Fort Bragg soldiers use new $45M aerial gunnery range for training
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: September 13, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Dust flew Thursday as soldiers aboard Apache helicopters hit targets at Fort Bragg's newest $45 million aerial gunnery range.
The range opened in March, and one of its main local users is soldiers with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, said Wolf Amacker, installation range officer at Fort Bragg.
"Prior to us having this facility, all of the aviators used to have to leave Fort Bragg and go to offset locations or other installations in order to conduct this live training, which is critically important to them learning how to complete their missions," Amacker said.
Soldiers at Fort Bragg previously went to places like Fort Stewart, Georgia, for the training. Now Fort Bragg is receiving requests from other installations that want to use its newest range, Amacker said. He estimated that thousands of aviators will cycle through the range annually.
Located south of Sicily, Normandy, Salerno and Holland drop zones, the range encompasses more than 1,100 acres and features more than 460 automated targets and observation towers with cameras.
"It is highly instrumented and can actually tell the pilots exactly where each of their rounds are striking in relation to the target," Amacker said. "That's what makes this thing so valuable."
In the past, determining whether a target was hit was assessed visually, he said.
Testing the new capabilities Thursday were pilots with the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, who used a 30-millimeter cannon under the nose of the aircraft to aim at a target several yards away.
Live feedback through technology at the new range allows the soldiers to know what techniques they need to be more proficient, said Maj. Joy Nickel, an operations officer for the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.
"Everything they do here is what they would do on a deployment," Nickel said. "So proficiency with the weapon systems — obviously that's what we need to protect the paratroopers, so this builds proficiency."
Fort Bragg aviation soldiers undergo the aerial gunnery range training about every six months, she said.
As pilots flew the Apache helicopters at the range Thursday, Nickel said about 400 soldiers were involved in the training exercise — from communications to logistics, to refuellers or ammunition specialists.
Spc. Jessica Martinez was one of those soldiers near an area known as the forward area rearm and refuel point, where 30 millimeter rounds and 2.75 inch rockets are loaded.
"We distribute ammunition for the (aircraft) that our pilots can be ready to train and ready to fight whenever our mission comes down," Martinez said.
Martinez said Thursday was the fourth day into the training, which usually lasts about three weeks.
The difference, she and Nickel said, is they can now go home to their families after a day's worth of training instead of being at another installation in another state.
Amacker said he thinks that also means the Army will recoup the $45 million spent on the range within 10 years because soldiers are no longer having to travel.
The range also is used for convoy live-fire training, which allows soldiers to move from point A to point B while simulating attacks and firing live rounds at targets down range, Amacker said.
"This is the crown jewel of the Fort Bragg range inventory," he said.
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A U.S. Army AH-64D Apache Longbow prepares to fire at a target on a new aerial gunnery range at Fort Bragg, N.C., Sept. 12, 2019. The more than 1,100 acre range has over 460 targets controlled by a team in the observation tower, which is equipped with cameras and computers that generate printouts of where the target is struck.