The Forward Observer

Posted May 8th, 2011 by OldWarrior

The Forward Observer arguably has the most dangerous job in the Army. The FO is normally an artillery soldier who has been trained in the techniques of observation. He is also known as a spotter because he is the actual eyes on the ground who sees the artillery or bombs land on the target and makes the necessary adjustments or calls in the corrections needed to get better effects on the target. A good observer will also pass along good intelligence to his superiors. He will be trained in the enemy’s tactics and operational procedures so that he knows what to expect when he sees certain vehicles or equipment on the battlefield. For example if he sees a certain type of escort vehicle he will have a very good idea of the types of vehicles which move around with it on the battlefield and where they should be positioned in relation to that vehicle.

So if he sees a utility vehicle he knows that there should be a command vehicle located within a certain distance and in a certain direction. The good observer will wait until he sees the more important vehicle and attempt to destroy it first. If you can destroy the command and control elements of the enemy you will reap greater benefits than if you destroy escort vehicles.

The forward observer has the lowest life expectancy of any troop on the modern battlefield because he is so dangerous to the enemy. The enemy force wants to eliminate him as early as possible because he controls such a great amount of firepower. The forward observer by far is the one person who causes the most destruction on the modern battlefield. He controls bombers, artillery, naval gunfire, mortars, and other fighter aircraft. If you can eliminate him you eliminate a major migrane headache. Enemy troops, intelligence and observers are trained to find him as soon as possible and pin point his location so that he can be eliminated. Once he has been located thy will use every available weapon to eliminate him.

One way that he is located is by his electronic signature. Because he has to be able to communicate with several different agencies he usually has to monitor several radios at the same time. He also has to utilize digital and laser equipment to send information and pinpoint his targets.

In the cold war days the observer had to manually determine information that laser designators and GPS equipment determines on the modern battlefield. The observer has to be technically proficient on this new equipment but he doesn’t have to be as proficient in analyzing map data and terrain to determine the exact target location. The modern observer is far more deadly because the new technology gives him the greatest possible speed and accuracy. Human error accounted for misses and near misses in the past. Modern technology virtually eliminates these misses. It also eliminates the human error which has caused many unnecessary friendly deaths in the past.

The good forward observer knows that he is the eyes and ears of the commander. He knows the intelligence that he needs to pass along and will do it. The enemy will use such things as smoke to effectively blind the observer so that he can advance without being seen.

One way to think of the forward observer is as a sniper who uses heavy hitting weapons rather than a rifle to do his work. The commander will try to place the observer in the position where he can see all or most of the battlefield. The enemy knows this also and will usually focus on the high ground when he is attempting to locate the forward observer.

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