Forward observers in the U.S. military
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Forward observers in the U.S. military are artillery observers who carry the Military Occupational Specialty designator of 13F in the United States Army and 0861 in the United States Marine Corps. They are officially called Fire Support Specialists in the U.S. Army and Fire Support Men in the U.S. Marine Corps. They are colloquially known as FiSTers, regardless of whether they are members of a FiST (Fire Support Team), FSE (Fire Support Element) or COLTs (Combat Observation and Lasing Teams). The Company Fire Support Officer (FSO) is the Officer in Charge of a Fires Support Element.
There are two main duties associated with Fire Support Teams according to general military doctrine and the U.S. Army Technique Publication (ATP) 3-09.30. Primary responsibilities of FiSTs are to "bring all means of indirect fire in support of the Maneuver Commander." This includes all Indirect Fire(IDF) Assets (Artillery, Mortars, Naval Gunfire and close-air-support [CAS]). Secondary duties consist of communicating battlefield intelligence such as enemy locations, strength, and activities to Command. COLT(all FiST) and LRS(mixed FiST-Cav Scout-Pathfinders) are brigade-level reconnaissance assets.
They are also assigned to Special Forces and Special Operations Units as terminal controllers and Fire Support Non Commissioned Officers.
Soldiers in this MOS must meet a number of requirements not demanded of other military careers. The observer must be acutely aware of the position and movements of friendly troops as well as those of opposing forces. Because of the strategic importance of this information, observers in the Army must qualify for a security clearance; the  depends on the specific position. Observers must be able to work independently for long periods of time and, because the clandestine nature of their work and their frequent placement on or behind enemy lines, the ability to operate with minimal support is of great importance as some missions can often last for days or weeks.
Physical demands on forward observers are often extremely high since they fight alongside or in support of airborne infantry, light infantry, mechanized infantry, a joint task force or a sister service while carrying a much greater equipment load (radios, secure communication equipment, laser rangefinder and target designator, etc.) than the maneuver element they are attached to.
Most, and eventually, all US Army Armored and Infantry battalions have converted to the Modular Force organization (Combat Teams). FiST's are assigned to the maneuver battalions, and attached to the maneuver troops/companies of the combined-arms, heavy, light or Stryker battalion they are serving with.
Infantry training provides the individual soldier with a direct action skill level that provides them with an optimal survival rate. The FiSTer is qualified to attend many military schools because of their Combat Arms designation such as, Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger, and Special Forces training. FiSTers are also given difficult cardiovascular, stamina and strength training in addition to their FiST training. As FiSTer are attached to direct action units, this training is meant to ensure they have the capability to perform their more cerebral duties, while under the same stress the maneuver unit is exposed.
Fire Support Specialists may be attached to a mechanized infantry or an armored division. When mechanized infantry or armored, fire support teams consist of a driver, a commander, a Fire Support Non-Commissioned Officer, and a Fire Support Specialist of rank of E4 Specialist). This team works within an M7 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, called a B-FIST or Bradley FIST, which is designed for the task of Coordinating indirect fire. FO teams are often attached to Mechanized infantry dismounted teams. In this scenario they break off with small infantry teams and travel on foot as light infantry and search for the enemy. They can also break off in two man teams and establish an observation post.
The Combat Observation and Lasing Team (COLT) is a high-technology, deeply inserted, spotting/reconnaissance team often called on to maximize the use of GPS guided munitions like the EXCALIBUR series weaponry/155mm shell. The standard COLT consists of a driver/Grenadier(PFC/E-3), a gunner/RTO/Observer(Specialist/E-4) and a Team Chief(SPC-CPL-SGT), the vehicle commander who oversees the operation on the OP, and approves fire missions. While other MOS' may be work in conjunction with the COLT (such as a sniper team), FiST personnel remain its core element.
COLT's are now equipped with the FS3 (Fire support sensor system) which has consolidated all of the M707 Knight Series MEP target acquisitioning equipment, previously mounted on KNIGHT HMMWVs(a M1025 variant), and is now mounted atop the M1200 Armored Knight series Fire Support Team Vehicle(FiST-V), itself a redesign of the M1117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicle used by the U.S. Army's Military Police Corps. These teams typically work closely with attack aircraft to guide air-delivered laser-guided munitions, while still providing ground support for maneuver battalions and acting as a reactive strike force supporting special operations units. In effect, COLTs are Artillery Hunter-Killer Teams, reconnaissance and targeting taskings are geared toward locating and destroying the enemy's command-and-control centers(Division level and higher), and major supply (POL, ordnance) dumps.
Unfortunately, the ground truth of the Iraqi Theater has caused the majority of COLT's to be attached to the organic Field Artillery battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Battery to serve as the skilled and trained nucleus of patrol columns consisting of support troops or cannon crewmen(13B) not normally trained or expected to perform mounted or dismounted operations.
With the need for coordinated indirect-fire support control at higher levels, Fire Support Specialists are also assigned to the “Fire Support Element,” at Battalion level, and as the "Fires" section of the Operations Staff from Brigade/Regiment level through Corps.
Since 2003 the U.S. Army has also used the RQ-7B Shadow Unmanned Aircraft, flown by soldiers in the 15W MOS, in Iraq and Afghanistan for artillery correction, close air support and reconnaissance.
Joint Fires Observer
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The joint fires observer (JFO) has an additional skill identifier (ASI) of L7. The JFO (13F L7) are trained to call in indirect surface fires, Naval surface fire support, attack aviation close combat attack, and AC-130 calls for fire. They also are trained to provide a (JTAC or FAC[A]) with targeting information for close air support (CAS) Type 2 and Type 3 controls where the controller cannot see the target. The concept of operation is that multiple JFOs will observe a large battle area and liaise with one Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) from the Air Force/Marine Corps/Navy, multiplying the effective area of operations for that JTAC.
13D's were also given this identifier at Fort Wainwright Alaska. The JFO team did a mobile training session for the posts 13F's & 13D's.
Field Artillery Forward Observer 1189
"Directs the fire of an artillery unit from a forward position. Observes shell bursts and adjusts fire by forward observation or computation methods; consults with commanders of supported unit in determination of appropriate artillery targets, normal barrage, and zones of defense; trains personnel in procedures of artillery operation; organizes observation posts; sets up and maintains communication systems."
Must know artillery methods in direction of fire, use of fire direction instruments, such as aiming circle, BC telescope, and range finder. Must be familiar with military maps and their interpretation. Should have experience with a firing battery and know potentialities and limitations of particular type of artillery involved. Knowledge of mathematics through trigonometry desirable. Military experience including graduation from artillery officers' school essential. The present-day title is a Fire Support Officer (FSO).
Notable U.S. military forward observers
- Officer Classification, Commissioned and Warrant Military Classification and Coding (War Department Technical Manual TM 12-406)
- U.S. Army FM 6-30
- U.S. Army FM 21-18 Procedures and Techniques of Foot Marches
- U.S. Army ATP 3-09.30