FORT SILL, Okla. — One document. Two signatures. Two nations working together to fight as one artillery force. The United States Army signed a memorandum of understanding May 4, to work toward common goals with the British Army.
Maj. Gen. Brian McKiernan, Fires Center of Excellence commanding general, and Brig. Simon Humphrey, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Headquarters Army, Head of Capability Combat Support, signed the document before heading into the last day of the Fires Conference at Fort Sill, Okla.
The bilateral vision statement was originally created in 2013 by the chief of staff of the Army and signed in 2014. This was the first review of the unifying document after it was updated in June.
“There’s no egos involved in this, it’s just warfighting and how do we do it best together,” said Col. Heyward Hutson, Field Artillery School assistant commandant.
British leaders visited the Fires Center of Excellence to discuss interoperability goals and issues within the respective armies.
“There’s a lot of exciting changes in the fires world. From structural changes, [divisional artillery] and development, to the move back to fighting in divisional fire, deep battle. We’re doing exactly the same in the U.K.,” said Col. Mark Pullan, British Army Headquarters, Combat Support Capability Branch Joint Effects.
“We’re all resource constrained, whether that is money, people, or time because the enemy has a vote and time isn’t a luxury we have in many cases. If we can identify where our needs are common and we can exploit those commonalities, that will make us better in the future,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas Sargent, Army Targeting Center, Joint Integration chief.
Different areas of thought were dissected as to how the armies could take advantage of current cross-training opportunities and capabilities, fix gaps in interoperability and ensure those gaps remain closed going forward.
“All of it will come down to training at some point, but you have to understand the aiming point of where you want to get to before you can figure out how to get there,” said Pullan.
“From the U.S. perspective, the aspiration from both sides of the Atlantic is to have achieved an integrated state in the relationships with a brigade into division, division into core by 2025,” said Sargent.
The British force is also trying to get away from relying on U.S. liaison officers to bridge technical and procedural gaps when the two armies are working together.
“The nirvana of NATO is we do everything together. We have standards and work to those standards,” said Pullan. He added each country has industrial or fiscal restraints and therefore to equalize capabilities, one country has to take on more of the burden.
“The Americans are paying out in people just to do something that’s about exchanging data. It’s helpful having the liaison teams there because they’re really capable individuals who do a brilliant job, but it’s a hugely inefficient way to do business,” said Pullan.
Currently the U.S. and the U.K. have similar rules of engagement and intelligence sharing agreements are broad and less restrictive compared to those with other NATO allies.
“In terms of classification, we are more open with the Brits than we are with many other countries. That causes less friction when you’re trying to get to a specific mission, or operation all the way up to strategic objectives,” said Hutson.
Hutson added that working with the British Army is the closest to “plug-and-play” as far as joining forces. He said the similarities between the two forces offer a sense of dependability.
“At least in my career, my lifetime, that reliability has never faltered with the U.K. It’s never been in question. That’s important when you look at what goes on globally,” said Hutson. “Our strategic interests are the same. We work hand-in-hand.”
Hutson said a good part of that trust begins with foundational training. For example, the U.K. has signed the joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) memorandum of agreement and therefore is mandated from a U.S. Joint Staff perspective to train to common standards.
Maj. Paul Lester, British Artillery School, Joint Fires Branch senior instructor, completed Fort Sill’s Joint Forward Observer Course May 4, to see if and how that training can be used for U.K. soldiers.
“There’s clear value. The JFO course offers a more refined training model than a JTAC, which offers many advantages in time and money. A JFO can remain current using simulators whereas a JTAC has a live requirement. So there are some real attractions there,” said Lester.
The JFO course is being viewed as a possible complementary capability to their current JTACs and as a progression from JTAC signalers to the higher-skilled JTACs.
Lester said before implementing any changes there are rippling effects to consider in training and doctrine to materiel support to retain the JFO skill.
Capt. James Hayes, JFO Program manager, said when coalition partners train alongside U.S. Soldiers, “It’s like you’re working with anyone else. It’s easier to integrate them into battle.”
The talks ended with the signing of the MOU, but Hutson said the cross pollination of the two forces will remain constant and consistent in the future.
“Because we are so similar, the sharing of ideas, the sharing of capabilities, capability gaps is extremely important as we move forward in a unified effort,” said Hutson.