Track, lock and fire: Troops practice their aim in Sea Strike missile exercise
November 14, 2004
CHULMAE RANGE, South Korea — Missiles screamed across the water this week as 36 Avenger air defense artillery pieces and eight Bradley Stinger Fighting Vehicles practiced shooting down enemy aircraft in the annual Sea Strike exercise.
The event is the culmination of months of training for more than 300 soldiers from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, said the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Chris Spillman.
Sea Strike is held at Chulmae Range, a Republic of Korea (ROK) Air Force facility at a picturesque beach on the west coast. During the exercise, Avenger units and Bradleys roll up to a firing line along the beach and fire at targets over the sea. The targets include one-fifth scale model aircraft painted to look like North Korean MiG-23 jet fighters and large orange missiles called ballistic aerial targets, or BATs.
“All they [the BATs] do is provide a heat source for us to track and shoot out of the sky. It doesn’t represent any specific air threat,” Spillman said, struggling to be heard above the roar of a missile taking off nearby.
5th Battalion also comes to Chulmae to shoot the .50 caliber machine guns mounted on Humvees that carry the Avengers, which each include eight Stinger missile tubes, he said.
“The Stinger is an infrared seeking missile. The gunner tracks the missile to the target … and once the seeker locks on, the gunner fires. It is a ‘fire and forget’ system. You can shoot down eight planes in very short succession.
“If the gunner and the avenger crew does what they are trained to do, and they have a good infrared source, there is not an aircraft in the world that can outmaneuver a Stinger,” Spillman said.
Launching the missiles is a big buzz for the soldiers operating them.
Pfc. Brandon Breed, 19, of Flint, Mich., fired a shoulder-launched Stinger on Tuesday.
Normally, Breed sits in the back of an Avenger in a glass cockpit tracking targets on a forward-looking infrared scanner. Images of heat sources glow or show up as white dots on the screen, he said.
“You have to track it then activate, uncage and shoot,” he said referring to the procedure he goes through for firing.
However, during Sea Strike, Breed’s Avenger malfunctioned due to a problem with the gas that cools the seeker on the Stinger. In that situation, crews can leave their vehicle and fire a Stinger with a shoulder launcher, he said.
The young soldier moved to a pile of sandbags next to his Avenger, picked up a shoulder launcher and lined up a model aircraft through a sight before firing. The missile screamed out of the launcher and streaked across the sky before striking the target, blowing it into flaming cinders that floated down to the sea.
Breed had a big smile on his face.
“That was my first time doing it. It was great. I’ve looked forward to it since I have been in ADA. It’s a big weapon so it does a lot of damage,” he said.
Breed’s driver, Staff Sgt. Harold Turner, 32, of Oglethorpe, Ga., was similarly impressed.
“My brother was ADA and I am following in his footsteps,” he said.
5th Battalion uses the Stingers to provide air defense for the 2nd Infantry Division, which is stationed near the Demilitarized Zone separating South and North Korea, Spillman said.
The North Koreans fly various types of fixed wing aircraft, mostly older Russian MiGs and helicopters, he said.
“Any fixed wing or rotor wing aircraft threatening 2nd ID we will engage. We are trained to engage all types of North Korean aircraft … and we train a lot of visual recognition of aircraft,” Spillman said.
5th Battalion has been preparing for Sea Strike since August, he said.
The unit’s Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Oakley said 5-5 works in concert with the ROK Air Force, the ROK Navy and Korean National Police on safety issues at Sea Strike.
“As we prepare for this range, the local community is made aware we are going to do aerial gunnery. All the local fishermen are informed but not everybody gets the word. The Korean Navy and the Korean National Police warn people off and tell us to stop firing if someone is in the range,” he said.
Despite the safeguards, quite a few vessels come close to the range, he said.
“ROK Air Force tells us when we have to stop firing because a ship is nearing the range fan,” Oakley said.
When missiles are not blasting off, the soldiers have time to take in Chulmae’s pleasant scenery, which includes a sandy beach, rocky outcrops and offshore islands.
“There are flying fish and birds. The flying fish jump 2 feet out of the water,” Oakley said.
While there is not much call for air defense artillery in Iraq or Afghanistan, Spillman said his soldiers are prepared for deployment. Some 5-5 soldiers went to Iraq in August to work as infantry alongside soldiers from 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, he said.
To help prepare soldiers in case they are deployed, 5-5’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battery added a convoy live-fire exercise to Sea Strike this year that involved soldiers driving along the beach engaging targets, Oakley said.