BFIST A Sight for Sore Eyes – Bradley fire support vehicle field-tested at Fort Steward, Georgia – Brief Article

BFIST A Sight for Sore Eyes – Bradley fire support vehicle field-tested at Fort Steward, Georgia – Brief Article – Column

James E. Lackey

As sour Army moves toward a new vision for greater capabilities in .the form of the Objective Force, we are simultaneously enhancing the existing force to ensure we retain an overwhelming warfighting edge against a range of potential adversaries. One aspect of those improvements for our mechanized force is a new platform for fire support that provides accurate target location on the move as well as greater survivability and mobility consistent with the supported maneuver force. For an entire generation of 13F Fire Supporters who have worked tirelessly on the old M981 fire support vehicle (FIST-V), the new Bradley fire support vehicle (BFIST) is truly a sight for sore eyes.

BFIST gives the FIST the same mobility, signature and survivability as that of the supported maneuver units. Additionally, BFIST can observe indirect fire while on the move and employ direct fire systems that can make a difference not only in self-protection, but also in supporting the maneuver force.

BFIST is a point-and-shoot and point-and-lase system for fire supporters. Its features are dramatic improvements over the FIST-V and equate to new capabilities to derive accurate target location at the push of a button–no targeting head to erect, no initialization of targeting systems each time you stop, no additional night sight to install and no challenge getting the ten-digit grid into the digital system.

This article provides an overview of the BFIST system recently fielded first in the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and the lessons learned during BFIST New Equipment Training (NET) and Rotation 01-02 at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, California.

Characteristics. The primary difference between the M2A2/M3A2 Bradley and the M7 BFIST is the mission equipment package (MEP) that allows the FIST to search, locate and identify targets, day or night, with a circular error probable (CEP) of less than 50 meters at a range of five kilometers and a CEP of less than 80 meters at a range of 10 kilometers. The MEP consists of five components, as described in Figure 1. All the components are line-replaceable units (LRUs), allowing FIST operators to replace non-mission capable systems by simply switching out the components.

Operation/Crew Drill. Crew and battle drills for the BFIST for company-level fire supporters are completely new. The BFIST’s targeting apparatus, navigation self-location system and communications platform are all linked digitally. Once the fire supporter in the BFIST’s turret identifies and lases the target, he only has to press a few buttons to F transmit the call-for-fire (CFF) to the shooter.

Additionally, the BFIST’s power-stabilized turret allows the fire supporter to accurately observe targets while the BFIST is moving. This enhances the company FIST’s ability to provide the right fires at the right place and right time–while on the move.

The 3d Division Artillery (Div Arty) developed a crew drill for BFIST CFF based on the elements of the CFF combined with the standard Bradley fire commands from FM 23-1 Bradley Gunnery. See the CFF crew drill in Figure 2.

Once target location is obtained, the target grid is sent to the lightweight computer unit (LCU) where the targeting station operator packages the target description and engagement recommendations. Then he transmits the CFF to the fire support element (FSE). The FSE then sends the cleared CFF to the firing unit.

According to Army training and evaluation program (ARTEP) standards, this process should take 55 seconds; however, division fire supporters have been averaging 20 seconds. The major reduction in the time to complete, transmit and clear a CFF is a direct result of the BFIST’s superb ability to communicate digitally.

Gunnery. The biggest challenges associated with fielding the BFIST were related to gunnery. During the fielding, three basic gunnery issues arose. First, because the system is new, no doctrinal base existed for qualifying BFIST crews.

Second, standard Bradley tables are inadequate and inappropriate to train FISTs. The Bradley tables train infantry crews to engage and destroy the enemy with direct fire, including tube-launched optically tracked, wire-guided missiles (TOW) gunnery and dismounted squad operations. (See Figure 3 for a comparison of M2 Bradley and M7 BFIST tables.)

FISTs need training on mission-essential task list (METL) tasks, including using the BFIST’s 25-mm main gun and 7.62-mm coaxial machine gun primarily for self-defense. The BFIST tables need to follow the doctrinal standard for the Bradley closely but replace all Bradley TOW engagements with fire support engagements. The tables need a two-day and two-night fire support engagement and the 25-mm main gun engagement ranges reduced to reflect the defensive nature of the BFIST.

To address these issues, the 3d Div Arty tested and modified tables developed for BFIST crew qualification by the Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Should the FA School adopt these modified BFIST crew qualification tables, the tables will be forwarded to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, for inclusion in the Bradley gunnery portion of FM 23-1.

The third issue was determining when and how FISTs should conduct BFIST tables. This is the most crucial issue. Each of the division’s direct support (DS) FA battalions executed gunnery during their fire supporters’ NET. For gunnery sustainment training, courses of action being considered include each battalion task force FSE shoots with its supported maneuver battalion, each DS FA battalion conducts gunnery with its supported brigade combat team (BCT), or the FA conducts gunnery in a consolidated program run by the Div Arty.

Integrated Gunnery. The preferred option would be for each task force FSE to integrate gunnery training with its supported maneuver task force. It provides the most contact with supported units at the lowest planning levels, the task force and company-team. The maneuver battalion provides a range officer-in-charge (OIC), a range safety officer (RSO) and a Master Gunner.

This option has merit for several reasons. First, it allows the task force fire support officer (FSO) and FSE to remain linked to the supported task force’s planning cycle. It also allows the company FIST to be close to its company during gunnery.

FISTs supporting armor battalions would have to conduct gunnery with a mechanized infantry battalion. For example, in the case of an armor brigade, one mechanized infantry battalion commander would conduct BFIST gunnery for all nine of the brigade’s company FISTs. The nine extra crews comprise nearly a company-sized element that the mechanized battalion would run through gunnery, in addition to its own Bradley crews. This extends the battalion’s time on the gunnery range by one day.

DS Battalion Gunnery. This option allows the artillery battalion staff to integrate into the BCT’s planning cycle. It also allows the DS FA battalion to integrate into its supported maneuver brigade’s train-up for a rotation to the NTC or an actual deployment. This enables the DS FA battalion to focus gunnery on fire support. The brigade FSE can plan and execute the artillery battalion’s gunnery alongside its supported BCT’s maneuver battalions.

Div Arty Gunnery. The final option, BFIST gunnery conducted by the Div Arty, has several merits. It is the simplest in terms of organizational support and division gun line planning. Each DS battalion has nine BFISTs, and the Div Arty Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (HHB) has the three BFISTs assigned to the division cavalry, for a total of 30 BFISTs. This vehicle density gives the Div Arty the ability to schedule gun line time through the G3 and the division Master Gunner. The combined assets of all the DS battalions would make supporting a Bradley range for 30 Bradleys a simple task.

However, this course of action eliminates synchronization with maneuver. It does not allow the DS battalion operations officer to integrate BFIST gunnery with its supported BCT training cycle.

Additional Gunnery Challenge–Lack of Bradley Expertise. One of the biggest challenges posed by BFIST crew qualification was the lack of infrastructure in the Div Arty to train and validate gunnery. DS FA battalions lack senior NCOs with institutional knowledge of and experience on the Bradley–NCOs who know what “right” looks like. As with a 13B Master Gunner, it takes years to imbue the depth of knowledge and experience the position requires.

In light of this, the Div Arty commander requested the division assign an 11M Bradley Master Gunner to the Div Arty as the BFIST Master Gunner for 18 to 24 months. This time is necessary to build the fire supporters’ base of BFIST gunnery skills and knowledge of maneuver-oriented employment considerations. The only limitation of the 11M Master Gunner is he cannot train the fire support tasks proposed for BFIST qualification tables.

NTC Debut. 1st Brigade, 3d Division, was the first BCT in the Army to fight the BFIST at the NTC. The 1st Brigade’s DS 1-41 FA deployed six of its recently acquired BFISTs to the NTC for the rotation. For the first time, company fire supporters have a vehicle that gives them the same signature, survivability and mobility as the maneuver units they support.

During the 1st BCT’s Marne Focus, the task force FSEs worked with their maneuver counterparts to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to maximize the BFIST’s effectiveness. (Marne Focus is a 14-day combined arms exercise, the final gate before an NTC rotation.)

BFIST Infiltration. TTP developed at Fort Stewart in training and validated through NTC 01-02 enabled the battalion task force and the company-team to reduce the risks of infiltrating a BFIST forward of the forward line of troops (FLOT) to an observation point (OP). This technique allows the maneuver task force to employ its FISTs like combat observation lasing teams (COLTs).

The task force ESO worked with the task force intelligence officer and company FSO, consolidated all reported enemy positions in the task force’s area of operations (AOR) and plotted them on the situation map. Overlaid on these positions were the maximum ranges for the enemy weapon systems identified in the AOR. This, in effect, identified “safe routes” through which FISTs could infiltrate and operate well forward of the FLOT.

Once the location for a BFIST’s OP is identified, the BFIST has two options for conducting the infiltration. The BFIST can infiltrate alone or with a wingman (an M2/M3 Bradley). Both options use procedures similar to emplacing scout teams.

Getting the BFIST forward of the FLOT enables the maneuver battalion task force to use the BFIST’s communications systems and its thermal sight. During the defense, this technique enables fire supporters to observe targets and call-for-fire well forward of company-team battle positions. The BFIST’s thermal sight, in conjunction with its eye-safe laser rangefinder (ELRF), can identify and provide accurate target locations Out to the ELRF’s max range of 9,999 meters. In the past, due to the limitations of the FIST-V, this area was considered out of range for the FISTs.

While COLTs and scouts normally observe named areas of interest (NAIs) and target areas of interest (TAIs) during the reconnaissance/counterreconnaissance phase of the defense, the addition of the company-team FIST contributes to the overall lethality of the task force. Additionally, the BFIST gives the task force commander an additional set of eyes forward of his battle position. This enables him to get an early, accurate picture of the enemy’s situation. The superb clear, thermal sight on the BFIST allows for quick acquisition and identification of both friendly and enemy forces.

Communications Platform. Although the company FIST is “in the hip pocket” of the maneuver company commander, the task force FSE works the FIST’s emplacement. The improved communications of the BFIST over that of the FIST-V speeds up the task force’s situational awareness of the enemy’s course of action so it can react accordingly.

Additionally, for the first time during a CTC battle, a digital CFF originating at the company level was cleared and fired digitally. This ability to process and clear fires in an unbroken digital chain greatly speeds reaction to targets of opportunity during the heat of battle.

In early phases of the battles fought at the NTC, the task force commander or operations officer often talked with the company FSO by voice or digitally to determine what the FIST could see from the OP. The ability to provide instantaneous intelligence and targeting information enables commanders at all levels to make timely decisions based on accurate, current information. This, in turn, allows commanders to fight battles more on their terms than on the enemy’s.

Handheld Terminal Unit (HTU). One comment that resulted from 1-41 FA’s experience at the NTC was the placement of the HTU in the BFIST’s turret. The standing operating procedure (SOP) in 1-41 FA is for both the FSO and fire support NCO to occupy the BFIST’s turret. The FSO, using the target location from the TSCP, clears fires from the graphics on his map board.

With the turret hatch open, the FSO can rest his map board against the turret. When buttoned up, however, the HTU occupies much needed space. Additionally, the readout on the HTU is harder to read and not as bright as the display on the TSCP.

The recommendation is to relocate the HTU to the fire support station (FSS) in the hull of the BFIST. Here the HTU can be used most effectively if the LCU is inoperable.

Doctrinal Changes. The improved lethality and communications of the BFIST allows the FIST to move faster and farther forward, thus setting the conditions for accomplishing the mission. 1-41 FA fire supporters developed several TTP for the BFIST at the NTC. Many of these TTP eventually will be adopted and our manuals updated.

Employment Options for the BFIST. For the FIST-V, there are three options for employment. The first keeps the entire team in the FIST-V. In the second option, the FSO rides in the company commander’s track and the rest of the FIST remains in the FIST-V. The final option calls for the FSO to remain with the company commander and the FIST to act as a task force COLT independent of the company mission. Generally, these methods kept the FSO close to the company commander and the FIST in the company sector, if not in the company formation.

However, the BFIST brings a new set of capabilities to the battlefield. The early infiltration of the BFIST gives the task force commander an additional set of sharp eyes well forward in his sector. It improves the FIST’s ability to see critical triggers and greatly improves the responsiveness of fires. The reinforced relationship with the task force tactical operations center (TOC) shifts the company fire supporters in a BFIST to prefer the COLT-like employment option.

With proper planning, the BFIST can provide its own security on a forward OP. Therefore, the BFIST crew is not limited to the speed of the company’s advance or the shortfalls of its vehicles. If employed well forward of the FLOT, the FIST can focus fires faster in its task force’s sector. This FIST employment is more like a COLT insertion at the BCT level.

FIST Control. The initial draft of FM 3-09.30 TTP for Fire Support for the Battalion Task Force and Below, (which will include the old FM 6-30 Observed Fire) not only contains control options for FOs, but also for company FISTs. (See Figures 4 and 5.) The task force FSE can either consolidate control of the FISTs at the task force level and employ them like task force COLTs or allow the FISTs to remain at the company level. FISTs in the companies perform their standard mission of planning, coordinating and executing fires for their companies.

Consolidating the FISTs at the task force emphasizes top-down, bottom-up fire planning and the mission of the task force as a whole, enabling the task force FSE to position company fire supporters where they can support the task force best.

This creates severe time constraints and, to some degree, limits the FSO’s ability to fully support company mission planning and troop-leading procedures. As time constraints grow shorter and march routes longer, it will become more difficult for the company FSO to stay as tightly integrated into company planning as he had been before. This does not necessitate a rapid shift in the doctrinal application of fire supporters at the task force level and below; however, it does underscore the fact that BFIST technological advances are enabling both fire supporters and maneuver commanders to shape their battle-space more effectively.

Positioning the FSO. An interesting discussion arose about where the FSO should position himself inside the BFIST. Should the FSO be in the turret with the FSNCO, or should he operate the LCU in the FSS? If the FSO is in the turret with the FSNCO, both have greater situational awareness and can cross talk. A fire support specialist sits in the FSS and operates the LCU–which could not be done in the FIST-V’s targeting station.

The second option places the FSO at the FSS where he operates the LCU and a fire support specialist sits in the turret with the FSNCO. By placing the FSO inside the hull of the vehicle, he gains situational awareness of what is happening throughout the digital domain but loses situational awareness of what is happening physically outside the vehicle. Additionally, fire support specialists, with their training, generally are more proficient LCU operators than FSOs.

For the first time, BFIST allows fire supporters the ability to keep pace with the maneuver forces they support. BFIST is a more suitable vehicle for fire supporters to position themselves on the battle-field to execute the maneuver force’s essential fire support tasks (EFSTs).

With the BFIST come new challenges for fire supporters in terms of how-they train and fight. Gunnery and gunnery sustainment training will require particular attention over the next several years as we develop a core of BFIST subject matter experts within the Field Artillery. As units continue to field BFIST and rotate through our Combat Training Centers, BFIST TTP will evolve and be incorporated into our manuals and institutional training.

Lieutenant Colonel James E. Lackey is the Deputy Fire Support Coordinator for the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Stewart, Georgia. He will take command of the 3d Division’s 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery in August. Before his assignment to Fort Stewart, he served as a Battalion and Brigade S3 for the 17th Field Artillery Brigade, III Corps Artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. During Operations Desert Shield and Storm, he was a Task Force Fire Support Officer in the 1st Armored Division.

Captain Dean J. Case II is the Assistant Fire Support Coordinator for the 3d Infantry Division Fire Support Element at Fort Stewart. He also has served as a Fire Direction Officer, Ammunition Platoon Leader and Reconnaissance and Survey Officer for the 3d Battalion, 321st Field Artillery, 18th Field Artillery Brigade, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and as an Ammunition Platoon Leader in the 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery, 2d Infantry Division in Korea.

First Lieutenant George L. Woods is a Fire Support Officer for B Troop, 3d Squadron, 7th Cavalry in 3d Infantry Division at Fort Stewart. He was the division Officer-in-Charge of the first iteration of the Bradley Fire Support Team (BFIST) New Equipment Training. He served as a Paladin Platoon Fire Direction Officer and Paladin Platoon Leader, also in the 3d Division. Lieutenant Woods is a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point with a degree in international politics.

Comparison of the M2 Bradley

(Infantry) and M7 BFIST (Fire

Support) Tables

Table Title M2/M3 Bradley Table

I Crew Device Training UCOFT

II Crew Proficiency Course No Live Fire

II Section Training Bradley Pairs

IV Platoon Training Bradley Platoon Dismounts

V Crew Practice 1 First Live-Fire Sub-Caliber

VI Crew Practice 2 First 25-mm Ammunition

VII Crew Practice 3 First HE/AP Ammunition

VIII [*] Crew Qualification Crew Qualification

IX Scout Team Training Cavalry Dry Run for Qualification

X Scout Team Qualification Cavalry Dry Run for Qualification

XI Platoon Training Dry Run for Qualification

XII Platoon Qualification Platoon Qualification

Table M7 BFIST Table (Proposed)

I No change.

II Replace TOW shots with two fire support


II Not applicable to BFIST.

IV Not applicable to BFIST.

V Replace TOW shots with two fire support


VI 25-mm ranges reduced to reflect def nature.

VII 25-mm ranges reduced to reflect def nature.

VIII [*] Must get a “T/P” on all fire support engagements.

IX Crew stays in BFIST and processes CFF.

X Crew stays in BFIST and processes CFF.

XI Crew stays in BFIST and processes CFF.

XII Crew stays in BFIST and processes CFF.

(*.)Required within 90 days for

live fire at the Combat Training

Centers (CTCs).

Legend: CFF = Call-for-Fire

Def = Defense

HE/AP = High Explosive/Anti-Personnel

TOW = Tube-Launched, Optically Tracked,

Wire-Guided Missile

T/P = Trained/Practice

UCOFT = Unit Conduct of Fire Trainer

(Tank Gunnery)

Forward Observer (FO) Control Options

Option Description

1. Decentralized The fire support team (FIST) may call-for-fire

from fire support assets available to support

the operation. This option gives the commander

the most responsive fires; however, it allows

the FIST the least amount of control. Because

the FO is allowed to determine which asset

should engage each target, this option

generally requires a highly trained observer

and company/team fire support officer(FSO).

2. Pre-Designated The FO is assigned a particular

fire support asset from, which he may

request fire support, and he operates on

that unit’s net. If the FO thinks his target

should be engaged with a different fire support

asset, he must request permission from the

FIST headquarters to change assets.

Permission is granted on a mission-by-mission

basis. Under this option, fire support is

highly responsive if the asset is suitable

for the type of target.

3. Centralized The FO must contact the FIST headquarters for

each call-for-fire. The FIST headquarters refers

the observers or relays his request to an

appropriate fire support asset. This option

is least responsive for the observer, but

it offers the highest degree of control to

the FIST headquarters. This option generally

is used when maneuver personnel are observers

for their platoons.

Fire Support Team (FIST) Control Options

Option Description

1. Decentralized Consolidate FISTs at the battalion

task force level to maximize the

task force commander’s ability to

influence the battle at a critical

time and place. Company commanders

retain access to fire support

expertise in the planning process

while the FISTs are centralized

2. Centralized FIST assets remain at the company

for the fire support planning,

coordination and execution.

Five Components of the BFIST Mission Equipment Package (MEP)

1. Inertial Navigation System (INS). This component blends global positioning system (GPS) and inertial solutions for vehicle locations, even while on the move.

2. Mission Processing Unit (MPU). The BFIST’s brain is the MPU. It manages the computers and controls the data flow in the MEP system. Additionally, it provides self-location by performing digital resectioning using the eye-safe laser rangefinder (ELRF) and a known point. (The ELRF is part of the integrated sight unit, or ISU, which is common to both the Bradley and BFIST. The ISU is the primary targeting apparatus for both observed fire and the BFIST’s main gun.)

3. Fire Support Station (FSS). This is the primary digital communications link between the BFIST and the fire support net. It consists of a lightweight computer unit (LCU) with forward observer software (FOS), map board, radio interface and fire support operators workstation.

4. Targeting Station Control Panel (TSCP). The TSCP allows the vehicle commander to relay data to the FSS’ LCU. It also controls the position determination systems of the BFIST and, as a navigational aid, can store up to 99 waypoints.

5. Ground-Vehicular Laser Locator Designator (G/VLLD). The version of the G/VLLD on the BFIST is the one used for dismounted operations. The ELRF cannot designate targets for precision-guided munitions (PGMs). The G/VLLD, stored in the troop compartment, must be dismounted to designate a target for PGMs.

BFIST Call-for-Fire (CFF) Crew Drill

1. Vehicle Commander (VC) identifies target: “Gunner, DPICM [dual-purpose improved conventional munitions], three T-72 [tanks], direction 5000.”

2. Gunner (G) slews turret and identifies target in sight: “Identified, lasing.”

3. Fire Support Station Operator (FSSO) opens up a call-for-fire (OFF) message on the lightweight computer unit (LCU).

4. VC as the target grid appears on the targeting station control panel (TSCP), he checks the grid: “Sending to LCU.”

5. FSSO as the target grid appears on CFF message, he checks the grid on the map board and transmits CFF to higher: “OFF sent.”

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