be done, but the order that they must be accomplished.  But is communicating, moving and shooting all that is required for us to accomplish our mission?  I think this list falls short of the actual requirements for FA core competencies since you can’t communicate, move or shoot if your equipment isn’t operational or if you don’t have the necessary classes of supply on hand.  We are selling ourselves short if we think that all we must do to be successful is “Communicate, Move and Shoot”.

Maintenance is the foundation upon which all good FA units are built, so it should go without saying that you aren’t shooting, moving or even communicating if your equipment isn’t properly maintained.  Howitzers and launchers are nothing but oversized paperweights if they (or their FDCs, prime movers, ammunition carriers and comms equipment) are not operational, but are we putting as much emphasis on maintenance as we are the shooting aspect of our business?  Your Operational Readiness rates will let you know.  “Maintenance is Training” was reinforced at echelon prior to COIN.  Units prided themselves on not just how well they shot, but also how many of their vehicles and firing platforms they could keep in the fight over extended field exercises and in actual combat.  Being able to conduct preventive maintenance (to include services) and rapid repairs of vehicles in austere field conditions while conducting 24-hour operations is an operational requirement, not a novelty.  Your motorpool will not be available to you 8,000 miles away, deep in the middle of nowhere so “train as you fight” applies just as much, if not more, to your maintenance efforts as it does anything else.  It usually takes a CTC rotation or a deployment for most units to figure this out the hard way.  Commanders own maintenance and good maintenance programs are emphasized by officers and driven by NCOs.  What training are we giving our young officers and NCOs so they fully understand how critical maintenance is to our mission?  “Maintain” must be our first priority because everything else we do relies upon it, so add it to the front of the list of FA core competencies.    

Sustaining your formations is also just as important as shooting since you aren’t moving or shooting without POL, ammunition or spare parts.  FA is the largest consumer of Class V on the battlefield, and without ammunition, we’re back to being paperweights.  The formation of BSBs and FSCs during modularity has numbed the FA on sustainment operations to a degree since we now have logisticians to lean on for much of this.   Prior to modularity, it was 13As that planned and oversaw FA sustainment operations up to the DIVARTY/FAB level.  Arguably, it is still young 13As that are doing this where the rubber meets the road at the battery level and below, but how much time have we invested in their training?  Based on what I’ve seen, FACCC actually does a decent job in this area, but how about that Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant in a MLRS battery that is charged with managing pods on reload points at their level?  This is where a critical piece of our operations is often left up to the force to train.  Based on the historic rates of fire from previous conflicts and the massive volume of Class V consumption in the current war in Ukraine, we certainly need to consider “Sustain” as another core FA competency or we’ll quickly put our mission at risk.    

“Maintain” and “Sustain” are critical requirements for our mission, and they must be addressed prior to us being able to “Communicate, Move and Shoot”.  As a result, they expand the list to “Maintain, Sustain, Communicate, Move and Shoot” which is a much more comprehensive list of what we must be capable of doing as FA formations, but it still falls short in one critical aspect.

Our ability to “Maintain, Sustain, Communicate, Move and Shoot” means nothing if we can’t survive on the modern battlefield.  Survivability must be factored into everything we do, or we might only shoot once and be rendered combat ineffective or worst case, we might not survive long enough to even shoot at all.  I’m taking about entire FA formations being at risk, not just individual platforms.  Security must be on top of every leader’s mind, at all times when on mission.  As such, “Survive” is a critical, overarching core competency that needs our attention as much as the others, so it grows the list to “Maintain, Sustain, Communicate, Move, Shoot and Survive”.  

“Maintain, Sustain, Communicate, Move, Shoot and Survive” isn’t nearly as easy to rattle off as “Shoot, Move and Communicate”, but I feel that the time has come for us to take a more comprehensive approach to what our core competencies actually are and place equal emphasis on the other tasks that enable us to “shoot”.  Every FA formation can drag a couple of firing platforms to a static firing point and eventually fire rounds, but shooting can’t be the only measure of success.  FA formations at every echelon must demonstrate their mastery of all these tasks during hard, extended, scenario-based field training or they'll never achieve legitimate, unit-level proficiency.

Maintain, Sustain, Communicate, Move, Shoot and Survive


COL(R) Greg Lankford commanded A and C Batteries 1-171 FA (MLRS), 1-158 FA (HIMARS) and the 45 FAB.  He is a veteran of Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. COL(R) Lankford is a Field Artillery PCC Instructor. 

Special thanks to CPT Amanda Donatelli for her input on this material.

And much overdue thanks to MAJ Jonathan Niemerg for his contributions to my previous article: FA Task Organization for LSCO.