Training lethality through cavalry squadron gunnery.
As a Stryker reconnaissance squadron with a unique assortment of troops, developing a gunnery training plan for a variation of units and vehicle types was a challenge. Despite the planning difficulties and harsh Bavarian winter weather, the Saber Squadron executed its first "to-standard" squadron gunnery in more than three years at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany from 16 February to 4 March 2012. Thanks to a solid pre-gunnery train-up, in-depth staff planning and a sound concept of support, the gunnery provided a solid foundation for future advanced training events.
The 4th Squadron currently consists of three reconnaissance troops; an anti-armor troop with tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) anti-tank guided missile launchers; an engineer troop; and a headquarters troop with Military Police, support, and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear) reconnaissance platoons. With a wide variety of platforms that include seven Stryker variants--command vehicle (CV), nuclear biological chemical reconnaissance vehicle (NBCRV), reconnaissance vehicle (RV), anti-tank guided missile vehicle (ATGM), fire support vehicle (FSV), mortar carrier vehicle (MCV), and engineer squad vehicle (ESV), some with and most without stabilized remote weapon systems (RWS)--finding the right gunnery manual was the first challenge.
The Stryker Master Trainer Course uses both Field Manual (FM) 3-20.21, Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT) Gunnery, and FM 3-22.3, Stryker Gunnery. After careful consideration, the Saber Squadron deliberately selected FM 3-20.21 as the governing document for our gunnery density, as it was best suited for the vehicle density within the squadron. Additionally, it met the commander's guidance for developing a standardized process to ensure crews met a "gated approach" to qualification, meaning crews had to successfully pass one gunnery table before progressing to the next table. With 44 vehicles having unstabilized weapons systems, Chapter 17's exclusive focus on unstabilized gunnery was key, and with some small modifications it was suitable for almost all of the squadron's vehicle variants except the ATGM. For the ATGM, the Stryker Brigade Combat Team Anti-Armor Company and Platoon Leader's Handbook (ST 3-22.6, dated June 2009) was utilized. Crew stability was a concern due to the unit's location in the ARFORGEN cycle, so troops attempted to build crews with stability through the October 2011 Combat Training Center exercise at Hohenfels. We also understood that we would need to re-execute another gunnery density prior to the evaluated November squadron-level live fire due to key personnel turnover.
The first step in qualifying crews was individual training, as specified by the gunnery training program outlined in Chapter 14 of FM 3-20.21. Commonly known as gunnery skills testing, the purpose of this training is to familiarize and then test the trooper's competence with the three weapons found throughout the formation--the MK19 40mm grenade machine gun, M2 heavy barrel (HB) .50 caliber machine gun, and M240B machine gun. Testing was conducted across the squadron over a three-day period in a round-robin style with squadron-level certified evaluators/instructors. In accordance with the squadron commander's "gated approach" training guidance, crews were required to pass each station prior to moving to the next phase of pre-gunnery training.
Using the truck tasks listed in Chapter 14, each trooper needed to clear, disassemble, assemble, and perform functions check; load and perform immediate action; and identify a weapon malfunction and take action on his assigned weapon system(s). Also included in this testing was Common Task 1, Recognition of Combat Vehicles (ROC-V). A benefit of being forward-deployed in Germany with many former Eastern Bloc nations training at the Grafenwoehr Training Complex is that Saber troopers inherently operate in a multinational environment, which requires careful study of foreign vehicles as many of the NATO partners employ former Soviet/Russian equipment. Lastly, we conducted extensive remedial training immediately with certified instructors for any "NO GOs," and when ready those troopers were retested.
The next step in our gated approach was digital gunnery. Since there is no unit conduct-of-fire trainer (UCOFT) for the Stryker, training was primarily conducted using Virtual Battle Space 2 (VBS2), augmented by the Close Combat Tactical Trainer (CCTT). This digital training provided crews (drivers, gunners, and vehicle commanders [VCs]) the opportunity to progress in a simulated environment on the same range that they would later actually conduct live-fire gunnery on in Tables III-VI. While the act of firing a MK19 or M2HB on a computer with a mouse click is immensely different from depressing the butterflies in real life, the opportunity to conduct berm drills, fire commands, spot and adjust indirect fire, and identify targets in simulation immensely increased crew cohesion and was the first opportunity for many of the new troopers to see what gunnery would encompass.
Vehicle crew evaluator (VCE) training was conducted simultaneously to digital gunnery. The squadron master trainer rigorously trained and certified three teams of two NCOs (E-5 or above) from each troop over a six-day period. These VCEs were responsible for scoring engagements and conducting crew after action reviews (AARs) during gunnery. Experiencing the VCE certification program provided an added personal benefit to the VCEs, many who are gunners themselves, as it substantially increased their awareness of the gunnery process and associated scoring system. Without a solid group of trained and certified VCEs, conducting a quality gunnery would have been nearly impossible.
The last task prior to crew gunnery was Table 11 (crew proficiency course) for the gunners and VCs. One three-day range per weapon system was conducted the month prior to Tables III-VI of gunnery. These M2HB and MK19 ranges were critical for crew proficiency, as many of the gunners and VCs had not fired these weapon systems in years or never at all. Shooting from a tripod allowed Soldiers to become familiar with the weapon before adding the complexity of firing from stationary and moving vehicles.
Gunnery skills testing, digital gunnery, and VCE training prepared the squadron for the live-fire portion of gunnery. According to the manual, Table IV (long-range machine gunnery) is required for scouts and reconnaissance elements only, but limited range availability forced its omission during this density. The specific firing tables for Tables III, V, and VI were constructed based on the minimum proficiency level (MPL) on page 17-3 of the gunnery manual. These engagements were divided among the day-and night-fire portions, taking into consideration the MPL application matrix (page 17-9), which suggests what engagements are suitable for a VC or gunner. Tables V and VI were standardized into two categories--one was for unstabilized weapons (RV, FSV, and MP M1114 high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle variants) and the other was for stabilized weapons (CV, ESV, and CBRN). Due to the increase in the RWS' accuracy over an MK93 mounted weapon, the stabilized variants fired on a range with engagements at greater distances and three-fourths scaled targets, while unstabilized systems engaged at short ranges with full-size targets.
For this gunnery density, 4th Squadron conducted the live fire on two separate ranges within the Grafenwoehr range complex for a two-and-a-half-week period. One troop (company) formation would support each range, while another troop fired. Each troop had four days to fire and four days in support. The first day of gunnery was Table III dry fire. The next three days consisted of live fire with Table III (basic machine gun), V (basic crew practice), and VI (crew qualification) day and night fires.
Following each run, the crews were given formal AARs by their VCEs. As per the squadron commander's directives, squadron AARs followed the Army's current publication, The Leader's Guide to After-Action Reviews, and 2nd Cavalry Regiment's AAR standard operating procedure (SOP). The AARs were facilitated on a terrain model and augmented by forward looking infrared (FUR) video footage and audio recordings from the jump net taken during the gunnery run. VCEs were deliberately positioned inside the vehicles during the execution to get the best vantage point to judge crew proficiency and enhance the substance of the AARs. The quality of the AARs with troop first sergeant overwatch and crew participation immensely helped crews substantially improve as gunnery progressed.
Ammunition allocations followed the allotments set forth in FM 3-20.21 (50 rounds of .50 caliber or eight rounds of 40mm per target). Personnel constantly occupied the ranges, which allowed the squadron to bring all of the ammunition to the ranges on the first day. As it was always under guard, this decreased logistical requirements. In addition to qualifying crews, gunnery allowed every platoon leader (78 percent of them second lieutenants) to serve as an officer-in-charge (01C) of a range and NCOs as range safety officers (RS0s), beach masters, and ammunition NCOs. This range support experience was especially valuable to leader development within the squadron, given the rapid turnover of both officers and NCOs following the previous deployment.
The squadron's gunnery resulted in 49 of 51 crews qualified on Table VI, with the anti-armor troop being unable to conduct an ATGM live fire due to persistent fog. However, the anti-armor troop was able to conduct a simulated live fire prior to the inclement weather. This was accomplished using Laser Target Interface Device System (LTIDS) and Wireless Independent Target System (WITS). The squadron's demanding gated approach and high success rate during gunnery has allowed the unit to progress into more advanced training, such as platoon-and troop-level live fires and external field evaluations.
Gunnery provided the squadron staff a foundation on which to build more advanced training events. It also offered a prime opportunity to practice resupply operations at both the troop and squadron level. The squadron's support platoon gained valuable experience in running daily logistic packages of Class I and III to units at two noncontiguous ranges in adverse weather conditions (a combination of snow, fog and/or freezing rain). Other logistical issues, such as vehicle repair, were conducted forward on the range or vehicles were brought back to the base for higher-level maintenance.
Certain practices worked especially well for the Saber Squadron. The range complexes were well established and contained open-bay barracks, dining areas, range towers, and ammunition storage pads. Troops were not only more comfortable sleeping inside the barracks during sub-freezing weather conditions, but doing so reduced fuel consumption and put less operational hours on the vehicles. While nmning a troop-sized range internally is possible, it is more efficient if personnel can focus on either firing gunnery or supporting it. For a squadron-sized event, running several ranges is essential to getting all units through in a short amount of time. This allowed the squadron to conduct complementary, concurrent training while conducting live-fire operations. Lastly, the squadron was able to exercise mission command operations through battle tracking in the tactical operations center (TOC) and by utilizing the combat trains command post (CTCP) and support platoon for resupply operations.
While the gunnery was a success, there is always room for improvement. First, many of the gunners didnot simply have enough previous experience firing their weapon system to confidently engage targets right away. This can be partially mitigated by a very strong pre-gunnery train up. Digital gunnery using VBS2 is another possible solution, but RWS-equipped vehicles seemed to benefit more from this than flex-mounted weapon systems. This is most likely due to the fact that manipulating a traverse and elevation device takes hands-on practice. While the RWS has its advantages, the zeroing process was a point of friction for some personnel with limited gunner experience. Some range time and ammunition was wasted by a few crews not following the prescribed zeroing steps in the technical manual. Additionally, occasional issues with the jump net hampered communications. Increased radio training, proper preventive maintenance checks and services and prompt replacement of damaged cables, as well as having a communications specialist at the range would minimize downtime. Overall, many of the problems were quite minor, but when combined could add up to hours of lost training time.
Gunnery was a major building block for the 4th Squadron and the first of many major training events that will require Saber troopers to effectively shoot, move, and communicate. Proper pre-gunnery training, like gunnery skills testing and digital gunnery, are instrumental in preparing crews for the rigors and stress of actual live-fire gunnery. Planning and resourcing, while unglamorous, are extremely critical to successful range operations. The land and ammo and master gunner portions of the squadron operations section deserve much of the credit for the success of the squadron's gunnery density. Like all things in the Army, even a crew event like gunnery, it was a team effort from start to finish. Squadron leaders and Soldiers who experienced a gunnery executed to standard will not easily forget the lessons learned from this exercise. Saber Recon!
LTC CHRIS BUDIHAS AND 1LT SCOTT BROWNE
LTC Chris Budihas is the commander of 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany. He has more than 24 years of enlisted and officer experience in all forms of Infantry operations. His education includes a bachelor's degree in political science, master's in business administration, and a master's in military arts and science from the School of Advanced Military Studies.
1LT Scott Browne is the troop executive officer for K Troop, 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He is a 2009 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
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|Title Annotation:||Training Notes|
|Author:||Budihas, Chris; Browne, Scott|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2012|
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