Joint Fires Provide Insight Into Modern War

May 2009
By Rita Boland

U.S. Army and Marine forward observers at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, scan the valley for potential targets. U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team (JFIT) trains troops at the location to work with joint fires before they deploy to combat.
Exercises provide U.S Army and others training with air assets so they have the knowledge they need for the fight.

A U.S. Joint Forces Command integration and interoperability team is working to ensure that ground troops who need joint fires support in combat know how to obtain it and use it. The organization recently has expanded its work to offer its expertise to more units at more locations. Warfighters benefit from specialized and customized training that allows them to operate with other services in theater. The effort incorporates experience from the battlefield using lessons learned to save lives by reducing friendly fire casualties and similar catastrophes.

The Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team (JFIIT) at Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) assists and augments service trainers in developing scenarios and conducting exercises for the joint fires portion of training efforts. The exercise training occurs at locations across the country and in Germany, as JFIIT personnel work with soldiers and Marines to familiarize them with Navy and Air Force air power support. The team also has “train-the-trainer” military training teams that work with trainers at their home stations to ensure the troops receive the best instruction possible. JFIIT experts help trainers replicate the most realistic scenarios and battle conditions based on whatever troops in a particular unit can expect in combat.

The majority of the work in both areas focuses on Army units supported by Air Force resources. JFIIT’s most advanced effort is with Army personnel at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where it has operated for approximately a decade, from before the team held its current name. The situation at Fort Irwin is so established that JFIIT has its own facility and vehicles there and is able to sustain itself logistically during training scenarios.

The team’s newer work involves efforts at other Army combat training centers (CTCs) such as at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and with the Marine Corps at Twentynine Palms, California. JFIIT also conducts training overseas in Germany at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), having participated in one event in February with others scheduled for later this year. Though the JMRC accommodates many multinational efforts, the group from JFCOM supports only U.S. brigade rotations, not coalition events.

In addition to its work at the CTCs and with the Marines, JFIIT personnel help conduct some battle command training programs being performed at brigade and higher levels, and the team also supports U.S. Special Operations Command training exercises such as Emerald Warrior. Another partnership involves teaming with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to build a good training environment to counter the improvised explosive device (IED) threat. JFIIT personnel use the range of locations and interactions to the benefit of their students, migrating good ideas and practices from one training location to another, because the same team members cross-attach to the various training teams. This knowledge transfer enables JFIIT trainers to adopt the same techniques at different centers and eliminate practices that perform poorly.

Ensuring that the joint fires training experience is effective for troops is critical because it may be the first and possibly only opportunity for troops to work with certain joint assets they will operate with in theater, such as the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JointSTARS). Bringing large, heavy platforms such as JointSTARS to every training session and location is fiscally impossible for the military. The more expensive, heavier assets have to be simulated to augment what is actually present, but despite the team’s use of simulations when necessary, most of the assets used in the exercises are live. JFIIT helps integrate virtual and constructive representations so that when warfighters arrive in theater, they have experience with the asset, and JFIIT tries to make the simulations as realistic as possible. In addition to saving money, the simulations enable JFIIT to operate an exercise 24 hours a day because the need for maintenance and rest is eliminated.

Most of the work JFIIT focuses on is for ground troops receiving the joint fires training they need. However, the team also works with air assets on their training at exercises such as Green Flag East at Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB), Louisiana, and Green Flag West at Nellis AFB, Nevada. JFIIT supports those events with technology and people, and it partners with the Joint Unmanned Aircraft System Center of Excellence on certain efforts as well.

Air Force personnel already are present at Fort Polk and Fort Irwin when JFIIT supports training exercises there. Ravens and Air Force personnel are assigned to the National Training Center, and the team personnel support them as they do the soldiers. Dr. William Rierson, lead analyst for the Joint Fires Division in JFIIT, says his people link up and work as a team with those trainers. Another aspect of JFIIT is its fairly robust instrumentation team, which puts in place tracking systems, communications systems and other technologies.

Rierson says the training JFIIT offers is a piece of the joint training puzzle with many efforts to enhance interoperability in place in the military today. JFCOM and JFIIT provide unique assets and resources, bringing services together in the joint fires mission area so troops are joint, interoperable and ready to conduct missions when they deploy. The team works to improve the ability for brigades to train at CTCs and their home stations, with upgrades to the virtual and constructive pieces of the exercises because of advances in technology.

Rierson states that as the military moves down the path to building joint capabilities, forces must have the opportunity to train in the environment before trying to execute actions in theaters. “The gaps have always been there and will always be there,” he says, adding that trainers will always play catch-up to make training better. “It’s a fluid environment,” he explains. To overcome shortfalls, JFIIT helps warfighters focus on their joint fires needs and what they may be expected to do in combat situations. Then, those tasks are rehearsed.

In addition to training ground troops on employing air assets, JFIIT also supports the U.S. Air Force’s exercises Green Flag East at Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB), Louisiana, and Green Flag West at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Here, an F-16 from the 13th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, departs for the Nevada Test and Training Range, August 2008, during exercise Green Flag 08-09 at Nellis AFB.
According to Rierson, joint in the JFIIT context means when one service is supporting another with an organic resource. For example, joint describes when an Air Force A-10 provides close air support to an Army brigade, or an electronic warfare platform supports soldiers or Marines. The support can be kinetic or nonkinetic, such as monitoring and data collection. Though JFIIT works predominantly with Air Force platforms supporting ground forces, Navy assets and sometimes even Marine Corps air assets are employed as well.

Many different assets are used in the various training activities because each session is customized for the unit receiving instruction. “Each rotation may have a different priority or focus based on that brigade’s training objectives,” Rierson explains. Each training session is adjusted based on the brigade commander’s objectives. A National Guard unit receiving training does not have the experience of an active-duty unit that already did a tour in theater, for example, so the training scenarios have to adjust for levels of knowledge and experience as well as unit missions. At the National Training Center, the JFIIT personnel take direction from the Commander Operations Group (COG) during each of the 10 rotations a year there. Rierson describes the efforts as “crawl, walk, run training,” assisting units at their home station using mobile training teams first and then working up to full-blown joint and collective training scenarios at the CTCs.

Besides the work it is in charge of, JFIIT also supports efforts run by other entities. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command recently put together a joint intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) mobile training team that JFIIT is a part of but does not lead. The team goes to various Army bases where units reside and offers training at those locations. Part of JFIIT’s work is to improve ISR asset integration, and Rierson says that is a team effort with many partners such as Air Combat Command, analysts at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and intelligence trainers at the CTCs. If the COG requests one, JFIIT also provides a joint unmanned aerial system subject matter expert (SME) to assist the unit with integrating those types of platforms. JFIIT personnel include a variety of SMEs so expertise is available in a number of areas for training.

According to Rierson, JFIIT uses an over-the-shoulder coaching technique. Personnel observe a unit and help by coaching or mentoring the organization through an exercise. The division personnel assess whether units are using the best practices and techniques from the theater, realizing that the best answer is not always a purely doctrinal solution. He shares that a training unit might be using an acceptable technique, but that his team might know of a better method because of technology improvements or lessons learned from in-theater situations.

Though JFIIT has sent personnel into theater as part of lessons-learned teams to observe units in combat and to glean the best practices, placing personnel into theater is not a regular project for the team. The team does include active-duty members who have been to war zones and who have experienced operations there firsthand. “That’s a critical aspect of what our capability is, because that brings currency to our team,” Rierson says.

The active-duty personnel in JFIIT serve for only 2- or 3-year tours, so the knowledge stays fresh. Contractors and government civilians provide continuity and carry knowledge from one generation to the next. This mix of old and new is important, because the focus of JFIIT is almost entirely at the brigade level and below, not at higher levels that may focus more on strategy than tactics. JFIIT is one of the few organizations within JFCOM with this concentration. “It’s all about the warfighter,” Rierson states, “about preparing the warfighter the best that we can.”

JFIIT sometimes receives information from theater from sources other than its own personnel. In one instance, the team obtained feedback from a brigade it had trained with for a year before the unit shipped overseas. Embedded in the deployed brigade headquarters was an Army lessons-learned analyst who helped JFIIT gain knowledge of operations during the early part of the deployment. He sent back information on some actions that JFIIT worked on with the unit and explained how the tactics were functioning in theater. “That brigade was our sample, you might say,” Rierson states. In other examples, JFIIT personnel were members of different teams that went into theater to examine very specific issues such as close air support and counter IEDs.

Additionally, the team has received feedback from units they trained, reinforcing the importance of joint fires training before combat. Some units have reported back that lessons they learned in the joint fires training were exactly suited to actions they had to take in combat. Tactics, techniques and procedures developed by JFIIT have worked in theater and have been adopted by the military. JFIIT receives feedback from the COG, trainers and the units themselves, both on the scene of the training and after deployment.

Rierson recently participated in a lessons-learned session that focused on the benefit received from training that units accomplished at the CTCs before deployment. The purpose of the session was to improve training and incorporate identified needs into the next-generation training routine. The meeting discussed the advantages of familiarization of assets before combat as well as experiences in theater that troops had not practiced in training.

Web Resources
Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team:
National Training Center, Fort Irwin:
Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk:
Joint Multinational Readiness Center:


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