support a U.S. Army or Allied division, or elements thereof, by providing the control and liaison agencies associated with the ground elements of the [landing force] in the control and employment of [naval gunfire] and naval close air support in the amphibious assault or other operations, or in other types of operations in which support is provided by U.S. naval gunfire and/or naval air.
Although ANGLICOs have provided excellent service in both peace and war, they must modify their mission, organization, and training to remain relevant in a Corps that depends on deep precise fires.
What's Wrong with the Current Mission?
ANGLICO exists to support the Army and our Allies. The latter role has merit; the former does not. Army fire support personnel are capable of controlling naval surface fire support (NSFS) and Navy/Marine close air support. In fact, the naval gunfire (NGF) call-for-fire procedures are similar to those of mortars and artillery.
The minor differences that do exist are taught to Army forward observers at Fort Sill, thereby negating the need for follow-on training at Coronado's specialized NGF course. This class frequently uses Marine artillery at Camp Pendleton to simulate NGF, anyway. NSFS is conducted over high-frequency radios, but the Army has these. The only thing that keeps Army units from controlling NSFS themselves is the weight of tradition.
The biggest challenge in training Army forward observers in NSFS spotting techniques is the scarcity of live-fire range opportunities. Live-fire training is important to provide observers an appreciation for naval guns' shot pattern, range probable error, and rapidity of fire. With only two NSFS ranges in this hemisphere (San Clemente Island, California, and Vieques, Puerto Rico) and fewer than 100 ships with 5-inch guns available, even ANGLICO Marines get insufficient training. Simulation or land-based NGF mounts firing into existing artillery impact areas eventually may provide a partial solution, but the dearth of training opportunities must be resolved or the promise of extended range NSFS in the joint arena never will be realized.
There never will be enough ANGLICO Marines available to support all the Army divisions deployed in a mid-intensity conflict. Even if both reserve ANGLICOs had been mobilized, fewer than half of the Army forces deployed to Desert Storm could have been supported by ANGLICO units. Of course this limitation was not a problem in the war with Iraq because Persian Gulf-based NSFS ships could not range Army units anyway. This will not necessarily be the case once the Navy Tactical Missile System and vertically launched extended range gun systems are deployed. If NSFS can range Army forces, then these units must be trained and equipped to control such fires independently.
As for close air support (CAS), terminal control is no different for naval and Air Force aircraft. Accessing the Navy/Marine Corps command-and-control system is not difficult, and procedures are promulgated by the designated joint forces air component commander. Regardless of service affiliation or military occupational specialty, graduates of the two Expeditionary Warfare Training Groups' Tactical Air Control Party courses are fully qualified to plan, coordinate, and control naval air assets. Naval close air support is likely to support any number of Army units in an actual contingency. ANGLICOs can't be with them all.
The current stovepipe fire support framework, with naval personnel controlling naval assets for land forces, is likely to penalize the Army in a future conflict. But it is ANGLICO Marines who suffer detrimental effects in peacetime from this flawed arrangement because of the operational tempo the current relationship generates. One of the primary selling points for ANGLICO utility is that it is necessary for Army light brigades to do well at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). Effective integration of NSFS is an important part of the Center's fire support exercise play. Marine participation, along with CAS provided by the Air Force, entitles JRTC to add the "joint" moniker to its name.
As a result, ANGLICO Marines attend 10 three-week rotations each year. The two active-duty companies each participate in three or four JRTC deployments annually. JRTC is a valuable training experience, but these too frequent rotations, together with a myriad of other training events such as emergency deployment readiness exercises, MEU workups, floats, joint task force exercises, etc., leave too little time for schools, individual skills sustainment, and team training.
The other half of the existing ANGLICO mission—providing fire support expertise to allied divisions—is a valid requirement and should be continued. During Desert Storm, ANGLICO Marines served alongside Arab coalition partners and proved that fire support liaison can be a critical combat-multiplier for our allies. There is no need to train these liaison teams to speak their counterparts' language. There are too many potential allies and too few Marines to levy such a requirement. Instead, we must rely on our allies to provide translators and simply ensure that our Marines are completely qualified in every aspect of the planning, coordination, and delivery of fires. A corollary benefit to supporting allied formations is the exchange of tactics, techniques, and procedures which naturally occurs between each nation's fire support experts.
ANGLICOs provide their most important warfighting service at the battalion level and below. But terminal control at the small unit level is precisely what the new MLGs are programmed to avoid. Some have suggested that terminal control teams will be task-organized and provided to allies as required. But where will they come from? Artillery forward observer teams are already understrength. The Marine fire support community cannot provide enough forward observers for its own maneuver forces.
If Not the Army, Then Who?
The Marine Corps has realized that it can abandon terminal controller support for the Army with little operational impact. The time and energy spent working with the Army should be devoted to supporting Marine formations without dedicated forward observers. A fundamental precept of "fighting with fires" is that units that plan to do so must have the means to detect targets, control the delivery of fires, and then assess their effects. An observation battery would provide another means to perform these vital functions. Although there are several potential candidates, the logical echelon for an ANGLICO to support is the one it already works for—the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).
If the MEF is to be a warfighter in fact as well as in name, it needs a ground force to help control its fires. Combat experience and lessons learned from major exercises such as combined arms exercises at Twentynine Palms and the National Training Center rotations at Fort Irwin, California, and results from the recent Hunter Warrior experiments suggest that commanders never can have too many forward observers. The force reconnaissance company already provides a dedicated reconnaissance capability in MEF's area of operation. ANGLICO and force reconnaissance companies are complementary—not competing—assets. One is designed to obtain intelligence, the other to control deep fires on high-payoff targets. As a result, intelligence collectors and observers often occupy different areas on the battlefield.
In the defense, Force Recon Marines cover critical nodes while ANGLICO observers control the associated engagement areas which follow. In the offense, ANGLICO teams can be infiltrated early to adjust pre-assault fires, inserted deep to direct interdiction fires on enemy reinforcements, used during pursuit to control fires that block an enemy's escape, or positioned to protect friendly forces' exposed flanks with on-call fires during an advance to contact.
A good model for ANGLICO's role in supporting the MEF was provided by Great Britain's 148 Commando Observation Battery in the Falklands. This unit's observers inserted early by helicopter to control NGF raids on high-payoff targets, provided aerial spotting, from helicopters operating from NGF ships, and accompanied special forces on raids to provide critical fire-support assistance.
The other Marine air-ground task force that ANGLICOs should continue to support is the MEU. The ANGLICO detachment provides a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) commander with the option of reinforcing allied units with fire support liaison expertise or simply tasking the detachment himself to control deep fires in his area of operations. Nearly every MEU rediscovers the versatility of its small ANGLICO element.
Organization and Equipment
ANGLICOs were designed to support a division of three brigades. Under the most recent table of organization, two of three brigade staffs receive an ANGLICO liaison team. Within each brigade, two of the three maneuver battalions have Marine supporting arms liaison teams assigned. Similarly, within each maneuver battalion, two of three rifle companies have firepower control teams attached. In the current ANGLICO organization each company rates 259 personnel (11 Navy and 248 Marines). Like every Fleet Marine Force unit (except those gearing up for deployment), these companies are chronically undermanned. There are three factors that exacerbate personnel shortages within ANGLICO units: excessive tasking, a bloated table of organization, and labor-intensive equipment. The first aspect has been addressed: The mission itself is too broad. There simply are not enough ANGLICO Marines available to support every U.S. Army unit who may use naval fire support.
Second, the current table of organization (T/O) is very manpower intensive. It includes pilots to talk to airplanes, forward observers to spot falling rounds, and communicators to carry the message traffic. A universal observer can do all this. Nonaviators are perfectly capable of being forward air controllers given proper training. The Air Force certifies its enlisted terminal air controllers to run close air support missions. The Marine policy restricting such control to pilots has been a source of complaint and frustration within the fire support and maneuver communities for many years. None of the traditional justifications cited for this regulation make sense-the policy should be changed immediately.
Figure 1 recommends an alternate observation battery T/O. This proposal, focused on supporting Marine and allied requirements, requires only 52% of the people called for in the current table of organization. Each observation battery will require 135 men—a requirement that can be sourced by shifting the 27 naval gunfire billets assigned to each artillery battalion to the observation battery. Each of the Corps' 10 artillery battalions contain a 7-man NGF liaison section and two 10-man shore fire control parties. Once the universal observer concept is adopted, there will be no requirement for Marines specializing in NSFS duties. Placing the battery under the aegis of the artillery regiment would obviate the need for most of their 97 support billets in the existing ANGLICO T/O. The artillery headquarters is the logical choice to provide an observation battery with administrative, logistic, and communications support.
The aim of the revised T/O is to provide a balanced, seasoned force of small teams, capable of planning and controlling all fires. Each of the four operational platoons specializes in a particular insertion skill: long-range vehicle patrols, climbing and mountaineering, military free-fall parachuting, scout swimming, and small boat operations. At any given time, each platoon maintains two fully trained teams, not including those assigned to MEU detachments. Simultaneously, elements of two more teams per platoon are in various stages of the training pipeline.
Each forward observer team is organized for extended independent operations. Four-man teams are the standard because this is the smallest number that allows continuous security and observation of targeted areas of interest. The team still can be attached to allied headquarters, battalion staffs, or maneuver companies when required. Observer elements smaller than those currently employed are feasible, if they are adequately equipped.
Equipment, primarily communications gear, is the third aspect impacting on manpower considerations. At present, a FCT must carry three different radios to access its doctrinal nets. The high-frequency radio alone, with its crypto and batteries, weighs more than 50 pounds. An existing radio, the PRC-117D, provides VHF, UHF, and satellite communication capabilities in the same package—but ANGLICOs do not rate it. A version which incorporates HF capacity into the same radio also is available commercially. Clearly this is a case—in the words of our Commandant—where we should equip the man rather than man the equipment. In an age of cellular phones and miniaturization, we can and must do better or the forward observer, with one of the heaviest combat loads, will be unable to keep up with his maneuver-element counterparts or evade the enemy.
Another crucial consideration for observation batteries is the rank/MOS mix of its members. A leaner, more capable organization requires experienced, mature operators. In the quest for a true meritocracy, Marines of any MOS should be allowed to compete for selection. Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) with Fleet Marine Force experience, however, should be the lowest grade eligible. Enlisted scout-observers could and should form the nucleus of the organization and return to the batteries several times throughout their careers. Both staff NCOs and company grade officers should serve as team leaders. Fleet experienced Navy and Marine officers, with ground or aviation MOSs, should be considered for ANGLICO service. Select officers should return to the batteries later in their careers to fill training and command billets.
The final key to an observation battery's success, given an appropriate mission and organizational structure, is quality training. Training is not something to be squeezed into a frantic schedule of exercises and deployments. It is fundamental to the sustainment of an efficient, world-class, fire support unit. In recognition of this fact, the proposed T/O contains a platoon whose sole mission is planning, conducting, supporting, and evaluating entry-level and sustainment instruction on those tasks critical to the accomplishment of the battery's mission.
The training cadre is divided into five cells: communications, weapons and tactics, fire support, medical, and exercise planning. This cadre would screen and assess all volunteers with a series of tests to include physical fitness, general intelligence, and character assessments. Successful applicants then enter a three week initial course in which fieldcraft, marksmanship, radio expertise, call-for-fire formats, and combat lifesaving are taught to a common standard. Upon completion, new members are assigned to one of the four operational platoons where they are integrated into an existing team.
As seats open in the schools associated with each platoon's specialty, the new members depart for formal training. When they have completed required schools, they return to their teams, but continue in a probationary status for another six months. During this period the team leaders continue to assess their potential in an operational environment. After proving themselves in a variety of settings, the new members are formally accepted into the unit and become eligible for a MEU deployment.
Each 16-man MEU detachment is comprised of four teams from separate operational platoons. The individual teams join the detachment, under the leadership of the senior team leader, at lock-on for the duration of the workup, and deployment. The battery operations section works with the various MEU headquarters, supervises each detachment's training during the work-up, and track/support each detachment as required, once it is deployed.
The operational platoons themselves are responsible for the sustainment of their primary insertion skills. Freefall parachuting, mountaineering, long-range vehicle navigation, and amphibious techniques are easily perishable skills and must be updated relentlessly to retain proficiency. On subsequent tours, operators could transfer to another specialty to broaden their backgrounds, but absolute concentration on one such skill at a time should be the standard, to ensure true proficiency.
In addition to entry-level training, the training platoon also provides common skills sustainment and sets up exercise scenarios in support of the operational platoons' teams. Every observation battery Marine must be static line parachute qualified, in order to work with Allied units who use this means of insertion. Environmental training also is incorporated into the schedules of all teams. Cold weather training, jungle operations, desert deployments, and exercises in urban settings teach the teams to apply their fire support skills in all climates and terrain.
Regardless of insertion specialty, the common denominator for each platoon must be a high level of fitness, expertise with its weapons and equipment, and superior patrolling skills. Teams should train alongside Army units occasionally in the role of either friendly or opposing forces, to test their tactics, techniques, and procedures in unfamiliar environments against challenging opposition. Of course, their special skills also will be in demand for MEF-level, joint, and combined exercises.
Marine Liaison Groups may prove useful, but rather than sacrificing the proven virtues of ANGLICOs for the promise of MLGs, we should take a more cautious approach by maintaining a small but robust ANGLICO capability while exploring the use of MLGs. The alternative is to forfeit ANGLICO capabilities in order to redirect manpower to other Fleet Marine Force units, or stagnate by leaving ANGLICOs intact without adequate resources.
ANGLICOs can be much more than they are today—good outfits striving valiantly but in vain to fill a role that exists only because it is not customary or convenient for the Army to field its own NSFS spotting capability. There is, however, still a critical niche for world-class observers, capable of operating in any climate and terrain to control deep fires. All that is needed to make this vision a reality is a natural evolution of the ANGLICO mission, a tweak to the existing organization, and a corresponding commitment to tough, progressive training for our best forward observers. By accepting this challenge, the Marine Corps can enhance the powerful combat-multiplying potential of its fires. The choice is ours.
Major Morris is an artillery officer serving as a joint tour with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.