Baumholder, Rhineland-Palatinate, 3 April 2017
The Munster-based artillery will be providing Germany’s contribution to the multinational artillery battalion of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) in 2019. In early February 2017, the Baumholder training area saw the first exercise held in preparation for national certification, which is to be achieved this year. This was the first time Lieutenant Colonel Volker Lorenz, commander of 325 Artillery Demonstration Battalion, had the chance to train with his battalion in the VJTF format.
The German VJTF contribution includes battalion command and control, a reconnaissance battery, a mark II MLRS and a PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer armoured artillery battery, which will be reinforced with a Norwegian M109 armoured artillery battery, a Belgian M105 field artillery battery and Dutch PzH 2000 armoured artillery battery, each including fire support and logistics staff.
A challenge for everyone
325 Artillery Demonstration Battalion was to train its artillery capabilities for a NATO Article 5 operation under the most realistic and demanding conditions possible. Among the highlights of this training were a march from Munster to Baumholder, the first flight of a target acquisition drone and the launch of Tornado fighter jets during the field exercise.
The exercise consisted of a number of training segments spread over the course of two weeks. Higher command and situation display were simulated by a training cell at the HICON exercise control headquarters. Part of one layer of logistics support was assured by 131 Logistic Support Battalion, which ran a maintenance point.
325 Artillery Demonstration Battalion operated from a combat centre embedded in the fixed logistic installations, from where it commanded the batteries via their mobile headquarters. The gun battery consisted of two PzH 2000 platoons and a joint fire support platoon and specifically practised fire support for combat troops as well as fighting targets in the rear of the zone of operations.
The rocket battery trained with scatterable minefields and different munitions for accurately attacking high-value targets over long distances. Both methods were simulated using110‑millimetre missiles.
The reconnaissance battery was able to demonstrate all of its capabilities in the training area. Sound ranging systems, the COBRA artillery counter battery radar and target acquisition drones as well as the meteorological platoon were available to support the firing units. For the first time, the rear command post was able to include all support and logistic elements of the unit under realistic conditions.
On 29 January, all the tracked vehicles and the two Fuchs transport vehicles which participated in the exercise were loaded onto a train. The battalion’s wheeled vehicles left in three convoy serials on 30 January and reached the Baumholder training area one day later, together with the train transport. Once arrived, all tracked vehicles were unloaded and prepared for the exercise by their crews while the reconnaissance team scouted the batteries’ positions. After command and control as well as firing capability had been established everywhere, the troops intensively practised the interplay of all forces, changing position, moving to alternative defensive emplacements and using all their weapons and reconnaissance tools according to the developing situation.
One highlight of this training segment was the first flight of one of the unit’s target acquisition drones. The drones’ platoon and their maintenance and supply group had begun preparing for this exercise in September 2016, contemplating and finding solutions to all possible uncertainties until the first target acquisition drone was ready to be launched on 3 February 2017.
At the end of the week, a lot of experience had been gained and new lessons learned. These impressions were then evaluated and used to inform improvements in the next training segment.
Exercising with close air support
In the next training segment, processes and procedures were practised at considerably higher intensity. What made this segment special was that the Air Force provided close air support. PC-9 and A4 Skyhawk aircraft as well as a Learjet were involved in the training. In addition, Tornado fighter bombers of 33 Tactical Air Wing from Büchel practised releasing 250‑kilogramme type 25E Matra blast bombs. This allowed the joint terminal attack controllers to practise their procedures and measure their success when fighting enemies with fighter bombers. The large number of systems used in the air while the battle was developing on the ground made it necessary to give special attention to airspace command and control. All forces in the air had to be precisely coordinated to avoid entanglements.
Leadership training helps develop confidence in one’s actions
At the same time, the 4th battery of 325 Artillery Demonstration Battalion together with a mortar platoon of 91 Light Infantry Battalion provided leadership training for 41 Armoured Infantry Brigade. The participating soldiers were trained in the observer-target line procedure, which is used to request fire support without joint fire support forces in exceptional circumstances. In this procedure, the commander on the ground directly requests fire support via radio from the fire control sergeant, who then instructs the gun commanders or mortar teams to fire. Exercises conducted at the combat training centre showed that this procedure is becoming more and more necessary in increasingly more dynamic and intensive types of operations. It must therefore be practised thoroughly. The firing exercise of the 4th battery also served as a real target for the VJTF’s reconnaissance systems.
During the entire exercise, the support and logistic elements gained extensive experience with regard to procedures and the capacity of individual systems. One particular challenge was providing rations to 650 soldiers who were spread out over the entire training area and, depending on their particular situation, had to eat without leaving their positions. Three field kitchens, one refrigerated container, one cleaning container and further equipment were need to prepare the rations following strict hygiene rules before they were distributed by the sergeants in a very time-consuming operation. It was clear that detailed planning and practice is required if rations are to be prepared in line with hygiene standards and delivered to soldiers’ positions.
Before 325 Artillery Demonstration Battalion enters the stand-by phase in 2019, several further training segments must be completed. Cooperating more closely with the multinational partners will be the most exciting and challenging part.
This is a translation of an article by Nico Birkholz published on www.bundeswehr.de