U.S. artillerymen take look at Dutch vehicles, weapons
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — U.S. artillerymen checked out some of the latest high-tech tools of the trade when some Dutch troops came to the training area.
The Dutch soldiers, from Battery A, 4th Artillery Battalion, showed off their newly fielded Panzer Howitzers and Fennek forward observation vehicles during a live-fire exercise this week.
The Battery A commander, Capt. Jan Steller, said the new Panzer Howitzer 2000NL 155 mm self-propelled gun weighs 60 tons with a range of more than 25 miles, making it the longest-ranged ground weapon in the world, except for missiles.
Steller said the gun is similar to the U.S. Crusader howitzer, which was under development before the program was canceled in 2002.
Despite the weapon’s size, it can be deployed inside a C-17 Globemaster aircraft, and has been used successfully in Afghanistan since April last year, he said.
The Panzer Howitzers, which are used in conjunction with the Dutch army’s new advanced fire support information system, have their own Global Positioning System that allows them to move to a position, aim at a target, fire and get away without outside help.
“It means we are very accurate, rapid and maneuverable. I’m not sure if there is anything else like it in the world at this point,” Steller said.
During this week’s training, the Panzer Howitzers fired with the help of another new weapon, the Fennek (Fox) forward observation vehicle.
The armored wheeled vehicle — slightly larger than a Humvee — has a top off-road speed of nearly 100 mph. It carries a crew of three and an array of day and night sensors that enables it to over watch an area and quickly target the enemy for the big guns.
“In Afghanistan I can tell you the Taliban hate it,” Steller added.
U.S. troops who checked out the new Dutch gear were impressed.
“It was high speed and something I think our Army would benefit from having,” said Staff Sgt. Brad Wagner, an artilleryman working for Range Control at Grafenwöhr.
Wagner got a close-up look at the Panzer Howitzer, which includes a robot that moves ammunition around inside the vehicle.
“Safetywise, it’s an excellent vehicle and it’s unmatched in our Army,” he said.
The Battery A gun commander, Staff Sgt. Leon Van Huizen, 29, is a veteran of the new Panzer Howitzers’ first deployment to Afghanistan last year. During the mission, the battery participated in Operation Medusa with Canadian troops in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan. The Howitzers fired 500 rounds over two weeks, accounting for what appeared to be a large number of dead Taliban, he said.
Normally, the Dutch artillerymen train at the Bergen Hohne-Munster Süd training area in Saxony. Van Huizen said training at Grafenwöhr is a good way for his men to prepare for downrange missions because of the unfamiliar environment.