By Mitch MeadorJanuary 31, 2020
FORT SILL, Okla., Jan. 31, 2020 -- The sounds of freedom take many forms. One is a sudden loud whir that lasts only a few seconds. You may have heard it at odd hours of the day or even in the middle of the night.
That is the sound of bullets erupting from the Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System, better known as the C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar) gun. It's essential to protecting America and its allies from enemies who want to do us harm. The more Soldiers who get trained up or re-certified on their C-RAM skills, the better.
So when 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery (ADA) makes a pilgrimage to Fort Sill for this very purpose 5th Battalion, 5th ADA, and a civilian opposing force (OPFOR) are only too pleased to lend a helping hand.
1st Lt. Katie Kleiman is a senior observer, coach, and trainer (OCT) on site at the Thompson Hill Range Complex. That puts her in charge of all the other OCTs in both the engagement operation cells and down at the guns.
"My purpose is to essentially be the push point for all things involved in making this exercise happen. I work closely with contractors, green-suiters, the training unit and also 32nd (Army Air and Missile Defense Command) to ensure that we're meeting the intent of this (mission rehearsal exercise)," she explained.
Mission rehearsal exercises happen every time a unit or battalion gets ready to deploy. Kleiman points out that crews are very dynamic and fluid in nature due to people getting home from schools, attrition and new personnel coming in.
To ensure everybody is properly trained to go into theater, 5-5th ADA requires that the battalion being trained provide a battle roster so that the OCTs can check off all the crewmembers' names as they're certified. For 2-44th ADA it's a little over 300 Soldiers.
As one of the OCTs, Staff Sgt. Riley Noon of B Battery, 5-5th ADA, said his job is to observe, control and train four batteries of 2-44th ADA Soldiers on an engagement operations cell (EOC) and how it functions. Each EOC crew consists of one officer, one noncommissioned officer and two junior enlisted Soldiers.
Contractors from Kratos serve as a civilian OPFOR. They shoot from firing point 168 on the West Range using the Oklahoma National Guard's mortar tubes. They fire off 2.75-inch rockets and 80-millimeter mortars as training rounds to simulate real-world threats C-RAM units might be expected to encounter downrange.
"This training is important because without it, there's no other place for the unit to get as realistic a training prior to their deployment. Our purpose is to train and assess the unit's proficiency on their indirect fire protection capabilities so that they can fall in on an already established architecture in the (U.S. Central Command area of responsibility) and perform the mission in accordance with their mission-essential tasks as directed by 32nd AAMDC," Kleiman said.
Active-duty battalions begin by training the trainers at their home station and doing their Table 8 certifications at home station as well. These last three weeks apiece, so when they arrive at Fort Sill they're looking at a total of 10 days spent with their exercise control authority, which is currently 31st ADA Brigade. That includes their exercise rules of engagement brief, eight days out on the hill and then their final on day 10.
Sometimes Guard units -- field artillery battalions, at that -- rotate through the training and the citizen-Soldiers have to change their mission set. Regardless of whether it's one of these or an active-duty ADA battalion, everybody gets a dose of "crawl-walk-run." Guard units get a total of 15 days here instead of 10, and before going to Thompson Hill they spend up to two months doing deployment/new equipment training at the Mobilization Training Complex to make the conversion from FA to ADA.
Another item of interest is that this month's train-up of 2-44th ADA has a secondary function.
As part of the Army's Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC) -- one of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team's major projects right now -- C-RAM has acquired a new mission set: counter-unmanned aerial systems. Kleiman said 5-5th ADA is not certifying anyone on counter-UAS engagements, but they are giving 2-44th ADA familiarization training because that is an emerging threat in the CENTCOM area of operations.
"We have both Opterra and Phantom 4 platforms here, and each crew is given two scenarios and two chances to do a live engagement," she said. "It's extremely good training for the crews, but it is a familiarization training."
The C-RAM guns themselves have had a software update. So, while the Soldiers from Kentucky are either learning C-RAM skills for the first time or brushing up old skills for their annual re-certification, the OCTs are working with an operational assessment team from U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command at Huntsville, Ala., to see how well the gun reacts to counter-UAS engagements.