Signal-planning fundamentals for field artillery

by MAJ John Hinkel

The artillery battalion�s tactical-operations center hummed with activity. It was H-1 hour and the battalion S-3 had just finished the battle-update brief. The batteries were poised, ready to spew a fiery death on the enemy. Eagle 6�s guidance from the brigade fire-support rehearsal had been succinct: �We�ve got to bloody the motorized rifle regiment in the passes. I want the artillery to grab him by the nose and kick him in the a--.�

Just then the fire-direction center�s radios sparked to life. It was Combat Observation and Lasing Team 4, primary observer of the passes. COLT 4�s transmission was very weak and broken � barely audible. Through the static, COLT 4 was calling for AE9002 � permission to detonate the family of scatterable mines. It was time to grab the MRR by the nose.

The next moment the words �fire mission� reverberated through the battalion TOC. During the night, Gator Battery had moved forward with the counter-reconnaissance company, prepared to execute the battery�s primary essential field-artillery tasks (which include emplacing FASCAM in the passes).

The battalion fire-direction officer calmly picked up the hand mike and broke squelch.�Gator 8, this is Thunder 8, over.� He repeated the call again. �Gator 8, Thunder 8, over.� Silence.

After a long moment and sounding very distant, Gator 8 responded, �This is Gator 8. I hear you broken and distorted, over.�

The battalion FDO shouted into his hand mike, �Fire AE9002, over.�

�Thunder 8, this is Gator 8, I read you broken and distorted. Say again, over.�

�Fire AE9002, over.�

�Fire AE9002, out.�

As the S-6 was listening to the radio transmission, he was nervous. The transmission didn�t sound good, and the S-6 hoped the comms would get better. He was wondering if his plan would work � would it?

Then the S-6 remembered a Wolf Team after-action review, the one where Wolf 7 made him stand up to pay attention when he fell asleep. The details escaped him � something about Signal-planning fundamentals for the field artillery. What were they? His mind wandered back to the National Training Center AAR van as he began remembering. �

Solid Signal-planning skills and techniques incorporated into the battalion�s military decision-making process will lead to effective command-and-control of the battalion. A key planner is the battalion S-6. But what process can he use? The following Signal-planning fundamentals are based on my observations at NTC during the last 18 months. When properly followed, these fundamentals provide a robust and flexible C2 network.

There are eight Signal-planning fundamentals. They are:

Maximize radio capabilities;
Know the planning ranges;
Identify critical users;
Identify critical nets;
Identify critical users� locations;
Develop a command-post movement plan;
Develop a CP alternate movement plan; and
Cover deadspace with retransmission.

Maximize radio capabilities

The S-6 can maximize his radio capabilities by ensuring the equipment is fully mission-capable, minimizing the effects of manmade noise, siting the battalion TOC on terrain that will facilitate good communications and properly spacing the battalion TOC�s antennas. The first thing the S-6 should confirm is that the radios are correctly installed and are fully mission-capable.

Ensuring that a Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radio is fully mission-capable is as simple as performing a self-test and conducting long-range radio checks. Also, the battalion communications shop can use an AN/PRM-34 to test for transmitted power to ensure antennas and ancillary cables are fault-free.

Also, the radio must be installed correctly. A common fault is lack of a proper ground. If electronic equipment isn�t properly grounded, it will radiate electricity as a radio wave that will interfere with nearby radios. To counter the effects of missing equipment grounding, the S-6 must inspect the radios to ensure they�re properly grounded. These checks should be identified as pre-combat checks and/or pre-combat inspections and incorporated into unit standard-operating procedures.

The effects of manmade noise can vary from slight to great. Manmade noise can greatly reduce the effective transmit power of any radio. Generators, power lines and parallel signal and power cables produce manmade noise. The S-6 must carefully eliminate or minimize manmade noise�s effect by conducting a daily inspection of critical C2 nodes � looking for generators in the antenna field, nearby interfering power lines and parallel signal and power cables.

The next step in maximizing our radio capabilities is to ensure the battalion TOC is sited on terrain to facilitate good communications. During the battalion TOC�s site reconnaissance, the S-6 must ensure the site is far removed from overhead power lines, and that the potential battalion TOC site has unobstructed radio-wave access, good soil conductivity for a good ground and plenty of room for the antenna farm. For these reasons, it�s imperative the S-6 or battalion communications chief participate in all battalion TOC reconnaissance.

Placement of the battalion TOC�s antennas is a critical leader task for the battalion S-6 and communications chief. OE-254 antennas are optimally spaced 10 meters apart. This is difficult to achieve. When optimal spacing isn�t feasible, the antennas must be vertically spaced. Ideally this is one OE-254 placed directly above another. Since most battalions don�t have this type of mast, the next best placement is to ensure the bottom elements of one adjacent OE-254 are clearly above the top elements of an adjacent lower OE-254 (photo below).

Battalion TOC with OE-254 antenna masts

When Signaleers have adjacent OE-254 antenna masts at a battalion TOC, place bottom elements of one clearly above top elements of adjacent lower OE-254s.

Know the planning ranges

The second Signal-planning fundamental is to know radio-planning ranges and what affects them. This is important so that the S-6 may recommend specific radio/antenna combinations and optimal data rates for digital nets to the commander and staff. Radio range depends on frequency, transmit power, antenna type, terrain, natural noise, manmade noise and data rates for digital nets. The effects of frequency, transmit power, antenna types and data rates are published in supporting technical manuals; their impact on range are based on scientific observation and calculations. Terrain impact on radio range is more subjective.

Terrain effects of radio range include vegetation, soil conductivity and blocking terrain. SINCGARS radios operate in the very-high-frequency frequency-modulation portion of the spectrum and use ground-wave communications instead of skywave. (HF-amplitude modulation uses skywave communications, where atmospheric conditions are more important than terrain effects.) SINCGARS radio waves follow and interact with the earth�s surface. Dense vegetation and poor soil conductivity decrease the strength of the electromagnetic ground wave (transmit power), which translates to shorter range. Therefore, knowing the type of terrain and vegetation is important to predicting SINCGARS radio range.

A SINCGARS radio can transmit farther over seawater than over the desert. Why? Seawater is a much better electrical conductor than sand, which is silicon. How much better is difficult to calculate. Direct observation and experience are the best gauges, although the technical manuals do give some general guidelines.

The third, fourth and fifth planning fundamentals are all related to our customers. Namely, who are the critical users, what radio nets do they operate on and where are they located on the battlefield?

Identify critical users

Who are the critical users? Critical users are those users who, if they can�t communicate, will directly lead to a mission�s failure. Not all users are critical. Unfortunately the organic Signal platoon doesn�t have the assets to extend the radio networks for every user. Therefore, the commander must establish priorities, and identifying critical users is the first step.

In a direct-support field-artillery battalion conducting combat operations, the fire-support coordinator, COLT/strikers, DS-battalion fire-direction center, DS-battalion S-3, battery fire-direction centers, task-force fire-support officers, reinforcing-battalion fire-direction center, reinforcing-battalion S-3 and the counter-fire radar may be critical users.

Of course, critical users will change as the unit prepares for combat, executes combat missions and consolidates/reorganizes after combat.

Identify critical nets

What radio nets are critical for critical users? Each critical user has critical nets they must operate to accomplish his mission. These critical nets may change over the course of a battle.

In a DS FA battalion, the critical nets are generally the brigade fire-support net, the battalion fire-direction voice and digital nets, the battalion command net and the battalion administration/logistics net.

At this point, the S-6 knows who the critical users are by phase, and he knows the critical nets they operate.

Identify critical users� locations

Next, the S-6 must determine where the critical users are located on the battlefield by phase. He can ascertain this in several ways: ask critical users where they�ll fight from; read the higher-headquarters operations orders; and actively participate in the MDMP to gain a full understanding of the maneuver scheme.

Throughout this process, the S-6 must designate who�s responsible for establishing and extending the critical nets. Signal responsibilities for establishing communications are �higher to lower,� �left to right� and �supporting to supported.� With an understanding of who the critical users are, what nets are critical and critical users� locations on the battlefield, the S-6 is now ready to begin planning for the battalion TOC.

Develop a CP movement plan

The sixth step involves optimally locating the battalion TOC in space and time. This can only occur when the battalion TOC�s location and movement planning occurs in the MDMP. During the mission-analysis brief to the commander, the S-3 or S-6 should identify the critical time and location for the battalion TOC to be fully mission-capable.

For example, during a deliberate attack, the battalion TOC must be set before executing suppression and obscuration targets supporting the breach. If the optimal location for the battalion TOC is forward of the line of departure, then the jump-battalion TOC may control the battalion during movement across the departure line as the main battalion TOC moves forward to the optimal location.

A second option is the complete battalion TOC moves forward to its optimal location while a battery fire-direction center � hosting the S-3 or assistant S-3 � controls movement across the departure line.

Another option is the reinforcing battalion assumes control as the DS battalion moves forward to the optimal position.

There are many possibilities. However, communications for critical users must not be compromised. Time-distance calculations, route recons and the set-up level for the battalion TOC are also key considerations and should be coordinated and synchronized during the MDMP (figure below).

TerraBase measures route for time-distance calculations

Time-distance calculation. The image at left shows the TerraBase software measuring the route. Considerations for calculating time and distance are included here.

Develop a CP alternate movement plan

The seventh step in the process is to develop an alternate location and movement plan for the battalion TOC and to designate an alternate battalion TOC. Enemy actions will influence the battalion TOC and Signal planning. Prior planning for these contingencies provide the flexibility required for successful action.

In addition to the primary location for the battalion TOC and retrans teams, the S-6 must designate alternate and supplementary positions for each element. For example in a movement-to-contact, friendly forces plan on engaging and defeating the enemy in a specific set of engagement areas. However, if the enemy moves much quicker than the S-2 anticipated, this will force friendly forces to fight in a shorter set of engagement areas. Accordingly, for this type of operation the S-6 must develop primary and alternate locations for the battalion TOC and retrans to support the shorter set of engagement areas.

Also, the S-3 and S-6 must consider an alternate battalion TOC if the main battalion TOC is destroyed. This may be as simple as designating a battery CP as the alternate battalion TOC or using the reinforcing-battalion TOC as the alternate battalion TOC.

The key point to remember is to develop a flexible, rehearsed plan.

Cover deadspace with retrans

The last step in the planning process is in three parts: cover remaining deadspace by deploying the battalion�s retrans team, establish multiple forms of communications to critical users and draw a sketch to depict the Signal plan.

As with the battalion TOC, the battalion retrans team must be placed in the optimal location at the optimal time as identified in the MDMP. Equally important is to establish redundant forms of communication for critical users. Redundant forms of communications include mobile-subscriber radio-telephone, tactical-satellite terminals, wire and HF-AM radios.

Finally, the S-6 must draw a sketch that clearly and concisely depicts the battalion TOC�s location, retrans team�s location and radio-net coverage in the battalion�s operations area (figure below). This simple sketch will enable the commander to visualize the C2 network.

S-6's C2 sketch

An illustration of the Signal sketch the S-6 draws that depicts the battalion TOC's location, retrans team's location and radio-net coverage in the battalion's operations area. This sketch enables the commander to visualize the C2 network.

By using Signal-planning fundamentals, the battalion S-6 will have the tools and techniques necessary to design, develop and deploy a robust, flexible C2 network. This will lead to effective C2 of the battalion and successful mission execution.

� The thunderclap of a nearby cannon shook the battalion TOC and snapped the S-6 back to reality. Communications with Gator Battery were badly garbled; the battalion was in jeopardy of not accomplishing one of the brigade commander�s essential fire-support tasks.

The S-6 was puzzled. The retrans team deployed forward two days ago with the COLTs and was fully functional. The previous night, the battalion conducted a quality FA technical rehearsal with all stations on the appropriate radio nets, including the retrans frequencies. The S-6 couldn�t understand what had happened.

These thoughts in mind, he stepped outside the battalion TOC and there before him was the culprit � an OE-254 lying on the ground. This OE-254 operated on one of the battalion�s critical nets. Sometime during the early morning it must have blown down.

The fix was easy and was made within minutes. Stepping back inside the battalion TOC, the S-6 clearly heard both COLT 4 and Gator Battery. The noose was tightening around the MRR; soon the enemy would meet a fiery death.

MAJ Hinkel was the combat Signal trainer at NTC, Fort Irwin, Calif., for 18 months (until June). He based his article on his observations of 20 NTC rotations.

Acronym QuickScan
AAR � after-action review
AM � amplitude modulation
Bps � bits per second
C2 � command and control
COLT � Combat Observation and Lasing Team
CP � command post
DS � direct support
FA � field artillery
FASCAM � family of scatterable mines
FDO � fire-direction officer
HF � high frequency
Kbps � kilobits per second
Km � kilometer
M � meter
MDMP � military decision-making process
MRR � motorized rifle regiment
N � enhanced
NTC � National Training Center
SINCGARS � Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System
TOC � tactical-operations center

dividing rule

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