Rethinking the role of the artillery battery.
Several recent OEF AARs identify the critical requirement for artillery batteries to conduct split battery operations. This contradicts the traditional—perhaps archaic?--concept that artillery is best employed as a battalion by massing fires. Yet as recently as December 2009, former artillery battalion commanders (such as LtCol Lewis) were claiming that “the tactical decision to deploy howitzers…must rest with the artillery battalion commander…not the battery commander.” (See the earlier thread regarding this article.)
With the increased proliferation and availability of precision munitions (GMLRS and Excalibur), do we still need artillery battalions to “mass fires”? In fact, no artillery battalion has massed fires in Afghanistan in the past nine years! We must, as a community, accept that current operational demands require us to rethink how we employ artillery batteries. The old battalion-based dynamic simply does not work. Firing batteries must train and deploy as independent and self-sufficient firing units flexible enough to employ six howitzers, eight mortars (or some combination of the two), in addition to readily assume a non-traditional role (provisional infantry, PSD, convoy security, etc.). In order to achieve these requirements, the following changes must be made:
1. Reinforce the established Table of Organization at the battery level. For too long, firing batteries have been undermined by micro-managing, distrustful or overly aggressive battalion commanders. It is now commonplace across the artillery regiments for almost all non-0811 battery T/O personnel to be centralized at the artillery battalion; artillery mechanics, motor transport, corpsmen, supply, liaison, maintenance…all these Marines have been stripped from the firing batteries resulting in firing batteries numbering 80-90 and artillery battalion headquarters battery swelling to almost 400 strong. The problem with this usurpation is that artillery battalion commanders are failing to endow battery commanders with opportunities to manage assets as they will be required to do in combat. Train like we fight!
2. Reorganize the artillery battery. Long ago, Marine artillery threw out the Army’s battery model as outlined in the FM 6-50. Typical breakdown of a Marine battery includes one Guns Platoon (with all six howitzers) and one Headquarters Platoon (consisting of Motor Transport, Comm and all the “odds and ends”). This fails to provide the battery commander with the flexibility required to either accomplish a split-battery mission or to assume a rifle company model. The battery should be reorganized in the following manner:
a. First Guns Platoon consists of an 0802 platoon commander, an 0811 platoon sergeant and three howitzer sections.
b. Second Guns Platoon consists of an 0802 platoon commander, an 0811 platoon sergeant and three howitzer sections.
c. Headquarters Platoon consists of an 0802 platoon commander, an 0848 platoon sergeant and the battery Comm, FDC, Motor Transport and Ammunition sections.
The real change is in how the units work together. Each Guns platoon commander would serve as the FDO in the field/deployed environment. The HQ platoon commander would attach an FDC team (with a MAOC-certified 0844-48) and required equipment, a communications suite, a motor transport complement as well as any other attachments required for the mission. This would create two autonomous firing platoons, each robust enough to maintain a fire-cap and provide their own local security. The battery executive officer and the HQ platoon commander (AXO) would assume the role as “position commanders” at each of the two platoon locations, overseeing local security, controlling convoy movement and supervising the safe effective firing of the gunline. This would free the platoon commander to focus on fire direction and FDC operations.
A single advance party (AP) would still operate consisting of the battery commander, battery gunnery sergeant, AP Comm and the AP truck consisting of a Marine from each gun serving as the gun guide. This four vehicle contingent would also serve as a PSD or logistics trains escort as required in addition to advance party operations.
3. Stop requiring artillery battalions to attend EMV. In a widely read AAR, Coyote 22 demanded that artillery battalions attend EMV and “supervise” the batteries that were supporting the respective infantry battalions in the East and West corridors. Several justifications were strewn about in the letter, but the most apparent was so that the TTECG/Coyote personnel could deal with a battalion staff rather than just a battery commander. This premise effectively abrogates the opportunity for a battery commander to coordinate with the infantry battalion commander via the liaison officer in much the manner that battery commanders should be doing in country.
In conclusion, we—as a community—must realize that in the current fight, massing as a battalion is USELESS. We must reinvigorate our batteries and allow them to develop and train to new and more aggressive standards. This will require that artillery battalion commanders “decentralize” (MCDP 1, p78) and develop greater “trust in their subordinates” (MCDP 1, p80).