FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 18, 2020) -- On few occasions would you refer to a .50 caliber machine gun as “understated,” but that is clearly the case for the Avenger Air Defense System and its more prominent, ominous-looking missile launching pods.
The .50-cal is not the Avenger’s main weapon, however, it still gets plenty of professional care at the Ordnance School where roughly 120 hours of instructional time are dedicated to teaching 94T Short Range Air Defense Repairer Course students how to break down the equipment and maintain it.
That is not as simple as it might seem. Staff Sgt. David Y. Alvarez, an instructor, provided four students their first lessons on the weapon during an Aug. 12 training session at Boyd Hall on the Ordnance Campus. The time is necessary, he said, to help students grasp the weapon’s complexity.
“We do training all the way through the system,” said Alvarez after a three-hour block of instruction covering basic functions, operation and assembly/disassembly. “We tear it down below the component level, and we have to ‘milspec’ many pieces (to meet DOD criteria). We do calibrations to measurements on the components as they get (further) into the system.”
The Avenger is a turreted, self-propelled, surface-to-air missile system mounted on a Humvee. It has a range of 285 miles and provides mobile, short-range air defense protection for ground units against a variety of threats to include cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, low-flying/fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The 94T course is 18 weeks long and dedicated to Avenger maintenance.
During last week’s training session, students sat at desks large enough to hold one individual M3P, the .50 caliber model featured on the Avenger. They disassembled the firearm, removing everything from bolt carrier components to small springs, screws and pins. They learned how each part supports weapon functions as a whole. At times, Alvarez and fellow instructor Luis Montalvo guided students through the procedures.
For most of the students, the .50 was correctly described as an ancillary weapon. For, Pvt. Korben Baker, it was something akin to giddy admiration.
“There’s a lot to love about this thing,” said the Texarkana, Texas, native. “You can shoot down helicopters. … I love the fact this model is only found on this system. It gives you 25 rounds per trigger pull, and it can reversible shoot (meaning ammo can be fed into the chamber from either side).”
Baker – an admitted video game enthusiast – and his fellow students ultimately will move from learning about the M3P in the classroom to hands-on maintenance outside of it, Alvarez said.
“On every module or subsection that we teach, we cover the theories of operations – with schematics included – and then we take them to the system and have them apply those theories so they can better understand through hands-on experience,” Alvarez said. “Most of the teaching is hands-on.”
By comparison, the 120 hours spent on the M3P – mostly mechanical instruction – versus the time spent on electronic components is far and wide. The heavy concentration on the latter is an attractive feature for many students.
“I wanted something different and a little more challenging,” said Pfc. Eliud Salas, a former Volkswagen mechanic from California, explaining why he chose the 94T MOS.
Pfc. Jane Seo, the only female in the class, has neither mechanical nor electronic experience, but said she wanted to contend with the unknown.
“I just don’t want to regret not having done things because I was afraid of them or have a fear of doing something challenging,” she said.
To fulfill graduation requirements, students must pass four examinations over the course of four months, Alvarez noted. Each exam is 20 questions and students must achieve a score of 80 or higher. In addition, they must complete four practical exercises valued at a higher percentage than the written exams.
“It takes a lot of self-discipline,” Alvarez pointed out. “The students are required to sit through conferences that are fairly in-depth on the theory of operation and the science behind it. It takes a high level of energy because it is fairly drawn out, and it demands a lot out of you.”
Following graduation, active duty students will join only a handful of units equipped with Avengers and become part of a fraternal group of roughly 125 maintainers, Alvarez said.
In the near future, the Avenger, which was acquired in the late 1980s, may be phased out to accommodate another short-range system with more lethality and capability, according to the instructors.