Fifteen countries, 1,800 troops demonstrate NATO’s reach in US-led fires exercise in Germany
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — The ground shook in northern Bavaria as Spanish artillerymen fired rockets under the orders of American soldiers, who are using a makeshift command post this week to test the Army’s ability to coordinate attacks across large distances.
At the Army’s sprawling ranges in Grafenwoehr and a separate site in Poland, U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s Dynamic Front drill is bringing together dozens of howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems in a showcase of allied reach.
“This, right now, is about fine-tuning our ability to work together and working out the bugs now, so that in a crisis or conflict, we’ve got that behind us,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Roger Cloutier, head of NATO Allied Land Command. “Fires is going to be a critical part of any crisis or conflict if it gets to that end.”
The Army’s 41st Field Artillery Brigade is at the center of the action as it coordinates strikes. The brigade was stood up three years ago after years of U.S. unit cuts in Germany, in a push to bring long-range artillery back to Europe.
More than 70 different allied artillery systems, 15 different countries and 1,800 troops — 800 of them American — are taking part in the exercise, which is part of the Army’s new “Fires Shock” series that involves events from the Arctic to North Africa.
The aim of Dynamic Front is to ensure that, in the event of conflict, Army artillerymen in Germany can coordinate fire missions with any number of allied land forces anywhere in Europe, said Brig. Gen. Christopher Norrie, who commands the 7th Army Training Command in Grafenwoehr.
The drills also involve “shoot and scoot” tactics, where once a rocket is launched the artillerymen move to another location ahead of possible return fire. Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, any conflict with Russia in Europe would involve facing off with an adversary capable of launching long-range precision strikes of its own.
Norrie said there is no substitute for such rehearsals, which require forces to work through the technical difficulties of getting different weapons systems to synchronize, all in austere conditions, as soldiers live out of tents in the field.
“Those challenges are getting smaller as we continue to act and train together,” Norrie said, as he watched artillery fire from a lookout point. “We’ll never know exactly what a future conflict might look like. But all our efforts are to ensure the distance between where we are and where we need to be is as short as possible.”
Fires Shock falls under the Defender Europe-21 drill, which is now in its second year and includes about 30,000 troops. The effort, designed amid concerns about a more aggressive Russia, focuses on improving the ability of the U.S. and allies to move large numbers of troops and gear quickly in a crisis.
For the Army, the role of long-range artillery in drills coincides with a broader push to step up such capabilities by making improvements a top service modernization priority.
German troops also are among those launching artillery in Dynamic Front, which is due to wrap up Monday.
“For us, non-U.S. NATO allies, I personally think the U.S. is always setting the benchmark so we have to see where we are,” said Germany’s Lt. Gen. Andreas Marlow, commander of 1 Corps, a multinational division of German and Dutch troops, who was on hand for the events.