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A military artillery observer, spotter or FO (forward observer) is responsible for directing artillery and mortar fire onto a target and may be a Forward Air Controller (FAC) for close air support and spotter for naval gunfire support. Also known as Fire Support Specialist or FISTer, an artillery observer usually accompanies a tank or infantry manoeuvre unit. Spotters ensure that indirect fire hits targets which the troops at the fire support base cannot see.

Because artillery is an indirect fire weapon system, the guns are rarely in line-of-sight of their target, often located miles away.[1] The observer serves as the eyes of the guns, by sending target locations and if necessary corrections to the fall of shot, usually by radio.

More recently a mission controller for an Army Unmanned Air System (UAS) may also perform this function, and some armies use special artillery patrols behind the enemy's forward elements.

Broadly, there are two very different approaches to artillery observation. Either the observer has command authority and orders fire, including the type and amount of ammunition to be fired, to batteries. Or the observer requests fire from an artillery headquarters at some level, which decides if fire will be provided, by which batteries, and the type and amount of ammunition to be provided. The first is characterised by the British, the second by the United States. In World War II both Germany and the Soviet Union tended towards the British method.

In the US System the observer sends a request for fire, usually to his battalion or battery Fire Direction Center (FDC). The FDC then decides how much fire to permit and may request additional fire from a higher artillery headquarters. FDC(s) convert the observer's target information into firing data for the battery's weapons.

In the British system the observer sends a fire order to his own and any other batteries authorised to them, and may request fire from additional batteries. Each battery command post converts the fire orders into firing data for its own guns. Until post-World War II the observer would usually order actual firing data to the guns of his own troop, this was enabled by the use of calibrating sights on the guns.[citation needed]

Artillery observers are considered high-priority targets by enemy forces,[citation needed] as they control a great amount of firepower, are within visual range of the enemy, and may be located within enemy territory.

Artillery Observer in observation post

Generally FOOs were assigned to a company or squadron of a battalion or regiment that their battery was supporting

Generally FOOs were assigned to a company or squadron of a battalion or regiment that their battery was supporting. In the British artillery system FOOs were always[citation needed] authorised to order fire commands to their own troop or battery, based on their assessment of the tactical situation and if necessary liaison with the supported arm commander.

From mid World War II some artillery observers were authorised to order fire to all batteries of their regiment, it also became the practice for some observers to be designated 'Commander's Representative' able to order fire to a divisional or corps artillery. Unauthorised officers could request fire from more than their own battery. During that war it also became the practice that FOOs[citation needed] arranged quick fireplans comprising several coordinated targets engaged by guns and mortars to support short offensive actions by the squadron or company they were with.

In World War II OP/FOO parties were normally mounted in an armoured carrier, although those assigned to support armoured brigades usually had a tank - initially a Stuart but in NW Europe usually a Sherman[citation needed]. Tanks continued to be used by some observers until about 1975. In 2002From mid World War II some artillery observers were authorised to order fire to all batteries of their regiment, it also became the practice for some observers to be designated 'Commander's Representative' able to order fire to a divisional or corps artillery. Unauthorised officers could request fire from more than their own battery. During that war it also became the practice that FOOs[citation needed] arranged quick fireplans comprising several coordinated targets engaged by guns and mortars to support short offensive actions by the squadron or company they were with.

In World War II OP/FOO parties were normally mounted in an armoured carrier, although those assigned to support armoured brigades usually had a tank - initially a Stuart but in NW Europe usually a Sherman[citation needed]. Tanks continued to be used by some observers until about 1975. In 2002[citation needed] the British Army adopted the term Fire Support Team (FST) for its observation parties, including FACs under control of the artillery officer commanding the FST.

A functionally similar title is "MFC" (Mortar Fire Controller). An MFC is an infantry NCO who is part of his battalion's mortar platoon. He controls platoon's fire in the same way as an FOO. The introduction of FSTs places MFCs under tactical control of the FST commander.

Training, enabled by simulators, allows most soldiers to observe artillery fire, which has long been possible via a FOO.

Air Observation Post