Train as we Fight: 25 Years of Air and Missile Defense Steady-State Operations (and counting)

By LTC Todd Schmidt, CPT Jessica Perales-Ludemann and 1LT John Moriarity

4-3 ADA Gunnery
Soldiers from Battery A, 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Fort Sill, Okla., fire a Patriot Missile during training at McGregor Range Complex, N. M., as part of the emergency deployment exercise, Dec. 14, 2014. This was a rare opportunity for the Soldiers from 4-3 ADA, to practice using their weapon systems on a real target. Photo by SSG Nathan Akridge, U.S. Army.

In the archives of Army Magazine, dating back to January 2004, MG (Ret.) Charles Anderson, then COL Anderson, wrote an article entitled “Air and Missile Defense: Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Serving as the deputy commanding officer of the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, COL Anderson wrote a summary essay of the exploits of Air Defenders during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In his article, he briefly mentions an important, yet often overlooked, fact in the history of air and missile defense operations in the region. He states, “during the years between Operation Desert Storm and OIF, ‘Patriot Diplomacy’ made the familiar silhouettes of Patriot launchers on foreign soil symbols of American resolve around the world.”

Since Operation Desert Storm in 1990, air and missile defense forces – Patriot battalions – have been on constant, steady state operations and deployments into the Central Command Area of Responsibility (AOR) for the past 25 years and counting. There is no indication that Patriot battalions will cease rotational deployments into this AOR. In fact and to the contrary, our allies in this region (and beyond) continually and consistently request for more air and missile defense presence from their U.S. partner in defending their freedom.

The current Commandant of the Air Defense Artillery, BG Christopher Spillman, has challenged the branch, as a professional community of practice, to review our current doctrine and training manuals in a branch-wide effort to initiate a professional dialogue and conversation, on how we continue to improve our training, doctrine, readiness and relevancy in the face of an ever-increasing complex operating environment. The branch must continually adapt and evolve in the face of a future operating environment that is fraught with emerging challenges and threat systems, interdependent problem sets, and non-linear, often chaotic, conditions.

This paper is a contribution to that dialogue; a dialogue led by a host of phenomenal Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) experts with decades of operational experience in Patriot operations. The initiative that we are sharing is not new. It has been discussed within TRADOC, partially developed, but never fully and formally operationalized. Our initiative was vetted through our higher headquarters, approved by our commanding general, and provided significant review and input by senior officers and warrant officers throughout our branch.

Our efforts stem from a recent challenge posed by our CG that caused our battalion to relook how we conduct gunnery certifications and the requirements we place on our operators in a forward deployed environment, during steady state operations. Additionally, as a battalion, we spent significant time and effort developing our company-grade leaders in the art and science of training management and mission command. Given a completely new way of doing business in our gunnery program in the lead up to a deployment to the CENTCOM AOR, the following essay shares the essence of our initiative and our lessons learned.

The Principles of Army Training are clear:

The Challenge

In October 2014, 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery (4-3 ADA) provided a mission assumption briefing to the CG, 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command (AAMDC). On Nov. 1, 2014, the battalion would assume the Global Response Force (GRF) mission for the Army. This required the battalion to be ready to deploy Patriot forces worldwide on a seven-day Prepare to Deploy Order (PTDO). During the mission assumption briefing, we walked the CG through our training strategy that concluded with a mission readiness exercise (MRE). We had prepared for the GRF mission by the book. We had built our combat power one battery at a time, strictly following the Air Defense Artillery Patriot Brigade Gunnery Program, FM 3-01.86, commonly referred to as the ‘Dot 86.’

The Current FM 3-01.86 (Change 1)

TASK: Move the Patriot System and Sustain Air Battle Operations

CONDITIONS: Given an operational Patriot missile system complete with licensed crewmembers, a minimum of four to five launcher stations, based on unit modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE), in a field location, during daylight hours with the following available:

STANDARDS: The battery will conduct RSOP; march order, emplace, and initialize; conduct air defense operations; establish and operate a BCP; maintain the Patriot system; and conduct missile reload. Standard is met when crews have successfully received a ‘GO’ on all subtasks listed below.

As our briefing concluded, the CG challenged the collective audience to consider how the organization, could improve gunnery and, to include maintainers in the certification process. It was a simple question, alluding to the principles of training, of how we do a better job of training as we fight, as we operate, as we sustain and maintain. How do we incorporate lessons learned from our 25 years of sustained operations in the CENTCOM AOR? To our battalion, there was nothing rhetorical, hypothetical, vague or ambiguous in the CG’s challenge. We immediately took the initiative to develop a proposed modified gunnery program intended to allow us to train as we fight.

Current operations in combatant command AORs all over the world do not correspond with the original foundation from which FM 3-01.86 was drafted – it is not currently a living document. We have evolved as a branch, through years of trial and error, to establish best practices in deployment of the Patriot weapon system to act a deterrent and ultimately neutralize the enemy. To do this effectively, requires full time manning in steady state operations. This was not a driving factor behind FM 3-01.86, as it was originally written. At the time it was written, Patriot battalions were deployed in conjunction with major combat operations and the maneuver force, ‘jumping’ with the units, as they moved forward throughout the battlefield. We must continue to train to perform these requirements and maintain these capabilities. However, training for steady state operations is just as important. Most units do not train for sustained operations until they arrive in theater, because of valuable time lost with a dedicated train-up period. There is time allocated for units to pass on lessons learned and present the current situation in theater during the relief-in-place and transfer of authority period. However, most of this is typically spent teaching units how to perform a new mission, in a theater they may not be accustomed to and have never had the ability to replicate in garrison training operations. It is not because of a lack of deployment experience; our certification requirements simply do not call for it.

A Modified Gunnery Program focused on sustained operations

The purpose of FM 3-01.86 is to develop and test individual and crew proficiency in standardized gunnery techniques. It standardizes Patriot training and gunnery skill qualifications, all conducted in a garrison/field environment. Although it is meant to provide realistic and challenging training, it is not necessarily designed to be conducted truly as we maintain and sustain our force over a long duration.

The current .86 considers battery crews certified in Intermediate Level Gunnery after successful completion of a series of collective drills and operations during daylight hours – march order, emplace, initialize and conduct air battle operations. Engagement Control Station and Information and Coordination Central secondary and sustainment crews are also required to certify in the process.

However, there is little emphasis placed on the individual tactical crew’s ability to sustain operations for an extended period of time. As it currently stands, there are individual emplacement crews for each piece of equipment, thus putting the responsibility of maintaining that piece of equipment on the emplacement crew. However, once emplaced, the Patriot battery then becomes responsible for maintaining the entire battery’s worth of equipment, regardless of the Soldier’s position on the emplacement crew. This is not how we certify and fight while continuously operating in an expeditionary environment.

Reviewing multiple after action reviews from previous battalion deployments across the CENTCOM AOR, as it regards deployment train-up and certification, there seemed to be a recurring theme. Battalion’s had not trained and certified as they would eventually fight, once RIP/TOA had occurred. We were failing to train and condition our Soldiers for how they would manage sustained operations in a deployed environment.

When units arrive in the AOR to assume mission and conduct a RIP with an outgoing unit, they go through a process called Operational Readiness Evaluation and Crew Certification and Validation. This process validates a Patriot battery’s ability to conduct sustained operations over the course of a 12-month deployment and focuses on crews that work 24-hour shifts, managing a Patriot site, maintaining full mission capability and operational readiness. A shift crew trains, fights, and conducts sustained operations differently than a crew based solely on a Patriot system component.

The consistent results for battalions deploying into theater, over time, were repeated, frustrated attempts by Patriot batteries to complete RIP/TOA. They were running up against the clock, battling against time available for RIP, because of multiple failed attempts to pass OREs and CCVs for their shift crews.

So, how do we take this process and modify it to truly train as we fight? The idea is simple. Rather than defining a crew based on a system component of the Patriot battery (as we normally do), e.g. launcher crew, radar crew, Engagement Control Station crew, battery command post crew, etc., we modified our definition of the crew. For our purposes, we defined a ‘crew’ as the team of Soldiers that will be ‘on shift’ at any given time while deployed in combat, manning a Patriot site. Current gunnery and crew certification allows for system crews to conduct ‘stand alone’ Table VIII certification. However, under our modified gunnery program, the entire shift crew passes or fails together, as a team.

4-3 ADA Gunnery: Modifications from the current FM 3-01.86 are explained in two phases.

Phase 1 is standard mobility IAW FM 3-01.86. The certifying unit will complete RSOP, System Validation, March Order and Emplacement (to include MCPE and corner reflector), and manual emplacement.

Upon successful completion of Phase 1, the certifying unit will transition to sustained AMD operations. The standards for these operations are defined by the theater to which the unit is set to deploy. The unit maintains a minimum of 72 hours of sustained AMD operations prior to being evaluated on Phase 2.

Phase 2 is conducted not earlier than 72 hours following successful completion of Phase I. During Phase II evaluations, the certifying unit will complete: BCP and ECS Alert State Assumption, BCP and ECS Air Battle

Current intermediate gunnery certification takes place in the course of one day. Our modified gunnery program takes place in two phases with a minimum 72-hour pause in the middle. This allows the shift crew to abide by a battle rhythm that exercises and certifies their ability to conduct daily maintenance. Additionally, their assigned mechanics and system maintenance personnel demonstrate the ability to transition from a garrison maintenance battle rhythm to a continuous deployed/operational maintenance program, giving operators the ability to sustain the fight and equipment without impact to operational capability.

Crews must methodically work through the varied maintenance challenges that may occur between Phase 1 and Phase 2, ensuring full mission capability. Additionally, shift crews sign over the Patriot site at the end of their shift, requiring the oncoming crew to inspect the condition and maintenance status of the site and each piece of equipment, signing over the site following a comprehensive inspection and inventory. This process is a forcing function that holds shifts accountable for the tasks, maintenance, and sustainment required to run the site during their assigned shift. If the oncoming shift crew finds shortfalls, they do not sign for the site or relieve the outgoing shift, until the site and/or shortfalls are fixed. If they do accept a substandard site, waive the inspection and sign for the site, they are then held accountable.

This system provides for checks and balances that result in the site being kept at a high state of readiness during steady state operations incorporated into the gunnery certification program. Whereas, traditionally, the transition to steady state operations is not incorporated into the unit’s training strategy and program until a unit has received a deployment order and is preparing for and conducting the final mission readiness exercise and culminating training event prior to deployment. We believe that by integrating sustainment operations into the current gunnery program, it prepares and conditions commanders, leaders, and operators for the demands of daily tactical site requirements, challenges and operations.

Theory vs. Practice and our Lessons Learned

It all sounds great, doesn’t it? However, as von Moltke (the Elder) warned, no plan survives first contact. Or, in our case, the theory of our modified gunnery program was easy to put in a memorandum of instruction format and slick power point brief, but putting it into practice caused us to hit a few minor bumps along the way.

The first challenge we ran up against was time and resources – we were taking significant risk. We were implementing a completely new way of conducting gunnery, but we had limited time to do it in, because we would literally be putting our equipment on planes, trains and ships within weeks. This required deliberate and detailed management of time and resources to ensure two critical requirements.

First, we were still required to maintain a high state of mission readiness and deployability to fulfill our obligation to execute a GRF mission. This required a minimum engagement package (MEP) to be on a seven-day prepare to deploy order worldwide. We had already executed the deployment of a MEP to Fort Bliss, Texas, on a deployment readiness exercise that was initiated no-notice and culminated with a Patriot live-fire exercise, a deployment of MEP personnel to the Korean theater of operations to validate U.S. Forces Korea Reception, Staging and Onward Movement and Integration procedures, as well as a reconnaissance, terrain walk and Combined Air Defense Working Group with an allied nation in EUCOM. The battalion was a ‘T’ in our GRF mission requirement. Secondly, we needed to maintain a high state of operational readiness and maintenance, because our intent was to put two firing batteries through the modified gunnery program at a time, retaining the equipment of the remaining firing batteries that were ‘on deck’ to support the GRF mission and/or any equipment failures that might develop during our modified gunnery that would cause unacceptable delays.

The second set of challenges we encountered was at the battery level. Battery commanders have differing levels of deployment experience, and not all deployment experience translates into training experience and preparing a Patriot battery for continuous operations in the AOR. Ambitious, aggressive commanders can rush their training programs, over-estimate and/or inaccurately assess their training, and be unable to manage their own expectations in the deliberate, and sometimes grueling, process of gunnery. They want to go from zero-to-60 at record speed, rather than utilize the time-honored system of ‘crawl, walk, run.’

This method is not always easy, as it takes time, focus and experience. Starting with and re-emphasizing the basics ensures success during traditional gunnery, as well as for our modified gunnery program. At the battery level, the importance of a strong foundation in basic gunnery skills and training remains the same. Leaders must ensure that operators are given the time and resources to train properly on all tables to achieve success. This is the point at which it is imperative that battery commanders manage expectations and accurately assess their training. An inherent flaw in the way the Patriot force currently certifies is that current gunnery tables leave out the fact that the equipment must be manned, maintained and sustained continuously over an extensive amount of time that simulates 24-hour operations in a forward deployed environment. Again, training as we will fight.

Enter Phase 2 of our gunnery program. Phase 2 of the modified gunnery program is built to mimic a tactical Patriot site that is required to function 24/7. This allows the battery commander and operators to identify weak areas of operational knowledge and begin to acquire the operational experience necessary to sustain steady state operations. It is this knowledge and experience that will pay dividends when assuming any mission and making a smooth RIP/TOA for both the incoming and departing unit.

If the right fundamentals are drilled during the initial phases of training, the transition to steady state operations is smooth and the focus can shift to maintaining a tactical site and air battle management. Failures to ensure proper standards are being enforced from the beginning of training can and will be felt in Phase 2. Simple maintenance issues that can be glossed over in Phase 1, become glaring operational issues in Phase 2. Starting crews out slowly and deliberately is a tried and true way to set up the battery for success.

The third challenge we encountered was at the battalion level, related to our evaluations process, as well as our trainers and evaluators. This was the first time for the battalion to evaluate battery gunnery certifications in such a manner. Although all evaluators were briefed, trained and certified to evaluate in our modified gunnery program, old habits can die hard. There were two solutions to ensuring our evaluators were best prepared. First, we ensured evaluators had recent deployment experience. Secondly, we command directed a heavy emphasis and effort on Patriot Master Gunner (PMG) training and certification.

When the battalion entered the Train/Ready Phase of the ARFORGEN Cycle, we only had four of 14 required PMGs in the battalion. By the time the battalion deploys, we will have 20-24 PMGs across the battalion. The undertaking is not easy and it causes serious reflection within our non-commissioned officer population. In the end, as they always do, they made the initiative a success. When you are a leader in an air assault unit, you need to be air assault qualified – it is what professional leaders do. When you are a leader in an airborne unit, you need to be airborne and jumpmaster qualified – it is what professional leaders do. When you are a leader in a Patriot unit, you need to be Patriot master gunner qualified – it is what professional Air Defenders do! Regardless of these significant challenges, the results, thus far, are on target. The true results, however, will be in the performance of our unit as we conduct RIP/TOA in the CENTCOM AOR.

Training Management and Understanding the Fundamentals

For all the professional discussion and debate revolving around whether or not our current company-grade officers know how to manage training, an old Army axiom rings true: “You can only expect what you inspect.” In otherwords, if you have high standards and expectations for how battery commanders are managing training and you develop them, trust them, give them the resources and tools to do it correctly and to a high standard, and you inspect, attend, and have a consistent leadership presence at training meetings, rehearsals and in the field, rest assured that today’s company-grade leaders can plan, manage and execute great training strategies.

As an Army, we tend to be good at planning, writing/issuing orders, and executing the plan. Where we often times fall short or take shortcuts are on those other five steps of the Eight-Step Training Model – Training the Trainers, Conducting a Recon, Rehearsing, Evaluating and Retraining. To counter this challenge, we focused heavily on training our trainers and rehearsing our mission. Rehearsals, seemingly a lost art, are a standard, non-negotiable training event that involves battalion-level leadership attendance, evaluation and feedback.

As it directly relates to our modified gunnery program, the challenges we encountered centered around training and enforcing some basic fundamentals. Reading several years’ worth of battalion after action reviews concerning gunnery, it is abundantly clear that the stumbling blocks that frustrate collective gunnery training fall into three main categories: safety, maintenance and communication. Crews are going to know their crew drills. Soldiers know their primary job.

It is the ‘small’ things that trip us up. Simple things like walking backwards while ground-guiding, not using three points of contact while climbing on equipment, or failing to have proper personal protective equipment fall under common safety issues. Not understanding how to read a 5988-E, conduct disciplined by-the-book PMCS, and ensuring we are tracking parts received and parts installed statuses, cause us to fail in meeting the standard for maintenance. Finally, just the basics of communicating either internally to the crew or over the net with our battery command post and higher headquarters cause us to make mistakes in our ability to battle track during increasingly intensive air battle exercises.

Often times, in the competitive race to see which battery can be the first to Table VIII, we repeatedly rush to failure. Remember the Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race. The tried and true method of ‘crawl, walk, run’ is reinforced time and again, as one battery rushes to be evaluated, while a sister battery takes its time establishing high standards in their field site, conducts good, disciplined maintenance and drills crews deliberately from the individual level up to the battery collective level.

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” is what they teach in the Jumpmaster School. Some get it, some do not. Those that do, are usually doing recovery operations while a sister battery that rushed to failure remains in the field for multiple evaluations, until they finally pass. The battery that knows how to conduct disciplined training management in garrison, coupled with understanding the basics of the Eight Step Training Model will always be successful in meeting their training objectives. In the end, it is about mission command.

Mission Command: The exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.

It is about building a strong, cohesive team that shares a mutual trust down and up the chain of command. Building great teams is not easy. It takes time. It requires investing in the professional development of leaders at all levels. It is about building a foundation of good order, discipline, trust and frank, transparent communication – ultimately building a shared understanding of the commander’s intent and desired end state.

For commanders, we must earn the trust of subordinates, provide clear intent, and underwrite and accept prudent risk. As Jim Collins writes in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, good leaders are focused on accomplishing the mission, no matter the cost; great leaders focus first on building the team, creating a shared vision, and then tackling the mission. For leaders at all levels, it’s about exercising disciplined initiative, continually learning, developing and adapting themselves and their organizations.

When we think about and consider the challenges of training the future Fires force and how we grow, develop and nurture learning, adaptive organizations and leaders, it is really about how we best invest our resources of time and money.

Military historian Williamson Murray writes in Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change, that innovation and organizational adaptation are driven by well-educated, intellectually curious leaders that take the time to study, reflect and critically examine organizational challenges.

Whether the challenge is how to best prepare for an impending deployment by modifying doctrinal gunnery certification programs to train as we fight, or how to best develop company-grade officers in the Principles of Army Training and training management, it takes time. Time to develop our junior enlisted Soldiers, our non-commissioned officers, our warrant officers and our commissioned officers. Time to provide them with personal, meaningful, tailored counseling. Time to spend with the Soldiers in the field and at key training events. Time to give constructive feedback and criticism to achieve consistent improvement.

1st Lieutenant John Moriarity currently serves as the 4the Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery fire direction center officer in charge. He is a graduate of Murray State University, commissioned in 2011. Previous assignments include fire control platoon leader. He is a graduate of the Patriot Top Gun Course.
Captain Jessica Perales-Ludemann currently serves as the commander for A battery, 4-3 ADA. She is a graduate of Marymount University, commissioned in 2007. Previous assignments include fire direction center officer in charge at 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery. She is a graduate of Patriot Top Gun and the Air Defense Artillery Captain Career Course.
Colonel Todd Schmidt currently serves as the battalion commander of 4-3 ADA. He is a graduate of Indiana University (BA; DMG) and Georgetown University (MPA). Previous assignments include multiple tours throughout the CENTCOM AOR, as well as assignments on the Army Staff, Immediate Office of the Secretary of Defense, and key developmental positions at every level, from platoon to division. He is a graduate of SAMS and alumni Term Member, Council on Foreign Relations.