U.S. Army forward observers, who specialize in calling for and directing ordnance like artillery and mortar fire, began testing a new piece of equipment last week that may help paratroopers coordinate fire in an easier, and more accurate, way than ever before.

The Army tasked “Black Falcon” paratroopers from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment with testing its new Joint Effects Targeting System, or JETS, last week, which is a hand-held, modular target observation, location and designation system.  The JETS device includes a handheld module, a laser marker module, and a precision azimuth vertical angle module, all mounted atop a tripod.

If the JETS system proves capable, it will allow a single Soldier or Marine to carry and operate the system, allowing for faster target acquisition, and when coupled with new precision guided munitions, highly accurate strikes on enemy targets.  In short, the JETS system hopes to bring down artillery and mortar fire on the bad guy faster and more accurately than ever before.

The JETS will be in the hands of that forward observer with the maneuver element and closer to the fight,” Maj. Rob Heatherly, the assistant product manager for JETS for Product Manager Soldier Precision Targeting Devices, said. “They don’t need the great range as much as they need precision targeting and quick response.”

The JETS system, if adopted, would replace the Army’s current Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder, or LLDR, which can perform all of the same functions offered by the JETS setup, but at a hearty 35 pounds, as compared to the JETS’ target module, which tips the scales at only 5.5 pounds.  The full JETS tripod set up weight was not released in the Army’s press release, but they were clear that it still clocks in at well below the LLDR’s carry weight.  The LLDR, however, offers a longer range in exchange for the additional weight, meaning it would likely continue service in static overwatch locations, even if the Army decides to move forward with the JETS project.

Army paratroopers test new handheld targeting system for faster, more accurate mortar and artillery fire
Maj. Rob Heatherly holds the new Joint Effects Targeting System, or JETS, in his hand as he stands beside the larger Laser Designator Rangefinder, or LLDR.

The “Black Falcon” forward observer paratroopers put the JETS equipment through its paces in a number of exercises designed to simulate combat operations last week, allowing the soldiers an opportunity not only to see how well the gear holds up in realistic scenarios, but also the important chance to provide feedback on how the system functions, and if there are any changes that could improve its performance for the end user.

“Operational testing provides soldiers the opportunity to use, work with and offer up their suggestions on pieces of equipment that can impact development of systems that future soldiers will use in combat,” said Army Col. Brad Mock, the director of Army Airborne testing.

Army paratroopers test new handheld targeting system for faster, more accurate mortar and artillery fire
Army Pvt. 1st Class Preshelemiah Hitgano sets up the Joint Effects Targeting System — JETS — to check that it functions during recent airdrop testing at Fort Bragg, N.C.

All together, Black Falcon paratroopers took the JETS setup with them on seven combat equipment jumps, as well as several more door-bundle drops.  Although the soldiers will carry and set up the JETS equipment on the ground, it was important to put them through the drops to ensure the equipment can sustain the repeated impact of paratrooper combat operations.