The I Corps’ Bravo Battery, 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, also known as the Dark Eagle Battery, completed their New Equipment Training (NET) with the Nation’s first prototype hypersonic equipment.
The Army marked this milestone with a ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on 24 February.
The Army is creating, refining, and deploying new capabilities that bring new solutions to our Nation’s challenges. As part of its number one modernization priority long-range precision fires (LRPF), hypersonics is the next major strategic weapons capability and is key to supporting the Army in building a modern, Multi Domain Operations-ready Force by 2035.
NET began shortly after the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) delivered the ground support equipment for the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon prototype, known as Dark Eagle, in September 2021. From the start of the prototyping effort in early 2019, Soldiers have played an integral part in the development, testing and delivery of the equipment.
“Early hands-on training allows us to develop the pre-requisite tasks and techniques to be successful in the future,” said Capt. Austen Boroff, Bravo Battery Commander. “The Soldiers have thoroughly validated critical individual and collective tasks that will enable operations post fielding.”
NET was broken down into four iterations, each lasting three weeks. The first week of each iteration allowed Soldiers to gain a basic understanding of the functions and capabilities of the equipment through interactive training. This training took place in a classroom setting, providing Soldiers ample time to train on the equipment in a structured “gaming” environment. Comprised of laptops and IPads, this gaming environment gave Soldiers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with major elements of the hardware before initiating hands-on training.
During the second and third week, training provided the opportunity for initiating Soldier feedback, which plays an influential role in the prototyping effort. This feedback has enabled equipment modifications to include alternative equipment storage solutions and more efficient ways to mount the GPS antennae on the Battery Operations Center, thus saving time while loading an aircraft.
The first two NET iterations concluded in December 2021, with the last two concluding in February. The training primarily focused on air transportation drills, security procedures, canister reload operations, operational emplacement of equipment and performing fire missions. Each iteration served a key purpose in preparing them for their final training event.
While training is on-going, the Fires Center of Excellence is simultaneously writing the doctrine for the unit that will employ the first-ever hypersonics weapon, marking another critical milestone in the development of this prototype.
“Our Soldiers have put an incredible effort into developing LRHW expertise. They have trained with extraordinary effort throughout every step of the fielding process and are equipped for success as we continue to develop proficiency,” said Boroff.
After successfully completing NET, Soldiers will advance to post-NET training, which includes the opportunity to first observe, and then participate in upcoming joint test events. Soldiers will utilize a “leader-follower” role where they will learn test operations and provide hands-on support. The Army is partnered with the Navy to execute the hypersonics mission through missile commonalities and joint test opportunities.
“We’ve never had a system like this before,” said COL Ian Humphrey, RCCTO Hypersonics Project Manager for Integration. “It was critical that our team was able to get the hardware to these Soldiers two years before the culminating joint test event in FY23, allowing the Soldiers to train, learn, and provide feedback.”
Upon completion of prototype battery fielding, Dark Eagle will transition to the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space (PEO MS).
“I was once a young enlisted Soldier, and I can appreciate all the hard work and dedication each Soldier in this battery is putting forth,” said LTG L. Neil Thurgood, Director of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, who leads the RCCTO. “Hypersonics is our number one priority right now, and we remain on track for executing operational capability in FY23.”