By Capt. Brett Tinder (3rd ABCT, 4th ID)August 2, 2017
GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany -- Self-propelled artillery batteries from 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, have become proficient in eluding enemy forces following two consecutive multinational exercises in Germany and Romania, where the unit exploited its mobility and survivability skills.
"We've adopted new fighting tactics, techniques and procedures to counter the tactics of a near-peer enemy that really makes it difficult for a threat to target our positions," said 1st Sgt. Timothy S. Harris, senior noncommissioned officer of Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, also known as the "Pacesetters."
The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division artillery unit emphasized "hide and seek" tactics during a two-week combat training center rotation with 10 participating nations at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany, as part of exercise Combined Resolve VIII.
The skills gained in these courses also proved handy in July during a combined arms live-fire exercise with six nations, part of exercises Getica Saber 17 at the Cincu Joint National Training Center, Romania.
"Unlike towed howitzers, our M109A6 Paladin platform operates on a self-propelled tracked chassis," said Harris. "During a mission, we're emphasizing this maneuverability by creating mobility corridors in line with where we need to fire."
These "Paladin Highways" enable battery guns to relocate rapidly, thus confusing enemy efforts to detect firing positions, but maintain responsive fires in a controlled manner.
The Pacesetter Battalion is currently providing fire support for 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division as it serves as a deterrent to aggression in eastern Europe as part of U.S. Army Europe's Operation Atlantic Resolve. Its training, both internally and with NATO allies and partners during the brigade-level multinational exercises, calls for the Pacesetters to provide 24/7 fires in all-weather conditions to support maneuver forces.
As Battery C prepared for Combined Resolve VIII -- working alongside the Romanian 1st Battery, 817th Artillery Battalion, 81st Mechanized Brigade -- the Soldiers painted their desert tan 155mm Paladin howitzers dark green to adapt to the forested terrain of Europe.
The 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Infantry Regiment also employed tactics to counter small unmanned aerial systems by adopting tactics normally used by multiple rocket launch system units.
"Section chiefs would embed their Paladin and M992A2 ammunition carriers into a wood line, and our gunnery sergeants would verify they were concealed from observation," said Harris. "The most effective firing battery over a protracted fight is the most survivable."
Beyond concealing guns, the battalion also considers the hide tactics of its logistical elements. That means keeping palletized loading systems, which "pull" ammunition resupply, hidden to prevent a large resupply signature from unmasking a unit's location.
1st Lt. James Kelly, Battery C executive officer, said, "This is the first time we've pulled all resupply -- fuel, ammunition and water -- from a concealed position behind the gun-line."
Kelly said the art of effectively hiding and seeking targets to pop out and shoot depends on quick synchronization and constant communication back and forth from battalion, battery and platoon fire direction centers.
"The aim is to minimize the time between receipt of a fire mission and inputting it into the Paladin's digital fire control system. By carefully anticipating fire missions, we have time to maneuver the Paladins out their hides and into position while minimizing the impact of movement time on our ability to fire accurately," Kelly said.
These hide-and-seek tactics are far different from what the Pacesetters employed during previous deployments to the open deserts of Kuwait and Iraq. A potential fight in defense of a NATO ally or partner in Europe likely would mean embedding in dense foliage, with artillery potentially dispersed across multiple kilometers with impassable ridge lines in between.
"The terrain here challenges us from a fires perspective but also in terms of resupply and communications systems. But our training during these exercises in Germany and Romania the last couple months has really helped us fine tune our abilities to quickly and accurately shoot without being seen," Kelly added.