NATO forces harmonize the big guns
By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 9, 2017
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Napoleon called artillery the “king of battle” because of its devastating impact in combat and its ability to dictate where the enemy can maneuver.
But when two or more allied armies work together, synchronization is crucial if artillery is to have a maximum impact and if catastrophic friendly fire is to be avoided.
That’s the focus of Exercise Dynamic Front, an exercise which began Feb. 26 and concluded Thursday involving more than 1,300 soldiers from nine NATO nations.
“We’re training with our allies to coordinate our mass artillery fires,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Europe. “This is testing the interoperability of mass firing to further the alliance’s readiness.”
Field artillery has been employed with great effect to support coalition and government troops in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where lightly armed opposing forces did not have the capability to strike back with counter-battery fire.
The current training operation focused on identifying limitations and finding solutions to allied artillery systems. Countries participating in this exercise were France, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Britain, and the United States.
“It’s about creating a bridge that connects multinational precision firing,” said Capt. Laura Brown, the fire support officer during the exercise. “This allows us to do joint operations where we can mass our weapons systems to support each other. It’s also great training to familiarize yourself with our allies’ equipment and forge friendly relations.”
Though the multinational training force spoke several languages, the prevalence of English as a second language among U.S. allies allowed for easy communication among those involved.
“There was a slight communications barrier at first, but we’ve made it work,” said Brown. “The teams everyone brought really want to work together. So far, it’s been going well. We’ve been putting rounds down range and it’s been a great experience.”
The participating nations brought different capabilities and equipment to the exercise. The Americans had towed M777 155mm howitzers, the Czech the DANA 152mm wheeled gun-howitzers, and Germans the Panzerhaubitze 2000 155 mm self-propelled howitzer and MLRS rocket launchers. The other contributing nations provided scouting, observation and command and control.
“These all provide different abilities,” said Capt. Matt Stockton, the 7th Army Training Command plans officer. “When you get into an artillery fight, it’s all about survivability. You need to shoot and move. Together we have everything you could need for that.”
A big goal of the exercise was to promote Artillery Systems Cooperation Activities, a software-based program used by five NATO nations to digitally communicate real-time, linking their field artillery and command and control systems.
“ASCA is a common set of procedures that provides timely, accurate interoperable firing,” said McGuire. “It enhances the speed and accuracy of our fire support systems, which allows us to leverage all the capabilities of our various allies.”
This exercise allowed the five nations currently using ASCA to display the software in action to several nations who are considering utilizing the system.
“We believe the more NATO nations that utilize this system, the easier it will be for all of us to work together,” McGuire said.