By Capt. Tyler ThorntonAugust 13, 2018
Logistics and medical convoys are constant enemy targets. These elements have suffered from improvised convoy protection and borrowed help from operational control units.
In fiscal year 2010, the Army published Training Circular 4-11.46, Convoy Protection Platform Gunnery, as a solution to ad hoc convoy protection. The circular was republished in December 2016 as Sustainment Unit Gunnery and Live Fire Exercise Strategy. This publication outlines the requirements for sustainment units to field convoy escort teams (CETs) composed of qualified convoy protection platforms (CPPs).
CETs are tasked to protect convoys and ensure mission success. During the spring of 2017, the 325th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, successfully executed the first sustainment unit gunnery in the Pacific.
THE SUSTAINMENT UNIT GUNNERY
A CPP is one vehicle gun crew (VGC) consisting of a driver, a vehicle commander, and a gunner. Crews are regarded as VGCs until they complete the gunnery skills test (GST) and have qualified on gunnery tables I through VI. After completing the tables, the VGCs becomes certified CPPs.
CPPs are then grouped into two sections, each under the command of the convoy commander or assistant convoy commander. The two sections complete day and night blank and live-fire exercises that stress communication between the CPPs. After their live-fire exercises, the CPPs are grouped together in a culminating company live-fire exercise that certifies the CET.
SUSTAINMENT GUNNERY PLANNING
Training Circular 4-11.46 does not specify which vehicle platforms are used for the gunnery. Because the 325th BSB was unable to sign out a fleet of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, it used M1088, M1087, and M1078 cargo trucks for the convoy protection platforms and M240B and M2A1 machine guns for the crew-served weapons.
Selecting personnel that had longevity in the unit was crucial. In Hawaii, the expected date of return from overseas drove the selection process. The 325th BSB had a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation scheduled to take place seven months after gunnery completion, so it was imperative that the crews remain the same throughout the sustainment gunnery and rotation. The BSB also selected key leaders and range personnel using the same method to preserve continuity.
TABLES I THROUGH III
The most difficult portion of tables I through II was integrating forward support company (FSC) crews. Each FSC was required to qualify two CETs; however, finding a time to get all five FSCs at the same training site proved difficult. Range restrictions in Hawaii required training to be split be-tween three iterations over three months for the seven CETs (comprising 35 CPPs).
The time between gunnery iterations was used to qualify the next iteration's CETs through the first three tables. This proved difficult because time constraints decreased the amount of one-on-one training the crews received. While the first two CETs had six weeks to prepare for their crew evaluation (table VI), the last five CETs received the same training in roughly three weeks each. Ongoing sustainment requirements throughout the brigade prevented consolidated training for all 35 CPPs for the GST through table III.
TABLES IV THROUGH VI
The 35 VGCs were divided into three rotations and, over the course of three months, participated in the sustainment unit gunnery at Pohukuloa Training Area, Hawaii. Every iteration experienced the same issue at the beginning of table V: unfamiliarity with the use of the AN/PAS-13 thermal weapon sight and difficulty zeroing the sight with their weapons.
A significant amount of time and ammunition were wasted when VGCs executed tables V and VI without properly zeroed weapons. Many crews were able to compensate during the day, but their inability to effectively use thermal weapon sights at night grew more apparent as their scores suffered. Extra steps were taken prior to the second and third iterations to familiarize crews with optics, but that did not completely solve the problem.
The units that owned VGCs should have spent additional time familiarizing crews with the optics in the weeks leading up to gunnery. The vehicle crew evaluators also should have spent time gaining weapons systems and optics proficiency. This would have empowered evaluators to assist in troubleshooting weapons malfunctions.
The most successful portions of the CET qualification was the section and company live-fire exercises. During these exercises, VGCs were less worried about scores and could instead focus more on communication throughout the scenarios, which helped improve their performance and accuracy.
The deliberate selection of key range personnel proved crucial to efficient throughput on the range. The noncommissioned officer selected for beach master was assertive, motivated, and knowledgeable. This noncommissioned officer was the driving force for all crews firing tables V and VI and was responsible for ensuring that there was at least one crew ready to fire at any given time. Having some-one who can concentrate on efficiencies and throughput of the range and relay accurate information to tower personnel is crucial.
The support the gunnery officer-in-charge received from battalion leaders proved essential. The battalion commander and command sergeant major ensured the companies maintained VGC integrity and that the gunnery officer-in-charge and master gunner had the resources they needed, including personnel, equipment, and time.
If consolidating all VGCs for the GST and tables I through III is not feasible, crews should have the same time allotted to train. The CETs that had the best overall scores were the ones given adequate time and more one-on-one instruction during tables I through III.
Spending additional time in the beginning gaining gunner proficiency with the day and night op-tics for the machine guns ensured that the VCEs were familiar enough to assist with troubleshooting on the range and during the after action review.
By ensuring VGC personnel have longevity in the unit, key personnel can be diligently selected and kept together throughout the process.
An effective gunnery program is a year-round commitment. With the proper command influence, it is very possible to build a climate that encourages VGC participation and competition. This competition will lead to a gunnery program and CETs that will serve the battalion and its Soldiers well.
Capt. Tyler Thornton is the commander of Golf Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. He holds a bachelor's degree in health, exercise and sports science from The Citadel. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Basic Officer Leader Course, Logistics Captains Career Course, Airborne School, and Air Assault. He is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.
This article is an Army Sustainment magazine product.