Last Updated: 08 August, 2016
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, usually known as the Royal Artillery, currently has two Batteries allocated to the observation role:
- 4/73 (Sphinx) Special Observation Post Battery; and
- 148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery.
4/73 (Sphinx) Special Observation Post Battery provides the British Army’s Surveillance and Target Acquisition capability and 148 Commando Forward Observation Battery provides the Royal Naval Service’s (Royal Navy and Royal Marines) fire support capability.
This focus of this article, 148 (Meiktila) Forward Observation Battery, 148 Battery, which is based at Poole in Dorset alongside the Special Boat Service (SBS), is one of five batteries that form 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery which is based in Plymouth.
This article is divided into three sections for easier reading, starting with Section One which provides a brief introduction, gender, background and role. Section Two provides a brief outline of the eligibility and training for the battery whilst Section Three provides information on useful links and documents.
1.1 Women and the Fire Support Role
In accordance with current Government policy on the employment of women in the UK military, service in a Fire Support role is only open to male volunteers. However, appointments do exist for women in support roles such as Human Resources.
On 08 July 2016, the MOD announced that all Ground Close Combat Roles (RAC, Infantry, Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment) would be opened to women by 2018 (British Army, 2016).
148 Battery was formed in India in 1842 as S Company, 2nd Battalion of the Bengal Artillery. In 1861 the battery became part of the Field Artillery and in 1900 was renamed as 59 Battery Royal Artillery. Whilst in India the battery fought in the first Sikh War, the Indian Mutiny and the battles of the North West Frontier. During the First World War, the battery fought in France and Belgium.
The battery, commanded by a Major (OF-3), has eight 6-man Fire Support Teams (FSTs) commanded by Royal Artillery Captains (OF-2), which can split into two 3-man teams. As in the Falklands War, they deploy with the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) on operations, and have played major roles in all recent operations. They share the SBSs base at Royal Marines Poole in Dorset.
148 Battery’s FSTs (formerly known as Forward Observation parties) comprise gunners of the Royal Artillery, who are already qualified members of the 29 Regiment when posted into the battery, augmented by Royal Navy communications personnel (signallers) who are required to undergo the All Arms Commando Course (AACC). All personnel within the battery are also parachute trained (i.e. have completed the Basic Parachute Course but not necessarily attended the All Arms Pre-Parachute Selection Course (aka P Company)).
A typical FST will include:
- Royal Artillery Captain (or Sergeant): Patrol Commander
- Bombardier: Patrol 2IC
- Royal Navy signaller: Communications
- Lance Bombardier: Patrol member
- Gunner (1 or 2): Patrol member
The battery is supported by a Battery Fitter Section from 29 Regiment’s attached Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) Workshop, whose members are also AACC qualified. Each team has the ability to patrol in all terrains and climates and to recognise all types of armoured fighting vehicles and aircraft. Each team also has an integral medical capability and each team member is trained in survival skills and resistance to interrogation.
148 Battery also provide support to the Royal Navy’s Subsunk Parachute Assistance Group, better known as SPAG.
Finally, 148 Battery is unique in that it contains both Army and Naval personnel.
The role of 148 Battery is to conduct reconnaissance and bring down fire deep behind enemy lines through FSTs who control and co-ordinate (Navy News, 2013):
- Naval fires from Royal Navy and allied ships through:
- Naval gunfire support.
- Air Strikes (i.e. naval air delivered guided/unguided munitions).
- Royal Marines’ artillery support from the gun batteries of 29 Regiment when ashore in support of 3 Commando Brigade through:
- Land based air delivered munitions.
- Artillery fire.
- Close air support strikes by Apache gunships, artillery, mortar and multiple rocket barrages.
In support of this role, the battery provides FSTs to the Royal Navy when conducting training on a variety of gunnery ranges around the world.
FSTs are expected to be able to carry out this role after being inserted by parachute, submarine, helicopter, boat, vehicle, skis or on foot.
2.0 148 Battery Selection and Training
To be eligible for a posting with 148 Battery personnel must attend and successfully compete the following courses (usually completed in this order):
As well as Army personnel, the Battery looks for ratings of all ranks from Chief Petty Officer (CPO) to Able Seaman One (AB1).
A 10-day aptitude course provides aspirants with an insight into the rigours of being a Fire Support team member and also gives assessors an insight into what candidates are made of.
After a week around RM Poole, the course moves on to Dartmoor, where the volunteers have to yomp (loaded march), read maps and navigate, take part in section attacks, abseil, and live in the field – irrespective of the weather.
Candidates will also discover the art of camouflage and put this into practice on a close target reconnaissance (CTR) mission of an enemy position as part of the final exercise in the second week.
2.3 Initial Training
After the aptitude and unless already Observation Post qualified, candidates will undergo six months of basic Gunnery Control training and Observation Post operations. Candidates are trained in infiltration and exfiltration, covert observation, target identification and location, voice and data communications, adjusting gunfire from both afloat and ashore, and Forward Air Control (FAC) techniques.
Upon completion of the course candidates will be assigned to a FST team for a probationary period.
Once the probationary period has been completed, candidates may then be selected to undergo further amphibious training beyond that of the AACC. During amphibious training, personnel are trained in over-water parachute infiltration.
Training is also conducted in Small/Fast Boat Coxswains; Small/Fast Boat operations and long-range surface navigation. Much of the training is conducted at night as this is the preferred time for covert infiltration and exfiltration.
One team member (the team medic) will also be trained as a combat medical technician (CMT) with additional medical training in (Battlefield Advanced Trauma Life Support (BATLS) and Battlefield Advanced Resuscitation (BAR) skills.
The unit conducts training in various exercises and climates including Mountain and Arctic, Jungle, Desert and temperate; regularly deploying with the Royal Marines to Norway for annual cold weather warfare training and to Belize for jungle warfare training.
Given the similar skill sets there is a level of training with the US Marine Corps Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) and Netherlands Marine Corps Marine Joint Effects Observer Groups to standardise procedures to assure interoperability.
2.5 Course Dates
Details of all courses covered in this article are published annually in the relevant DIN (2012DIN01-231) or Royal Naval Memorandum (RNTM 072/13); seek latest versions. Alternatively course dates can be obtained from the CPO, 148 Battery (3CDOX-29CDO 148BTY CPO CIS via DII).
3.1 Recruitment and Retention Pay (Parachute)
The regulations for Recruitment and Retention Pay (Parachute) (RRP (Para)), previously known as additional pay or Specialist Pay (Parachute), are laid down in JSP 754 Tri-Service Regulations for Pay and Charges Chapter 6 Section 10. Basic Parachute Course qualified personnel filling appropriately annotated posts will be paid at the basic rate of RRP (Para).
3.2 Useful Documents
- BR3, Part 7, Chapter 60: Specific Types of Assignment, Section 6039.
3.3 Useful Links
- Filmed by the BBC (in 2013) for the series COAST at Cape Wrath, Scotland during a co-ordinated fire support exercise by members of 148 Commando Forward Observation Battery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NordY2RlNew
Navy News (2013) Elite Unit Seeks Fresh Blood to Direct Guns of the Fleet and Royal Marines. Available from World Wide Web: https://navynews.co.uk/archive/news/item/8205. [Accessed: 17 September, 2014].
British Army (2016) Ground Close Combat Roles Open To Women. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.army.mod.uk/news/28632.aspx. [Accessed: 08 August, 2016].