After graduating high school about 20 or so years ago, I spent my summer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma learning how to fire an M109 Self-Propelled Howitzer.
The rush of sending a 95-pound high-explosive shell a couple of miles down range is unlike anything I’ve experienced since then. But, in doing so, I also gained an appreciation for the work done by forward observers (FOs).
Forward observers are the brave souls that go out ahead of the field artillery for relaying target coordinates. Their roles are difficult, dangerous, and crucial for overall battlefield success. However, the targeting systems they utilize present two primary challenges.
First, they’re heavy – upwards of 35 pounds. Second, their accuracy usually calls for a couple of rounds to drop before the exact coordinates of the target can be pinpointed and relayed back to the gun. However, the Army feels their new Joint Effects Targeting System (JETS) could be a game-changer in transitioning the accuracy of these 25-ton howitzers to resemble a giant sniper rifle essentially.
The handheld JETS devices weigh less than six pounds and utilize an embedded thermal imager so it can be used at night or day and in any weather. Additionally, a specialized GPS is enhanced with a built-in celestial compass that takes readings from the sun during the day and stars at night. Furthermore, a Precision Azimuth and Vertical Angle Module uses the spin of the earth to ensure even more accurate targeting.
These enhancements have led to an accuracy of within 15 feet when addressing targets up to three miles away and require fewer equipment confirmations when determining aiming points. The key takeaway is that the forward observer is more accurate, which means fewer shells need to be used, and the FO can move out more quickly.
The Army awarded a $339 million contract to DRS Technologies, which is now Leonardo DRS, in September 2016. The Army Times reports that JETS should be made available later this year.