V Corps Trains to Deploy Quick and Strike Deep
V Corps Trains to Deploy Quick and Strike Deep
“September 11 is one of those moments in history that toughens a generation,” 1st Lt. Jarat Ford remarked on the night that American air strikes began against the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. It was his 25th birthday, and the Apache pilot and platoon leader in Company B, 1st Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment (1-1 Aviation) was spending it at a former Soviet airbase in northern Poland and thinking about the war being waged 3,000 miles away. Approximately 80 U.S. Army Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters were parked in straight ranks on grass aprons that flanked both sides of the runway. The aircraft and their crews were participating in Victory Strike II, a V Corps deep-strike training exercise staged in Poland for the second consecutive year. The difference this year was that America was at war.
“From now on,” Lt. Ford observed while taking a break from a planning session for the next day’s mission, “each time we climb into the cockpits to train, we are that much closer to doing it in combat.”
The commander of 1-1 Aviation—nicknamed the Gunfighters—setthe tone at the outset of the exercise. Speaking to soldiers who had gathered for a pilot’s promotion ceremony a few days earlier, Lt. Col. Bruce A. Georgia noted, “The President said that the armed forces should be at the ready. The Gunfighters are ready, and in the months ahead the decision could be made to employ attack helicopters. Somewhere, I believe, there will be a target for us—somebody is going to tell us which floor and which window to put the rocket through—and we have to be prepared when that order comes.”
The battalion is the attack aviation element of the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized). It was attached to the 11th Aviation Regiment for the duration of Victory Strike II, joining another Apache outfit, the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, and Black Hawk and Chinook elements from the 12th Aviation Brigade.
The two U.S. Apache units and an Italian attack helicopter unit formed the blue force for the exercise, operating from Ziemsko Airfield, which is situated in Poland’s Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area. At Wedrzyn Training Area, about 120 kilometers away by air, elements of V Corps’ 41st Field Artillery Brigade, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery (ADA), 4th Battalion, 3rd ADA and air defense units from the Polish army composed the opposing force.
The distance separating the two training areas approximated Apache deep-strike ranges and put realistic stress on mission support, planning and execution at company through brigade echelons. With more than 4,000 American, Italian and Polish soldiers participating, Victory Strike II was nearly twice the size of the previous exercise.
Victory Strike II was planned and scheduled long before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but it had a high degree of applicability to the current situation. The exercise’s operational goals were to increase the readiness of V Corps Apache units to conduct deep-strike operations, and to employ the new and highly deployable V Corps Strike CP (command post) in a field environment for the first time.
The brand-new Strike CP has people in V Corps and U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) headquarters excited for a number of reasons. We can’t show you any photographs of its interior because much of it is classified, but suffice it to say that it is loaded with electronic whiz-bang features, many of which use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology. On the outside, it looks much the same as any other CP or tactical operations center—green tents and camouflage nets.
The Strike CP was designed as a modular plug-and-fight system that allows joint interoperability, and the entire CP package can be shoved onto a few C-130 aircraft and deployed anywhere in the theater quickly. “The Strike CP is the wave of the future,” boasted Sgt. Maj. Alex Branch, the V Corps G-3 (operations) sergeant major and, possibly, the Strike CP’s biggest fan. Let him buttonhole you for 10 minutes, and he’ll sell you one.
“With the Strike CP, you get fusion. FUSION!” Sgt. Maj. Brand exclaimed, starting his pitch. “It’s like being in one of those World War II movies where the headquarters is set up in a castle and everybody’s yelling back and forth. You yell over to the G-2 and say ‘Hey, G-2, what do you have for me?’ and he gives you the lowdown. Then the G-1 chimes in, and so forth. Everybody’s on the same page all the time. You don’t have to run around fitting together bits and pieces from staff sections operating in closed cells as if they were sailing around in their own submarines. You have fusion.”
“We’re really onto something here,” he continued, not letting up the pace for anything that could be considered a waste of time, like breathing. “It has all the capabilities. You can do anything you want with this thing. We can talk joint from the get-go; we’re breaking down interservice barriers. In the future, I see every CP going to this. Fusion. You don’t have to tell the story to somebody else before you ask a question. They’re on top of it. And it has environmental controls—heat, air conditioning—you can go to the desert in it. It’s environmentally sealed. You have all the electronic maps and feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles and space. It warns you about solar flares that can mess up communications. You can zoom in on a tank and, using virtual electronics, actually see things from the enemy’s perspective—as if you were sticking your head up through the enemy’s hatch and looking around, but you’re really sitting 500 kilometers away. And do you know how long it takes to set up each module? Eight minutes. Four people. Eight minutes. Bam! It’s up. Pops right out of the box. This thing is sweet. We’re going places with this CP. Just fit it to the mission and ship it.”
You might say that Sgt. Maj. Brand likes the Strike CP; so does the V Corps commanding general, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace. He said Victory Strike II revolved around three main pieces from the corps-level perspective, one of which was trying out the Strike CP. “Victory Strike II has given us the chance to validate the Strike CP concept of being a deployable Army and joint CP that is able to execute command and control when it arrives,” Gen. Wallace explained.
The Strike CP is an Army Transformation initiative created by U.S. Army Europe and V Corps to address deployability. The goal was to develop and field a modular-based CP that incorporated all the subsystems of the Army Battle Command System and that could be deployable to a contingency area by C-130 aircraft. It had to be able to function as a first-on-the-ground CP for any level, ranging from a corps advance party to a joint contingency headquarters, and be able to receive and incorporate follow-on, interoperable staff components. And it had to have a small footprint. Operating for Victory Strike II, the Strike CP was a little larger than the size of a brigade CP, about half the size of the corps main CP.
“Deploying a CP like this with the capabilities that it has without using a great amount of lift is a big deal,” Gen. Wallace said. “You give up some on-site capability, but you have the capability to reach back.”
Most of the Strike CP components incorporate COTS technologies, which drastically reduced the CP’s development time. “None of it existed 12 months ago,” Gen. Wallace noted.
He said the second piece of Victory Strike II was the opportunity to give V Corps’ attack aviation units the same level of combat training center experience that ground maneuver units receive at the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) in Hohenfels, Germany—a chance to train against an aggressive opposing force and use observer-controllers and instrumentation packages to track results.
“The third and equally important piece was the opportunity to engage in a cooperative military event with Poland, a new ally,” Gen. Wallace added. “Connected to the engagement piece is breaking the American mind-set that training in USAREUR means training at Grafenwoehr or Hohenfels in Germany. Today, we are training throughout Europe, and I see that trend continuing. We have already conducted some training in Hungary, and we are surveying sites in the Czech Republic. There are many training areas in the new NATO nations that are larger than Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, and you also have to deploy to get to them, which exercises that aspect, too.”
The technology that is allowing USAREUR to go on the road with training is commonly called “CMTC in a box.” Capt. George Walter, plans officer for the 7th Army Training Command, directorate of training’s deployable operations group, hates that term. He prefers the official names of the systems: the deployable instrumentation training system (DTIS) and combined arms tactical engagement simulations systems (C-TESS). Nevertheless, Capt. Walter agrees that CMTC in a box pretty much describes the purpose and application of the systems.
“Until DTIS, if your were going to do realistic training, you had to go to CMTC,” Capt. Walter explained. “If you went anyplace else, you didn’t get instrumentation feedback or observer-controllers (OCs).” With the systems, instrumented training can take place just about anywhere, reducing costs. There are no rail load expenses, for example, and recovery time also is drastically reduced.
DTIS is a suite of systems that can be installed on vehicles and worn by individual soldiers. It communicates through portable 25-meter masts—each having approximately a 15-kilometer radius range—to transfer data to commanders or exercise control elements. It allows equipment and individuals to be tracked, and it interfaces with the military integrated laser engagement system (MILES) to establish hits or misses. It controls all ground units except artillery. “If you can put MILES on it, you can put DTIS on it,” the captain said.
C-TESS works alongside DTIS, offering telemetry tracking systems through smart on-board data interface modules for aircraft. Between the two portable systems, every type of weapons platform is covered. Data from both systems is relayed to high-speed computers to produce real-time displays and after-action review material. “They allow maneuver training without going to a major training area,” Capt. Walter said.
The systems have been fielded in less than two years from their launch date, using COTS technology. Most work is performed by a small contingent of contractors. “This exercise required fewer than 60 contractors,” Capt. Walter said.
It is a USAREUR program under the 7th Army Training Command directorate of training, and plans are for the systems and controllers to be widely available to commands throughout USAREUR, roughly the same as checking out MILES gear.
“It is really going to be a great tool for battalion level training and below and a great tool for small-unit leaders,” Capt. Walter said. Victory Strike II marked the largest use of the CMTC-in-a-box systems to date.
For aviation units involved in Victory Strike II, the exercise drastically increased the training area available for their use and reduced or eliminated most of the flight restrictions that are put on training flights in Germany.
Col. Georgia said, “By using this training area, which is larger that any at Grafenwoehr, I am able to conduct my missions, use high-energy tactics and still keep my aircraft in a profile to mitigate any risks associated with those tactics. Here, we are able to execute our doctrinal distances and focus on attack aviation missions and deep-attack, particularly. Nowhere else are we provided that opportunity.”
Col. Georgia—call sign “Gun 6”—said that deep-attack training is not something normally afforded division-level Apache battalions. Attack aviation has a doctrinally different mission at the division level. At a division, attack aviation is employed in more of a direct support role. The “division deep” is not nearly the distance of the corps’ deep attack, and division-level attack helicopter units rarely receive the intelligence support provided at the corps level.
“This training allows us to take advantage of all the corps-level assets—JSTARS, the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and strategic reconnaissance assets,” Gun 6 said.
His boss, the 1st Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade commander, Col. David Pate agreed. “The division fight is more integrated with the close fight,” Col. Pate said. “We are constantly flying in and out of a maneuver unit’s airspace, so there must be a lot of synchronization. This exercise really extends the legs of a divisional unit.”
Flying gets most of the notice during such operations, but planning seems to take much of the effort. The ratio of planning to operational time is at least two to one, probably a lot more, and that is just at the battalion staff level. Add the planning time at echelons above battalion and at the company level, and planning could easily reach levels of seven or eight hours—maybe more—for every hour an attack company is in the air.
For a typical night mission during Victory Strike II, planning and constructing tactical options under the military decision-making process started early in the morning, producing orders relayed to the companies several hours—and many cups of coffee—later, with battalion and company mission rehearsals conducted late that afternoon. And for all that effort, the battalion staff gets to stay up most of the night monitoring the battle over radios and seeing how effective their plan was (or not).
For the Gunfighters, however, there are some amazing soldiers involved in the staff process behind the scenes—all the way from the executive officer and operations officer (S-3) down to the assistant S-3 and the rest of the staff, including a common-sense NCO fire support officer, a couple of learning-the-ropes battle captains and a CWO 4 tactics officer who has been flying attack helicopters somewhere around forever in round numbers.
Then there are the Apache pilots—a different breed, warrant officers for the most part. All are individuals. All are smart. All can make an AH-64 dance over treetops at scary speeds, generally in the dark. They are more blue collar than white scarf aviators, practical men and women. The most apt description was offered by one of their own: “tankers who fly.”
The biggest compliment during the Victory Strike II exercise came from a medic who stood atop his ambulance watching a pair of Apaches sneak up on a Patriot battalion tactical operations center (TOC). The helicopters got to the nearest tree line, and one popped above the trees for a moment. Stinger crews scrambled. Everybody pointed at the area where the Apache had showed itself. While attention was diverted in that direction, the second Apache scooted around the side of the trees, fired a shot and set the TOC’s MILES “whoopie light” flashing. The TOC was destroyed.
“Damn,” the medic gasped, “those are some slippery dudes.”