PAA Analysis in Severely Restricted Terrain: A Case Study of the Hohenfels Training Area

Posted By: Karl KUNKLEMAN Professional Content,

PAA Analysis in Severely Restricted Terrain: A Case Study of the Hohenfels Training Area

CPT Preston Quinn, CPT Karl Kunkleman

The Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) is the premier combined-arms training facility supporting North Atlantic Treaty Organizations’ (NATO) combat readiness. Success at JMRC requires rotational units (RTU) to use NATO doctrine to defeat a world-class opposing force (OPFOR) in severely restricted terrain. To drive RTU readiness, JMRC replicates the acute threat observed in the European theater by combining TC 7-100 series publications with observations made in the wake of the Russian invasions of Ukrainian territory in 2014, 2019, and 2022. JMRC’s OPFOR challenges the RTU in Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) and seeks to render the Field Artillery Battalion (FA BN) ineffectual. During exercises, Battalion and Brigade Staffs sometimes fail to accomplish sufficiently detailed terrain analysis to provide appropriate inputs to the FA BN Commander and the Brigade Commander during the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). Failure to sufficiently understand and describe the terrain on which the Brigade operates puts mission accomplishment at risk in the face of a dedicated and experienced OPFOR whose knowledge of the terrain vastly outmatches the RTU’s.

Led by the Brigade and Battalion intelligence sections, one of the most important contributions staffs make to mission planning is terrain analysis which supports the identification of suitable Position Areas of Artillery (PAA). For the most effective units, this selection is informed by intelligence warfighters’ integrating processes which produce a complete picture of the operational environment. If intelligence warfighters fail to provide understanding of the terrain, the FA BN Commander and Brigade Commander will lack critical information and are less likely to make optimal decisions in pursuit of mission accomplishment. At worst, the FA BN may not be able to direct fires, the guns may not be able to execute sufficient survivability movements in the face of withering counter-fire, and sustainment may assume risk.

This paper is directed toward two audiences: (1) Military Intelligence (MI) officers that support Field Artillery (FA) units and (2) the leadership of artillery organizations who seek to effectively utilize intelligence capabilities to augment their unit effectiveness. This paper will do two things: First, it will explain to MI warfighters in FA units how to execute terrain analysis and make insightful PAA site recommendations in support of the FA BN Commander’s mission; Second, it will demonstrate how to implement the conceptual process using the current hardware and software available to warfighters in the MI programs of record. The Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) and its all-source intelligence and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) components: The Portable Multifunction Workstation (PMFWS) and the GEOINT Workstation (GWS), respectively. For software, this study utilized ArcPRO – the geospatial information system (GIS) software present on the GWS and the best means of producing such analysis at the Brigade echelon. This paper will not, however, review core 35G and 12Y tasks which support this conceptual process.

This paper is a case study for PAA site selection in severely restricted terrain in the European theater. The process and considerations detailed herein can – with judicial adjustment – be adapted to any fight and any theater in the world with severely restricted terrain. The end state of this paper is to provide Field Artillery units preparing for or currently operating in severely restricted terrain with a more comprehensive understanding of the planning considerations necessary to be successful in combat.



This paper proceeds in four sections: First, this paper discusses the capabilities and limitations of the U.S. Paladin M1097A7 155mm Howitzer and the Russian 2S19 152mm Howitzer; the authors suggest criteria for PAA site selection from the capabilities and doctrine of both, then prioritizes those site selection criteria from most to least important. The output from this section is a rank-ordered set of criteria from most to least important when considering PAA site selection for each combatant. Second, this paper provides an overview of the terrain within the Hohenfels Training Area (HTA) and Maneuver Rights Area (MRA). Third, it applies the selection criteria to case points of the terrain to determine the most favorable PAA locations. The case points it uses are the locations most commonly used by Field Artillery units during exercises at HTA. This section produces two tables of potential PAA sites (friendly and enemy) that are evaluated based on the terrain’s quantifiable characteristics. Fourth, to complement the previous sections, which focus on the "science" of PAA site selection, the final quarter of this paper discusses the "art" of PAA site selection from the table of PAA site possibilities. This discussion includes factors that cannot be quantified in terrain models – e.g., enemy, weather considerations, and sustainment operations in support of fires. The paper concludes with an assessment of many suitable PAA locations in the HTA & MRA to which a staff can apply their mission variables and make recommendations to their commander.

The following are the case points used in this study:

This paper makes two assumptions that are necessary to frame this analysis. These assumptions are viable considering that their conditions hold true for most multinational exercises which occur at JMRC:

  • This paper assumes exercise design is West-to-East orientated. This means that the RTU will occupy PAAs in the West and OPFOR will occupy PAAs in the East.
  • This paper assumes that the RTU’s adjacent (constructive) Brigades will have no impact on the RTU’s FA BN mission. This assumption is necessary to avoid cross-boundary fires in conjunction with a wide array of simulated NATO partners which would complicate our analysis.



The M109A7 Paladin is a self-propelled 155mm howitzer equipped with an M284 cannon. The Paladin has a maximum firing range of 30km for standard munitions and a maximum firing rate of four rounds per minute for three minutes or one round per minute sustained.  Although the Paladin cannot match the 2S19 in terms of direct digital connection to airborne observers, a digitally connected Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) within the Fire Direction Center (FDC) can use a suite of complex communication capabilities to receive targeting data from a wide variety of sensors.

 The Paladin is expected to execute an emergency occupation in 75 seconds, with a general occupation requirement of 3 minutes.[3] At 38,000 kg, the Paladin is at a mobility disadvantage compared to the 2S19 since it is almost as heavy as the 2S19 whose weight is 39,000 kg, but with a less powerful engine.[4] The standard Paladin combat load includes 42 stored projectiles[5] and 31 propellant canisters. Battalions consist of 18 howitzers evenly split between three Batteries. The Paladin thrives in its ability to quickly emplace and displace using its internal navigation system combined with its Paladin Digital Fire Control system. The Paladin, usually controlled by a Platoon or Battery FDC, can internally compute firing data and connect with a secondary artillery command and control system to execute technical fire direction.

US and NATO doctrine agree that Field Artillery firepower is applied to support the maneuver commander. U.S. Fire Support doctrine says that “the commander employs these capabilities to support the scheme of maneuver, to mass firepower, and to destroy, neutralize, and suppress enemy forces.”[6] US doctrine further supplements this broad definition by defining the four fire support functions as: (1) Support forces in contact, (2) support the concept of operations, (3) synchronize and converge lethal and nonlethal fire support across all domains, and (4) sustain and protect the fire support system.

Paladin employment follows one of three models: platoon, paired, or single howitzer methods.[7] Smaller firing elements provide increased survivability, but create challenges to command and sustain. Platoon employment is generally preferred, however, commander’s guidance and mission variables will dictate the method of employment to balance command, control, and sustainment considerations. After occupation of either a primary or alternate PAA, the Paladin battery is capable of a number of dispersion techniques, the most common in a contested environment and the most commonly observed at JMRC is terrain gun positioning in which the guns are placed within a tree line that provides a degree of horizontal and vertical concealment. However, other dispersion techniques like the platoon wedge, battery star, battery line, and battery lazy-w are also applicable depending on mission variables.[8]

Priority #1: No more than 90 mils (5⁰) of ground slope. Ground slope must be the primary planning factor for the M109A7 howitzer. A Paladin should not exceed 90 mils or five degrees of cant (ground slope) at any time because this prevents accurate fires.[1] This presents rotational units with constrained opportunities for PAA occupation because 60% of HTA has a ground slope beyond this limitation.

Priority #2: Supports unit communications plan. The distances inherent to even the most favorable Field Artillery operations challenge unit communications plans. Applied to this training area, communication is exceptionally more challenging and requires a detailed communications plan. The S6 (or, secondarily, the S2) must conduct a viewshed analysis on all potential PAA locations during the planning process to anticipate communications issues.

Priority #3: Battery PAAs with dimensions 3km x 3km. FM 3-09 states, “The exact size of a position area for artillery depends on the mission variables of mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT-TC). As a rule of thumb, a Paladin platoon normally requires a position area for artillery encompassing over four square kilometers.”[2] ATP 3-09.70 concurs that, “The Paladin Platoon PAA may require an area approximately 1,500 by 3,000 meters (more than 4 square kilometers). A platoon position of this size provides two firing areas with multiple locations for howitzer emplacement.”[3] Put two platoons side-by-side and this results in a 3km x 3km battery PAA. HTA does not have large open or flat areas to plan for artillery positions. Units must be prepared to adapt to irregular PAA sizes that fit between terrain features and highly restrictive terrain. Units must also consider the possibility of clustering smaller areas into large PAAs. This allows for more flexibility in planning and can provide additional space for batteries to maneuver.


Priority #4: Presence of tree lines that provide cover and concealment. Survivability is critical, and to that end the terrain in HTA offers ideal conditions for Paladin hide sites. The FA BN Staff should plan to utilize HTA’s tree lines and vegetation to the unit’s advantage. HTA does possess some select hide sites without restricted terrain and excellent concealment from enemy observation posts and aerial observers.

Priority #5: Absence of populated areas, distance from heavily trafficked roads. HTA maintains villages in the training area that are occupied by German citizens, role-players, and OPFOR during exercises. The FA BN should avoid these areas at all costs. These towns’ occupants are mercurial, always liable to change behavior in response to levels of trust and stability generated by the RTU during the exercise. Any element that occupies near or drives through these areas should consider itself under surveillance. Further, the enemy maintains a capable Special Purpose Force (SPF) that utilizes civilian vehicles to conduct reconnaissance along HTA’s roadways. FA BN elements visible from major roadways increase their exposure to enemy direct and indirect fires.


The 2S19M2 (afterward referred to as the 2S19) is the most advanced edition of Russia's flagship self-propelled artillery platform for Motorized and Mechanized Brigade Tactical Groups (BTG). The 2S19 has a fully-digital fire-control system with digital electronic maps and GLONASS (Russian GPS) navigation that can receive targeting guidance from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) platforms. The engine capacity has also been upgraded from 840 horsepower to 1000 horsepower (the same as the T-90 MBT), reducing occupation time to 30-90 seconds (depending on the source) with commensurate theoretical but unverified improvements in its displacement time. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G2’s Threat Analysis Directorate assesses emplacement times from 3:35-5:00 minutes and displacement times from 2:20 minutes.[1] The M2-edition also adds an auto-loader for all standard Russian 152mm munitions, improving reliability and the sustained firing rate of its 50-round basic load for up to 8 rounds per minute.

It is difficult to more concisely explain how OPFOR sees artillery than in Chapter 7, FM 7-100.1, Opposing Force Operations. “[OPFOR] views itself as using various forms of fire support to achieve success during offensive and defensive operations. In the offense, fire support is important to the success of any attack. It can destroy key systems; disrupt, immobilize, or destroy enemy groupings; and repel counter attacks. Fire support is also the cornerstone of any defense, blunting attacks at the crucial point in the battle. It disrupts enemy preparations for the attack, causes attrition as he approaches, and repels forces.”[2]

Doctrinally, OPFOR uses 2S19s for four purposes in LSCO: (1) support to offense, (2) support to defense, (3) disruption, and (4) support to information warfare (IW). In all forms of OPFOR offense and defense, 2S19s typically execute suppressive artillery fires and obscuration missions using smoke as part of the assault force.[3] Disruption forces have no set composition according to FM 7-100.1, yet may contain artillery systems depending on the effects the OPFOR commander seeks to apply.[4]

“Two factors govern the deployment of indirect fire support units: continuity [of fires] and dispersion.” OPFOR designates three kinds of PAA – primary, alternate, and temporary. Primary and alternate PAAs are familiar concepts to U.S. forces. However, the temporary PAA used by OPFOR is designated for the execution of a particular fire mission and is then vacated upon completion of that mission. OPFOR is also capable of several tactics like split-battery and dispersed platoon tactics, which increase the survivability of OPFOR fire support assets.[5] (See Attachments 4 and 5 for more on PAA occupation and counter-fire)

Priority #1: No more than 90 mils (5⁰) of ground slope. No Change.

Priority #2: Supports unit communications plan. No Change.

Priority #3: Battery PAAs with dimensions 3km x 3km; Platoon PAAs 1km x 1km. The OPFOR employment criteria allow flexibility in employment methods to balance the continuity of fires and risk to the guns. During the exercise, OPFOR position each platoon 500m distanced from the other, allowing the battery commander to increase survivability and decrease the chance of effective RTU counter-fire.

Priority #4: Presence of tree lines that provide cover and concealment. No Change.

Priority #5: Proximity to urban cover. The MRA is comprised of several established towns and small villages. Elements of the OPFOR artillery use these areas as hide sites and firing. While these areas may be under RTU surveillance, the collateral damage estimation forced upon the RTU and most RTUs’ risk–averse posture allows for greater survivability of OPFOR guns.



The geographic scope of our study is the Hohenfels Training Area (HTA) and the Maneuver Rights Area (MRA) – an area surrounding the boundary of the HTA that plays host to OPFOR’s constructive artillery systems. The RTU’s PAAs are restricted to the HTA, resulting in a 15-kilometer tall by 20-kilometer wide area for RTU PAA site consideration.[1] However, due to battlefield geometry, the RTU’s artillery assets rarely occupy terrain east of the 04 Easting, which bisects HTA into western and eastern halves.

While HTA is small compared to other US Combat Training Center (CTC) standards, the MRA around HTA is vast. In most exercises, a constructive OPFOR Division occupies the MRA. However, only one section of the MRA on the East side of HTA measuring 13km x 21km is used for enemy artillery PAAs relevant to this study. It is bounded in the West by HTA’s eastern boundary, in the East by Highway A93, in the North by the 61 Northing, and in the South by the 40 Northing.

HTA lends itself to analysis using the “avenue-in-depth” technique described in ATP 2-01.3.[2] HTA can be divided into three conceptual areas that I call "corridors" to match the current parlance at other CTCs – the Northern, Central, and Southern Corridors.

Moving from West to East, HTA’s northern corridor becomes narrower and flatter, loses its forestation, and merges with the central corridor. The Northern corridor only has one west-east oriented road that splits the corridor into two halves. Along its entire length, secondary perpendicular roads lead north to the  HTA boundary and south into the central corridor. The northern corridor is also densely forested with dispersed pockets of sloped clearings. Forestation provides artillery platforms cover from rapid maneuver incursion and concealment from aerial and ground observation. The dispersed clearings offer multiple opportunities  for RTU maneuver forces to establish defenses in wood lines and engage the opposing dismounted maneuver. The northern corridor's terrain is undulating – characterized by many prominent hills which create rapid elevation changes and steeper slopes than those found elsewhere in the training area. The absence of urban areas populated by civilians in the northern corridor means that it can also provide better operational security (OPSEC) and freedom of movement. The northern corridor favors the defending force and also favors the artillery which holds the terrain – forestation and hills make inbound artillery shells significantly less effective; however, the occupying party also suffers from much less maneuverable terrain, and PAAs are much smaller than are desirable.

HTA’s central corridor spans the width of the installation and is characterized by less foresting than the northern or southern corridors. The central corridor also has a higher density of unimproved and improved roads than the other corridors. In combination, this makes the central corridor the most suitable area for rapid offensive maneuver. It has large swaths of land which are within the ground slope constraints for artillery platforms, making it an attractive if risky area for establishing PAAs. The multiple town sets in the central corridor make it extremely difficult to maintain OPSEC, and circumventing them increases planning estimates for movement times. The central corridor favors the attacker by the grace of the wide mobility corridors and the plethora of navigable roads that support rapid maneuver capabilities. It does, however, have key terrain which, if controlled by the defender, severely impede offensive action.

HTA’s southern corridor's most crucial characteristic is that it is bifurcated by the Hohenfels cantonment area, meaning any maneuver threat to PAAs in the southern corridor must first transit the central corridor and turn south again. The southern corridor is less densely wooded than the north and has many north-south oriented roads that connect it to the central corridor through a screen of forested hills. A single west-east road connects all the other roads but ultimately leads to the cantonment area, which is out of bounds for operations. Solely from terrain considerations, the eastern side of the southern corridor has the best terrain in HTA for artillery. It is forested but with broad flat areas for PAAs. Maneuver access to this part of HTA is controlled through two secondary roads that are definitively within the defender's control. The southern corridor favors the defender on each side of the cantonment area.

The MRA, on the other hand, is densely populated by urban population centers, high-speed avenues of approach, and extensive logistics infrastructure. These factors increase the lethality of OPFOR fire support assets and permit the (notional, and for simulation purposes only) exploitation of urban terrain as concealment against observation and cover against RTU counter-fire missions. The area is roughly bisected by an active north-south river. However, there are many bridges capable of supporting self-propelled artillery movement. As a heuristic judgment, the MRA appears to have more land fit for occupation by artillery platforms by a percentage of the total area. The MRA provides OPFOR with ideal conditions to execute fire support missions with a mixture of cover and concealment types and relatively unfluctuating ground slope, increasing the potential options for PAA site selection.


Topological Basemap. Source: Bundesvermessungsamt (BEV) (German Ministry for Surveyorship).

SRTM. Source: Likely National Geospatial Agency (NGA) or United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) legacy data in Integrated Training Area Management (ITAM) archives. Note: SRTM is the standard military issue elevation data that underpins ground slope and site-to-crest analysis.

HTA Boundary Layer. Source: JMRC ITAM.

Roads Layer. Source: Open Street Map (OSM).

Urban Area Layer. Source: Unknown, legacy file in ITAM archives.

Military Range Layer (exercise town sets). Source: JMRC ITAM.

Woodland Layer. Source: JMRC Department of Public Works (suspected, though not confirmed)

Waterways Layer. Source: Open Street Map. Note: 50m blue buffer added by JMRC ITAM



Open the base layer in ArcPRO. The base layer is preferably topographic. Next, load DTED data (acquirable through 12Y and 35G channels, ultimately from the Army Corps of Engineers, NGA, or U.S.G.S.) as the foundation for all of the terrain analysis to follow.

Add the remaining layers, which contain operational graphics and Modified Combined Obstacle Overlay (MCOO) elements; HTA Boundary Layer, Roads Layer, Urban Area Layer, Military Ranges Layer, Woodland Layer, and Waterways Layer. As an administrative note, you may have to turn layers off to reduce the workload on your hardware.

Case Point #14, Horse’s Head, is used throughout the remainder of the paper.

Priority #1: No more than 90 mils (5⁰) of ground slope. Using the loaded DTED data, execute ground slope analysis. Although the ground slope bands appropriate for this analysis are the result of unit SOP and commander’s preference, three bands are common: 0-2.5⁰ is displayed as transparent; 2.5⁰-5⁰ is displayed as amber; and 5⁰+ is displayed as red.

As an example, assume that the FA BN staff is considering placing a PAA in the area marked in Figure 9, colloquially identified as “Horse’s Head” by the JMRC community. The ground slope analysis displayed in Picture 10 confirms that the terrain’s slope is suitable for gun emplacement indicates that there is suitable terrain throughout the clearing for a gun emplacement. This area supports priority #1

Priority #2: Supports unit communications plan. Using the already loaded data, execute a viewshed analysis to see how supportive the area is to a communications plan. (The S6 can also perform this using a program called “SPEED”). Set the height to 10 meters to approximate the height of an OE-254 antenna. Your product will look like this:

While derived from quantitative data, the judgment of whether this PAA site supports the unit communications plan is collaborative and the product of unit MTOE, limitations, and constraints. An invaluable TTP that the Vampire Team has seen here at JMRC is to integrate templated BDE re-transmission (RX) sites into the FA BN RX plan.

In this case, because Horse’s Head is positioned to support channeling communications outside its immediate vicinity to adjacent terrain features, albeit only in one direction, it moderately fulfills priority #2.

Priority #3: Battery PAAs with dimensions 3km x 3km. All standard NATO military maps utilize the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS), which is a reliable marker to judge potential PAA size. The rule of thumb offered by FM 3-09 is 3km x 3km dimensions for Paladin battery PAAs. However, HTA is so heavily forested that PAAs of the recommended size are impossible. By default, then, all the case points this paper presents, including Horse’s Head, will ultimately fail priority #3, but that does not mean the area is unsuitable for occupation – it simply means that there is a decision to be made regarding the risk of using such an area.

In the table at the end of this section - rather than “fail” all case points on criteria #3 - provides the approximate ratio of the “area surrounding a case point suitable for occupation” to “desired PAA size” to help S2s appropriately communicate risk. In this case, the Horse’s Head PAA is about 4.16% of the area occupiable area recommended by FM 3-09.

Priority #4: Presence of tree lines that provide cover and concealment. There are two sides to the coin. On one side, PAA size is heavily restricted by forestation. On the other, the near omnipresence of forestation provides a plethora of potential hide sites which can reasonably be expected to provide both horizontal and vertical cover and concealment. In the case of Horse’s Head, tree lines are adequate to provide cover and concealment to RTU artillery platforms, satisfying priority #4.

Priority #5: Absence of populated areas. As previously mentioned, the town sets operated by HTA’s Operational Environment team interact with the battlefield, the friendly RTU, and the OPFOR. The civilians in these town sets will record military movements. Local media outlets will approach military forces and confront them about their actions, possibly using leading questions and with a pre-determined bias for or against friendly forces. The RTU should treat urban areas as an object of extreme reticence and, consequently, avoid them at all costs. These town sets are unpredictable and often result in OPSEC compromises which are leaked onto JMRC’s simulated social media “Information Operations Network” (ION) and are subsequently discovered by the OPFOR and used for targeting.

Second, proximity to roads and visibility from commonly trafficked roads make PAAs liable to discovery and reporting by traveling civilians, Special Purpose Forces (SPF), and the Donovian Defense League (DDL), an irregular paramilitary force that cooperates with the OPFOR. As mobile as Paladins may be, the time required to displace the guns, the FDC, and the associated vehicles and equipment results in bringing guns offline for some amount of time before returning to an In Position, Ready to Fire (IPRTF) status. PAAs that are not visible from roads provide a considerable advantage to OPSEC.

In this case, it is impossible to travel to/from Horse’s Head without being observed by the civilians living within. However, units can reduce risk by using secondary roads or off-road travel. The roads near the PAA are seldom trafficked by civilians, providing a modicum of OPSEC support. We can also confidently say that firing from the Horse’s Head is unlikely to result in an OPFOR counter-fire that harms civilian casualties since it is about 1km from the PAA. In this case, Horse’s Head presents a moderate risk related to the presence of an urban area for priority #5.



The five quantifiable criteria are, by design, unchanging. They rely on immutable elements of HTA no matter the unit mission, OPFOR mission, and exercise design. To that end, this paper compiles the results of the 20 case points considered for the RTU in the table below. In all columns, a high value represents low risk. In contrast, a low value should indicate high rates of risk.

Using the process described above, we can also take the 2S19 criteria established earlier and perform the same analysis regarding the risks inherent to the OPFOR’s choice of PAAs in the MRA. It is important to note that while OPFOR strives to consider the conditions on the battlefield and make appropriate decisions, there are inherent discrepancies between how constructive (simulated) artillery is used in the MRA and how real artillery would be used under identical circumstances.

This quantitative analysis is foundational to staffs, specifically S2s, who seek to understand and convey impacts to mission success. However, it is not the only information worth considering. The next section of this paper covers some of the qualitative information that is equally important in our discussion on the “art” of PAA site selection.



Position of Enemy Artillery. Perhaps the most critical factors for PAA site selection that we cannot quantitatively integrate into this analysis are the position and capabilities of the OPFOR, which would present risk to the RTU’s fire support assets. S2s should execute the analysis described here, template enemy positions with their range rings, then factor enemy artillery reach into PAA site recommendations.

Weather. Excluded from our quantitative assessment are the exigent weather conditions which will further shape the terrain’s impact on combat operations. Unimproved roads leading away from improved roads are highly susceptible to degrading weather impacts. Second, while HTA is notably absent of water features, it still consists of several low-lying areas with a high underground water line. The ground turns into a clay bog during runs of precipitation. The already soft soil absorbs the precipitation with little runoff and creates hazards to the efficient and safe execution of Field Artillery operations.

Road Integrity. Road load capacity is a factor we have not quantified in this analysis, though such information is available. All improved roads throughout the training area can support the movement of the heaviest wheeled and tracked vehicles. However, not all roads are of suitable incline to permit travel, especially after inclement weather conditions, which further degrade unimproved roads essential to PAA emplacement and displacement. JMRC’s ITAM team analysis suggests that 50.3% of HTA has an incline of more than 10%. While not an explicit problem for self-propelled artillery under ideal conditions, the adjudication of risk and the estimated movement and maneuver times for such assets must be reconsidered. For towed artillery, inclines of greater than 10% prohibit towing and greatly restrict PAA site possibilities without extensive increases to movement timelines.

Communications. A PAA’s suitability partially depends on its ability to support the unit communications plan. Different radio systems use other forms of wave propagation to communicate and therefore have varying strengths and weaknesses. Suppose the unit uses high-frequency (HF) radios as their primary mode of communication, not the Army’s Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) FM radio. In that case, the line-of-sight viewshed is less critical in the S2’s analysis of potential PAA site locations because HF radios operate using sky-waves unsusceptible to line-of-sight (LOS) issues, unlike the SINCGARS’ ground-wave propagation.



Division of Labor. Efficient PAA selection should be a clear division of labor between the RTU battalion and brigade staffs. The brigade has the best colocation of expertise, hardware, and software to execute the initial terrain analysis to support PAA selection – which is explicitly regarded as the maneuver commander’s responsibility and often delegated to the Brigade S3 and Brigade Fire Support Officer (FSO).[1] At the brigade echelon, the colocation of the Brigade FSO and the Brigade GEOINT Cell (consisting of 35Gs and 12Ys and their GWS computer systems) have the necessary expertise to execute the digital analytical support to decision making. Because PAA selection decisions impact land management – a BDE S3s responsibility – proximity to the BDE S3 becomes an advantage for land de-confliction which best balances land allocation to each of the RTU’s subordinate elements. Holding initial terrain analysis for PAA selection at the brigade level is most efficient, however, bottom-up feedback is still essential because the BN can take small sections of the larger analysis and dive deeper into the implications that the brigade’s selection has on Field Artillery operations.

On the other hand, attempts to delegate terrain analysis to the battalion staff often result in ineffective support to commander’s understanding of the battlefield and decision-making. Battalion staffs lack the MTOE to execute the demanding digital tasks required to perform terrain analysis and the personnel that are trained to execute them. The PMFWS laptop issued to the BN does have a limited capacity to execute terrain analysis on small areas, however, attempts to analyze an entire BDE frontage for possible PAA sites are less precise than those executed at the BDE level. Further, depending on the version of MTOE equipment issued to the unit, ArcPRO is not present on all BN PMFWS’s. The most recent version, Capabilities Drop 2 (CD2), utilizes a Palantir software baseline that provides some, but not all of the functionality that ArcPRO provides. Battalion staffs should utilize this limited capability to provide information and make recommendations to battery commanders on how they position their guns in the provided PAA.

In preparation for the eventual shift of responsibility for FA BNs to Division Artillery (DIVARTY) it is likely that terrain analysis supporting PAA site selection will receive greater emphasis than under a maneuver brigade. Greater emphasis by leaders - paired with the technical competence and fires expertise in the DIVARTY S2 – will provide specialized treatment for artillery units because the DIVARTY S2 will not suffer from the competing priorities endemic to a Maneuver Brigade S2 engaged in combat operations.

Battlespace Management. Units that fight in HTA struggle to manage land precisely enough to coordinate and deconflict land. Because artillery positions in the rear area, deconfliction between fires, sustainment, and C2 areas is vital to providing responsive and accurate fires to support maneuver. For the same reasons that artillery must manage risk due to the severely restricted terrain, planners must consider the impact that severely restricted terrain has on the unit’s ability to maintain ideal dispersion and deconfliction across the battlespace. When conducting MDMP, teams must hold land management at a premium during the planning process. For their part, when designating locations for PAAs, artillery units must utilize viewshed analysis, slope analysis, and imagery at a minimum, while true site reconnaissance is the gold standard.

Non-Standard PAAs. The restrictive nature of HTA only permits irregular PAAs, typically 1km by 1km or less, and clustered in smaller contingent areas, forcing the staff to mitigate risk by building primary and alternate locations. Poor integration between the S2, S3, S6, and FDO results in unnecessary hardship for artillery teams. 

PAA Site Selection Trends. Preferably, units should array PAAs evenly throughout the western side of the box, moving east towards the 03 easting throughout the operation as conditions dictate. This progression would ideally be connected using multiple RX locations to provide communication throughout the breadth of the box. Most often, PAAs are built in the northern corridor of HTA, where more open pockets of terrain are available. A more extensive network of unimproved roads allows for a greater variety of hide sites and firing point locations. Because of this, RTUs typically continually rotate back to previously used PAAs even after receipt of accurate enemy fires. For some units, this may be a deliberate decision, for others, it is the result of not sufficiently tracking PAA use. The Howitzer Tracking Chart described in ATP 3-09.70[1], Paladin Operations and ATP 3-09.50[2], Field Artillery Cannon Battery is an effective tool that is rarely utilized, but extremely effective at supporting PAA movement tracking. We recommend that RTUs minimize reusing PAAs, especially ones where accurate IDF was received. OPFOR is known for utilizing small recon teams of 2 to 4 personnel in hide sites to wait for artillery to reoccupy already burned-out PAAs.

Unfortunately, as discussed earlier, this area is characterized by extensive hill networks and can result in congestion, creating a very large centralized target for OPFOR reconnaissance and fires. This is especially the case due to the area’s altitude above the rest of HTA. For this reason, this area is also a favorite for brigade and battalion command posts (CPs), causing several unit headquarters to occupy in close vicinity.

In contrast, roughly 20% of RTU PAAs reside in the southern corridor. This area typically holds the Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) and has the worst communication and terrain conditions in the training area, especially in the event of inclement weather. The most effective risk mitigation strategies are effective RX placement and leadership engagement to minimize vehicle mobility issues that require wrecker support. Additionally, the southern corridor of HTA has fewer towns, which reduces the routes available in exchange for providing more ideal conditions for OPSEC.

Typically, units utilize non-standard PAA sizes and shapes in HTA. This issue stems from a combination of problems, primarily a unit’s inability to coordinate land in a small training area as well as the restrictive terrain. Additionally, the lack of a tested and versatile PACE plan across the BDE adds to this unique problem set. Successful units consider communication constraints and convince the BDE to prioritize the fires net (Digital or Voice) on RX platforms outside the FA BN footprint. Viewshed analysis tools held at both the BDE and BN levels must be present in planning to minimize the risk to the digital sensor-to-shooter fight. Finally, the S6 must be a prominent figure in the FA BN main command post, consistently providing insight into PAA development.



While our focus in this paper has been on self-propelled platforms, towed platforms deserve some explicit, if secondary, attention to the unique difficulties they face when designating, occupying, and utilizing PAA sites. What follows are our recommendations and explanation of factors to consider for PAA site selection criteria for the M777.

Priority #1: No more than 90 mils (5⁰) of ground slope. No change from M109A7.

Priority #2: Supports unit communications plan. No change from M109A7.

Priority #3: Battery PAAs with dimensions 2km x 2km. Per FM 3-09, “Units equipped with M119A3 or M777A2 require one square kilometer PAA.”[1] Although not explicit in doctrine, the 1km x 1km description can only reasonably apply to a M777A2 platoon. Add an alternate PAA and the area required for a platoon is 1km x 2km. Put two platoons adjacent to eachother to acquire the 2km x 2km total area required to house a survivable M777 battery. HTA and the MRA do not have large open or flat areas to plan for artillery positions. Positions near or in close proximity to hide locations that can accommodate the M777 are limited. Most locations that provide appropriate terrain to occupy the M777 are in open areas.

Priority #4: 10 change in slope when towing. The M777 manual states that a 10⁰ slope is the maximum permissible for towing an M777.[2] This is an object of particular difficulty for the M777 because a 10⁰ slope accounts for over 50.3% of HTA. Additionally, the uneven micro terrain can create many pinch points that increase the risk to equipment when trying to navigate towed artillery.

Priority #5: Presence of tree lines that provide cover and concealment. Maneuvering within the tree line is extremely difficult with the limited turn radius and extended length of the howitzer-prime mover combination. When in the towed position, the M777 has a length of 9.51 meters and a width of 3.72 meters.[3] When occupying in the wood line to provide cover and concealment, the M777 will be very restricted in how well it can maneuver.

Priority #6: Absence of populated areas, distance from heavily trafficked roads. No change from M109A7.


HTA’s severely restricted terrain is exceptionally challenging for Field Artillery operations. The goal of this paper has been to visualize and explain exactly how challenging it can be for commanders and staff to properly account for the impact severely restricted terrain has on the planning and execution of field artillery operations. Here, this analysis has outlined the essential data required to understand HTA’s terrain and its impact on Field Artillery operations, then subsequently provided the conceptual tools to turn that data into information. Further, this paper compiles the products of that conceptual analysis and provides meaning to each potential PAA site we considered. Finally, this paper discussed the art of PAA site selection which goes beyond the data and interprets it in light of qualitative factors.


Author Biographies

Captain Preston Quinn is the Field Artillery Battalion S2 Trainer for JMRC’s Operations Group in Hohenfels, Germany. He is an 8-year Military Intelligence Officer with experience supporting the Maneuver, Fires, and Sustainment warfighting functions. CPT Quinn has one deployment to CJTF-OIR where he supported counter-insurgency operations as a part of the 3d Cavalry Regiment’s (3d CR) “Longknife” Squadron in northwestern Iraq from 2018 to 2019. CPT Quinn later commanded the Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 504th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade (EMIB) at Fort Cavazos, Texas from 2021 to 2022. His previous assignments include Platoon Leader, Battalion AS2, and Battalion S2 at 3d CR and Brigade Plans Officer at the 504th EMIB.

Captain Karl Kunkleman was the Field Artillery Battalion Fire Direction Trainer for JMRC’s Operations Group in Hohenfels, Germany. He has ten years of service in the Field Artillery and six years of multinational and joint European experience. From 2013 to 2016 CPT Kunkleman completed two deployments in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, Operation Steadfast Javelin II (Latvia) and Operation Dragoon Ride (Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia). CPT Kunkleman commanded C Battery, 4th Battalion, 1st FA at Fort Bliss, Texas from 2019 to 2021. His previous assignments at the 1st Armor Division include Division Artillery S3 Planner and Combat Aviation Brigade Fires and Effects Coordinator.

[1] FM 3-09: Fire Support and Field Artillery Operations, para B-49 (April 2020)

[3] TM 9-1025-215-10: Howitzer Medium Towed: 155-MM, pg 0002-19 (January 2016)

[1] ATP 3-09.70: Paladin Operations, para 2-18 (September 2015)

[2] ATP 3-09.50: Field Artillery Cannon Battery, para 2-17 to 2-20 (May 2016)


[1] FM 3-09: Fire Support and Field Artillery Operations, para B-49 and B-51 (April 2020)

[1] As of September 2023, RTUs may now request permission to establish PAAs in the portion of the MRA to the West of HTA’s formal boundaries, however, this is a recent development and there is not sufficient data to support analysis of those PAAs at the time of publication.

[2] ATP 2-01.3: Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, para 4-51 (March 2019)

[1] Opposing Force (OPFOR) Indirect Fire Battery Emplacement/Displacement Times By Mr. Walter L. Williams TRADOC G-2, OE and Threat Analysis Directorate

[2] FM 7-100.1: Opposing Force Operations, pg. 7-1 (December 2004)

[3] FM 7-100.1: Opposing Force Operations, para 3-78, para 3-97 (December 2004)

[4] FM 7-100.1: Opposing Force Operations, para 4-53 (December 2004)

[5] FM 7-100.1: Opposing Force Operations, para 9-112 to 9-139 (December 2004)

[1] TM 9-2350-455-10-1: Operator’s Manual for Howitzer, Medium, Self-Propelled: 155MM, M109A6. pg 0072-13, 0072-22 (January 2023)

[2] FM 3-09: Fire Support and Field Artillery Operations, para B-49 (April 2020)

[3] ATP 3-09.70: Paladin Operations. 2015, para 3-12 (September 2015)

[3] TC 3-09.8, Appendix D. Table D-7 and D-7.1. (March 2020)

[5] ST The XO’s Handbook – Cannon Battery Leaders Guide. pg 42 (May 2019)

[6] FM 3-09: Fire Support and Field Artillery Operations, para 1-2 (April 2020)

[7] ATP 3-09.70: Paladin Operations. 2015, para 2-3 (September 2015)

[8] ATP 3-09.50: Field Artillery Cannon Battery, pg 3-6 to 3-7 (May 2016)