The Army's weapon arsenal is vast. Modern weaponry has advanced significantly since the days of bayonets and broadswords. Now, such weapons are symbolic, and systems like the Volcano aids Soldiers on battlefields.
The M139 Volcano scatters mines and is mounted on ground vehicles or helicopters. In the past, they were used with UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. In April, the system was mounted on a UH-60M model Black Hawk at Fort Bliss, Texas, for the first time.
"The Volcano is a quicker way to emplace a mine field to either turn and fix an enemy or disrupt an enemy," said Capt. Chloe Flores, commander, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division. "Depending on what the ground forces are trying to do, they may be trying to funnel the enemy to a certain area or they may be trying to set up a disruption as the enemy is trying to come through."
The Volcano itself isn't new, but it hasn't been used much in recent years. Soldiers assigned to 3rd Bn., 501st Aviation Regt., CAB, 1st AD, installed and used the system during a rotation from April 21 through May 14, 2017, at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, while supporting 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kansas. Tactically, the Volcano can be used both offensively and defensively.
"It's all about having an enemy that you can fight, visibly, now that we're going back to decisive action, force on force, near-peer battles, with a definitive FLOT (forward line of own troops)," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Karl Halterman. "It's just another option for the ground force commander. We have the ability to provide speed, surprise and mobility, so the Volcano is just another option."
Crew chiefs Spc. Dylan Hauck and Spc. Tereon Dorsey were two of the Soldiers given the task of installing the system on a UH-60M - with no firm instructions on how to go about it.
"The "M" model is a completely glass cockpit, lots of electronics in the cockpit so that seemed like the biggest challenge that we ran into, dealing with the electronics from the "L" to the "M" and how the Volcano system fit into all that," Flores said.
Representatives from the helicopter manufacturer, U.S. Forces Command and U.S. Training and Doctrine Command came down to assist with the installation and gather information to write a technical manual for installations on the UH-60M at other units in the future.
"They came here with an idea and how they thought it would work and then we just implemented it and changed their idea to what would actually work," Hauck said.
The time frame for installation and troubleshooting was pretty tight - the Soldiers had just a few weeks to get it right. The Soldiers finished troubleshooting the system just days before the unit headed to NTC.
"The (flight) planning process, it's detailed and it's difficult, but it's not nearly as challenging as what these guys go through to get the system working, get it operational. Then once it's loaded to get all the canisters armed, make sure it's done by the checklist," Halterman said.
The Volcano affects the weight of the helicopter, so pilots need to modify how they fly. The system deploys up to 960 mines in less than a minute. The mines can be programmed to self-detonate after selected periods of time.
"As far as executing the missions and actually flying it ... it's as detailed and deliberate as an air assault would be. You need to coordinate with your security force ... other disruption tactics that will allow the Volcano ship to go out and do its mission and come back," Halterman said. "All the timing and everything needs to be precise."
Hauck and Dorsey enjoyed the challenge of completing the install and having input on procedures that will go into an official training manual.
"It feels good. I like learning, so being a part of something like this feels pretty good," Dorsey said.
During the NTC rotation, the unit wound up using the Volcano notionally for various reasons. Halterman said there's not a lot of historical data on how to best emplace the mine field, so he and other pilots in the unit hope to get the chance to conduct more training before more of the company goes back to NTC in August.
Units across the Army are beginning to revisit using the Volcano system as tactical strategies shift.