MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, California -- A beeping noise emitted from a computer system. “Fire Mission!” exclaimed one of the Marines, warning his peers that they must get ready. The Marines scrambled for their helmets and took their positions around the M777A2 Howitzer.
The cannoneer loaded a 155mm round into the weapon system as two Marines took a 10-foot, T-shaped pole to shove the round inside the M777 Howitzer, ensuring the ammunition was properly seated. He closed the hatch of the weapon. The section chief shouted, “Standby … Fire!” Then a Marine pulled the lanyard on the M777 Howitzer and the field gun fired off a round. The cannoneer opened the hatch of the weapon and smoke poured out from the chamber.
Marines with Battery F, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division conducted a battery level fire exercise Feb. 10, 2016, in preparation for their upcoming deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
During the exercise, Marines used an enhanced Digital Firing Control System, which provided troubleshooting feedback to the battalion for future use with the computer system. This was the first time the unit used this operating system, but the goal is to make the computer system the new standard.
“We are pioneering this digital system for 2/11 so we can develop standard operating procedures,” said 1st Lt. Andrew J. Shulkosky, the battery’s executive officer. “It will help us be more effective in supporting the ground maneuver element.”
In the past, the gun-line used iron sights to conduct fires, but the DFCS provides faster, more reliable support, added Sgt. James M. Christensen, a section chief with the battery.
“Instead of using a physical map, we are now using a tablet to look at the map of the target area,” said Cpl. Rex T. Teachenor Jr., a fire supportman with Battery H, 2/11. “[Aside from radio] there are no more voice commands; everything is done through the computer.”
A firing mission goes through three levels before any kind of action takes place: from an observer, to the Fire Direction Center, to the gun line.
In the fire exercise, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division were the observers. The observers’ job is to locate targets so the gun line can destroy them, according to Teachenor Jr., a native of Lakeway, Texas. The initial call for fire is given to the Fire Direction Center. Through the DFCS, the Fire Direction Center sends target coordinates down to the gun line. They load their rounds and fire on the targets, destroying the enemy.
“The benefit of the system [makes us] a lot quicker,” said Shulkosky. “In the past, whenever our digital firing system went down we would communicate targets by voice. We are moving away from this method because it slows down our time to support the maneuver element.”
Marines with Battery F fired approximately eight drills. The speedy support of the DFCS helped build confidence and unit cohesion between BLT 2/4 and Battery F who will be deploying together on the 31st MEU.
“Wherever the 31st MEU takes us we’ll be right there with BLT 2/4 whenever they need us. All they have to do is call it in,” said Shulkosky, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania.