MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- When Marines come under attack, they expect fast and accurate fire support to repel the enemy.
Through state of the art technology, the fire direction center in artillery units is able to make that happen.
The FDC is responsible for computing how wind, air pressure, temperature, humidity and other weather conditions will affect an artillery round so it will have an accurate impact. With targets more than 20 kilometers away, the slightest weather condition can send a round off course.
Marines from 11th Marine Regiment traveled here to put their skills to the test in combat-related scenarios as a part of Exercise Desert Scimitar.
Twentynine Palms is currently home to one of the largest military training areas in the nation, featuring hundreds of square miles in the Mojave Desert.
“There’s no better place than Twentynine Palms for artillery to train,” said Sgt. Christopher Martinez, the FDC operations chief serving with Golf Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines. “This is one of the few places that we have minimal limitations and can do our jobs to the full extent.”
The Combat Center allowed the artillery to focus on their three major components: forward observers, fire direction center and the gunline. Because it is rare for Marines on the gunline to be able to see their targets, the FDC’s job is to compute data given to them by forward observers and turn it into a fire mission for the gunline to execute.
The FDC is the bridge between the forward observers and the gunline. The forward observers typically post at elevated positions where they can see far beyond the rest of the battery. When the FOs spot a target, they send the coordinates to the FDC. The FDC then computes the information in the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (artillery software), which calculates how weather conditions will affect a round.
Artillery uses more than just high-explosive rounds. Depending on the situation, smoke shells can provide coverage for troops on the ground or illumination rounds can light an area. Using AFATDS, each round is prepped to explode at precise times and elevations.
To control the FDC, three main components must work together: the fire directions officer, operations chief and box operators.
The fire directions officer, typically a second lieutenant, decides how the gunline is going to engage a target. A FDO also supervises the FDC to ensure rounds never land on friendly units, or land outside of safety zones.
The operations chief is typically the senior enlisted member of the FDC with many years of experience. If any gear isn’t working properly or if there are any personnel issues, the operations chief steps in.
The box operators are the Marines who input all data into AFATDS and calculate how to get a round down range effectively and efficiently.
“The computation of the data is a bigger stress than anything else,” said Cpl. Francisco Mendoza, the main box operator for Golf Battery and a native of Chicago. “If I get anything wrong whether I switch over a wrong number, pick a wrong charge or have a wrong propellant temperature, it can affect the round.”
The support of the FDC is crucial for the artillery to aim their howitzers and choose the correct explosive charge for the mission, Mendoza added.
After computing data for days and nights in the Mojave Desert, the Marines in the battery proved their skills by successfully engaging every target they received. The battery is slated to continue training before deploying to Japan in support of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in November.