By Capt. Jannelle Allong-DiakabanaJuly 3, 2019
At the heart of this year's Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise at West Point's Cadet Summer Training was the first-time inclusion of an Air Defense weapon system, the Avenger.
A Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) platoon from the 2-44th Air Defense Artillery Battalion, 108th ADA Brigade Fort Campbell, Kentucky, demonstrated to cadets how employment of the Avenger creates opportunities of air superiority and defends maneuver forces as they engage enemy on the battlefield.
"I used to think of fires as a supplement to the mission, but they really play an integral part in shaping the mission and helping to relieve burdens for those on the ground," Class of 2020 Cadet Rachele Smith said.
Until 2018, air defense asset integration into small unit tactics was not assessed in the Military Science 200 Small Unit Operations course.
The Avenger is a self-propelled surface-to-air missile system that is mobile and provides short-range air defense protection for ground units against cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and low-flying fixed-winged aircraft and helicopters.
"Defending the maneuver force from third dimension threats is a top priority for the Army," Lt. Col. William Yund, Office Chief of Air Defense Artillery director, said.
The OCADA is primarily responsible for integrating personnel lifecycle management functions with force modernization and assisting the Air Defense Commandant to develop personnel policies which support the growth and evolution of the branch. In addition, OCADA is responsible for ADA branch outreach and education.
A substantial growth has occurred in the air defense branch and it is West Point's continued goal to equip its cadets with the tools necessary to win in a complex world. The annual CALFEX at West Point is one of many opportunities to do so.
From the bleachers of West Point's Range 13, cadets observed the maneuver forces of 1-28th Infantry while hunkered down in bunkers conducting call-for-fire with two AH-64's flying overhead, the thunder of artillery and mortar rounds adjusting fire and the blasting of the Avenger guns all at once.
It was a true demonstration of the effects of synchronized and coordinated surface-to-surface and air-to-ground fires and cadets were familiarized with their future roles as lieutenants within combined arms maneuvers.
"The CALFEX did a great job of refuting the infantry and the infantry support idea because it showed me how the other branches contribute to total dominance on the battlefield, for example air support and artillery's support," Class of 2021 Cadet Brandi Braggs said.
Braggs' top choice of branch is Air Defense.
Although military science courses at West Point focus primarily on small unit tactics, they do teach cadets how to integrate artillery and mortar assets, air defense asset integration in conducting hasty or deliberate defenses, which was added to the curriculum in 2018.
"With the operational environment consistently changing and our adversaries continuing to develop or use over the counter drones, it is imperative for the future officers to see and recognize that the military does have a way to combat those threats," Capt. Leo Correa, Air Defense representative for the Department of Military Instruction, said.
Correa has been a military science instructor at the academy for more than a year and facilitated the integration of air defense capabilities into the sophomore military science curriculum.
The CALFEX showcased the tactical capabilities a SHORAD platoon can provide for Brigade Combat Teams and Divisions. The new maneuver SHORAD vehicle is based on an armored Stryker platform equipped with Hellfire and Stinger missiles, a 30mm cannon and integrated radar.
"While the CALFEX itself did not necessarily influence [my top choice], speaking to the Soldiers in the ADA unit certainly did," Braggs said.
She said she is excited about the opportunities this branch affords to its junior officers to best prepare them to work with their infantry counterparts. Cadet exposure to the branch has increased exponentially over the past two years.
"To (defend maneuver forces), SHORAD platoons will be right there alongside their infantry comrades in the close fight," said Yund.