MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Coordinates are communicated between members of a fire support team and relayed back to the support aircraft. The pilot’s voice is heard through the speaker of the radio: “10 seconds till impact.” The room falls silent as a puff of smoke rises in the distance, signaling the forward observer to indicate a hit with the word, “splash.”
Polish Army leaders visited the Combat Center during Integrated Training Exercise 4-14 to observe Marine Corps fire support teams and how they incorporate advanced calls for fire and train, from July 26 to July 28, 2014.
The officers observed a FiST with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in action during a mobile assault course in the Combat Center training area. The team’s role in the course involved calling for fire on an area target utilizing mortars, artillery and aerial strikes.
“The mobile assault course challenges a company commander to integrate direct, indirect and aviation fires in a realistic combat environment,” said Capt. Charles Olmsted, assistant operations officer, Tactics Training Exercise Control Group. “The FiST is essential to coordinate the desired effect on the enemy, such as suppression, so the commander can commit his Marines to maneuver on the enemy.”
Using the Combat Center’s Supporting Arms Virtual Trainer, FiSTs can also refine their skills and train together to stay sharp for when their respective units utilize them.
“The SAVT is fiscally easier to use and quicker to set up as opposed to organizing live –fire exercises with ordnance,” said Capt. Jorge Colon, fire support coordinator, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “Having a simulator that is available gives fire support teams more opportunities to develop and train.”
The Polish officers saw the value in the Marine Corps’ joint terminal attack controller and close air support skills and want to improve their system by incorporating their own JTACs at the battalion level.
“For us, the big question is how to prepare commanders to utilize joint fires from both the ground and air,” said Col. Jaroslaw Gromadzinski, Chief of Land Forces Use and Analysis Division, J3, General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces. “We want to take concepts from multiple sources to create a new system and improve education on these methods to include the army college. This includes learning from the Marine Corps and the experience they have from modern warfare.”
The simulator had a panoramic screen with the optics and equipment needed to fully support a FiST. The simulator can generate vehicles and targets that can be moved and adjusted to generate combat situations. The instructors also change conditions to make each simulation more challenging.
“The instant feedback from the simulator adds to the realism of the training and although nothing can replicate using the tactics in the field, it is a very effective alternative,” Colon said.
The Polish officers also expressed long-term goals of creating a specialized JTAC and forward observer training center in Europe, with a purpose of developing a multinational school house for more than just Polish service members.
“Everyone has to know the same procedures and techniques when conducting joint fires,” said Maj. Jerzy Kania, training staff, J-7 Training Directorate, General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces. “Making a universal understanding of the procedures helps our ground units when communicating with pilots or aircraft of allied militaries.”
The Marine Corps’ experience with fires support is one of the reasons the Polish Army decided to come to the Combat Center and observe training.
“We chose to observe the Marine Corps because out of all the units we cooperate with, we believe Marines execute joint fires the best,” Kania said.
Exercise controllers also see the benefit international visits from allied military units has on the Corps and the country. Building an understanding of procedures between allied countries can help in training and future operations.
“It builds familiarity between United States Marines and the Polish Army,” Colon said. “There are going to be situations where an American pilot will be supporting a Polish battalion and their JTAC has to communicate with the aircraft or vice versa. Building familiarity ahead of time with partner nations is going to help fluidity in procedures when the day comes for us to work together.”