By 1st Lt. Sarah MelvilleDecember 3, 2016
PABRADE, LITHUANIA-- More than 4,000 Soldiers from 11 NATO countries participated in Exercise Iron Sword from November 19 to December 2, 2016, in Rukla and Pabrade, Lithuania. The exercise served to strengthen the alliance and cooperation of international forces and build mission command capability of NATO forces.
The mission of Iron Sword was to validate multinational mission command systems and build tactical capabilities at the Battalion level by conducting offensive and defensive operations. 173rd Airborne Brigade Paratroopers joined with Lithuanians, Canadians, British, Polish and Luxembourgians, to form the "Blue Force," while remaining nations formed the "Red Force."
Iron Sword opened with a partnered airborne operation in Rukla which was led by 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Michael Kloepper and Executive Officer Maj. Paul Deleon. They led the "Blue Force" through the planning and execution of both key operations. The planning process was critical for building the foundation for communication and enabled key leaders from each country to join together on how to best defeat the "Red Force."
This combination of forces for "Blue Force's" consisted of Lithuanian engineers from the Juozas Vitkus Battalion, American engineers from the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion (Airborne) (BEB (A)), 173rd Airborne Brigade, and Canadian engineers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment (1 CER) and they served as the cutting edge of Iron Sword, bringing mobility, counter mobility, and survivability skills to the fight. The engineers easily breached through minefields and wire obstacles set by the "Red Force" on the offense, creating lanes by which the infantry could quickly assault the village.
In preparing for the final battle defending the village against a more powerful enemy, the "Blue Force" engineers created a defense in depth, constructing obstacles to block, fix, and disrupt the mounted "Red Force" on its way into the village.
The obstacles were effective with the addition of fires and maneuver forces providing over watch and initiating attacks when the enemy reached them. Engineers worked through the night to emplace log hurdles, concertina wire, log walls, craters, anti-vehicle ditches, trenches, and an abatis to attrite the "Red Force" along its main avenues of approach into the village, around the perimeter, and within the village.
As a result of the obstacles and corresponding fires and forces on over watch, not a single vehicle made it into the village; soldiers were forced to dismount and enter from the western wood line, where they encountered an unobservable wire obstacle within a ditch, leaving them fully exposed when they attempted to breach it.
"If the vehicles had all gone into the city, the "Blue Force" did not have enough anti-tank weapons to kill them. In the end it was a stalemate, they couldn't get in…So, our obstacles made a world of difference, force multiplier bar none," said Sgt. Doyle, a Canadian 1 CER Section Leader.
The most effective obstacle emplaced was constructed by the 1 CER and 54th BEB (A) engineers--an explosive abatis and crater obstacle that completely blocked the enemy's primary avenue of approach. The abatis is an obstacle consisting of two rows of trees that when cut fall at a 45 degree angle and cross each other with branches toward the enemy approach. The abatis was tied in with large explosive craters to block a secondary avenue of approach. The abatis is one of the best obstacles for a light combat engineer unit, because when created with demolitions, all resources can be carried within the rucksacks of a small group of sappers and results in an obstacle large enough to stop tanks.
"If you go into a battle with infantry against just infantry, and they have engineers, they'll win, because they can employ obstacles," said Sergeant Thom, a Canadian 1 CER Section Leader.
Iron Sword created a phenomenal opportunity in Baltic winter conditions for allied nations to train together from the individual soldier to the battalion level. The exercise strengthened the NATO alliance and proved how effectively allies can train, plan, and fight together--consistently bettering each other through multinational training. Iron Sword is one of the many exercises within Atlantic Resolve-North, a multilateral military operation of the U.S. forces in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, designed to strengthen NATO.