A two-person team of Airmen is dropped off by a Bradley Fighting Vehicle at the forward line of troops (FLOT). They move down the line of cavalry scouts until they meet another small team, this one made up of U.S. Army artillerymen, who are dismounted from their own Bradley and are outfitting their rucks for an extended patrol. They are preparing to scout enemy positions, checking their radios and packing binoculars for a long patrol behind enemy lines. The teams are part of the force-on-force exercise portion of Combined Resolve XVI (CBR XVI) which includes approximately 4,600 armed forces service members from Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States. The operations are being conducted by integrated battalions with multinational units operating under a unified command and control element, allowing the U.S., its allies and partners to experience invaluable training alongside each other.
The goal of COLT teams is to identify enemy targets, and, if possible, the teams will use laser targeting systems to mark targets for precision guided munitions. Joint teams of Fire Support Teams, known as FiSTers, and JTACs are best suited for providing COLT support to an Army brigade deployed in a combat scenario. FiSTers are the 1-5FA Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (HHB) fire support officers, noncommissioned officers and enlisted joint fire support specialists responsible for identifying indirect fire, or fires, missions on the Combined Resolve XVI notional battlefield. FiST teams are attached to all of the multinational maneuver units operating during CBR XVI. This is an opportunity for these multinational units to experience the capability of the U.S. to provide close air support in joint operations.
“Today we are going out as a COLT (Combat Observation Lasing Team). A COLT team is basically the eyes on the ground when our sensor assets, which typically allow us to see far, cannot do the job. We have to push behind enemy lines, or in as far as possible with the enemy, so we can provide real targeting data for the brigade and division fires assets,” said Senior Airmen Fernando Marquez, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) with 4th Air Support Operations Group.
“Our mission is a list of high-value enemy targets. I think I’m lucky to have the six guys total that we have right here. I’ve worked with these two JTACs before, and I’ve worked with the other three FiSTers a lot, and I can’t think of a better group of dudes to send forward to do this,” said Sgt. Devon Eaker, a Joint Fire Support Specialist with 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment (1-5FA) “Hamilton’s Own,” 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.
Air Force JTACs direct the actions of aircraft while engaged in close air support. They can call in close air support from F-22s, A-10s, F-35s or anything that the U.S. Air Force can provide air-to-ground operations. Despite the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in combat operations, both the Army and the Air Force continue to train and develop ground-force fire support teams. The force-on-force exercise held during CBR XVI at the Joint Multinational Training Center in Germany provides an excellent training opportunity for COLT. The modern battlefield is shaped by UAVs directing cameras toward the enemy to gather intelligence. As the fight turns from terrorism to an enemy with more sophisticated electronic equipment and air defense, the potential disruption of UAV imaging is a very real threat. Well trained COLT teams ensure that U.S. Forces maintain the ability to penetrate enemy formations, identify threats and deliver fires munitions onto those threats, helping to maintain overwhelming firepower which is critical to victory on the LSCO battlefield.