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A heavy expanded mobility tactical truck associated with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade, is positioned on Tapa Central Training Area, Estonia, for an exercise in support of Defender-Europe 21, May 3, 2021.
A heavy expanded mobility tactical truck associated with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade, is positioned on Tapa Central Training Area, Estonia, for an exercise in support of Defender-Europe 21, May 3, 2021. (Christian Cote/U.S. Army)
A heavy expanded mobility tactical truck associated with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade, is positioned on Tapa Central Training Area, Estonia, for an exercise in support of Defender-Europe 21, May 3, 2021.
A heavy expanded mobility tactical truck associated with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade, is positioned on Tapa Central Training Area, Estonia, for an exercise in support of Defender-Europe 21, May 3, 2021. (Christian Cote/U.S. Army)
U.S. Army Sgt. Casey Hill, a fires control specialist with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade, sets up a tent on the Tapa Central Training Area, Estonia, in preparation for the kickoff of ''Fires Shock,'' an exercise in support of Defender-Europe 21, May 2, 2021.
U.S. Army Sgt. Casey Hill, a fires control specialist with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Field Artillery Brigade, sets up a tent on the Tapa Central Training Area, Estonia, in preparation for the kickoff of ''Fires Shock,'' an exercise in support of Defender-Europe 21, May 2, 2021. (Christian Cote/U.S. Army)

STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S. Army artillery unit launched operations in Estonia on Wednesday, marking the start of six weeks of rocket exercises that will extend from the Arctic to Africa as the service showcases recent upgrades.

“Fires Shock,” a U.S. Army Europe and Africa-led drill connected to the large Defender Europe-21 series that began this week, is putting the Army’s bolstered long-range artillery capabilities on center stage.

“It gives us a tremendous amount of options, today and tonight and throughout Europe,” Brig. Gen. Christopher Norrie, head of the 7th Army Training Command, said of the enhanced artillery capability. “You’ve got to practice this, in a routine and recurring way.”

About 28,000 U.S. and partner troops are taking part in Defender Europe-21, which involves exercises from the Baltics to southern Europe and northern Africa. The purpose is to test the Army’s ability to move large forces and equipment to face off with an enemy force.

Though Russia isn’t formally named as the adversary allies are training to fight, Defender Europe was launched amid concerns about Moscow’s aggressive moves on the Continent, including its 2014 intervention in Ukraine.

The 41st Field Artillery Brigade, based out of Grafenwoehr, began firing Wednesday in Estonia with long-range precision systems operating ahead of the arrival of 82nd Airborne paratroopers, who are expected to drop into Estonia on Thursday.

The Army’s top modernization priority is enhancing its long-range fires and “that will be on full display here in Estonia,” Norrie said.

The Black Sea region also will be a focal point of “Fires Shock.”

The artillery role in this year’s Defender Europe underscores the priority the Army has placed on bolstering firepower on the Continent, which had been curtailed as a result of a long post-Cold War drawdown.

Over the last seven years, the Army has boosted troop numbers and added units in Europe to counter Russia. In 2018, it stood up the 41st Field Artillery Brigade, along with the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.

At the time, howitzers belonging to the Army’s two main units in Europe, 2nd Cavalry Regiment and 173rd Airborne Brigade, had a range of less than 20 miles. The 41st FAB is outfitted with the M270 system, which can fire 12 long-range precision rockets in less than a minute at a range of more than 40 miles.

vandiver.john@stripes.com Twitter: @john_vandiver

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