By Sgt. Robert M England, 2nd BCT, 25th IDFebruary 7, 2012
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (Feb. 22, 2012) -- On modern battlefields where the enemy rejects conventional warfare for irregular tactics, the U.S. Army continues to adapt with updated weapons and advanced training. Among the evolving capabilities stands the Javelin, a man-portable, anti-tank, shoulder-fired missile.
As the Army upgrades its weapons and updates its doctrine, it must equip and train its Soldiers in order to maintain combat effectiveness in a complex ambiguous environment.
Approximately 40 Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, graduated from the 80-hour Javelin course on Jan. 23 here. The two-part training regimen consisted of gunnery procedures and a "train the trainer" portion that will allow 2nd BCT subordinate units to train more Soldiers within their ranks.
Prior to the training, Maj. Jack Keen, the 2nd BCT force integration officer and brigade engineer, said the brigade exchanged 129 older model Javelins, labeled "Block 0," for 121 units containing the updated system, "Block 1," Keen said this should enable almost every infantry, cavalry and engineer unit in the brigade to equip its Soldiers at the squad-level.
"We turned in the older Javelins that the brigade has had in its possession since 2003 to get the new Javelin, updating our capabilities to the newest standard which has an increase in optics and a quicker reaction time from push to blast," Keen said. "We had 129 of the old systems and we picked up 121, which basically gives us one Javelin per maneuver squad for the infantry units, the engineers and the cavalry."
Wes Fowler, the lead trainer from System Studies and Simulation, Inc. in Huntsville, Ala., said the improvements to the optics of the outdated Block 0 Javelins necessitated the exchange.
"The new system has a more powerful night-vision sight," Fowler said. "The polarity can also be changed giving the operator more options on how he or she views the target through the thermal sight. There is also a video port added to the Command Launch Unit so that a gunner looking downrange can attach an external monitor and show his commander or whomever what he is looking at."
Staff Sgt. David Morris, a section leader with B Troop, 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT, and a student in the course, said the Javelin's new system also helps the operator acquire and engage targets.
"The new system has some upgraded features that help the operator positively identify targets easier," Morris said. "It's more user-friendly in that it's going to tell you exactly what you need to do, so if you have a base knowledge, it can almost step you through the firing process."
In order to ensure proficiency beyond base knowledge, Fowler said the students received comprehensive training on the maintenance and operation of the weapon. Keen added that the course has some intrinsic benefits that lie in the confidence instilled in each Soldier.
"The best part about this training is that it builds Soldiers' confidence in their abilities and their equipment," Keen said. "They're receiving this training fresh and focused, giving the brigade the ability to project out at the squad level and engage an armored foe or an enemy in a built-up position. Any time you improve Soldiers on their equipment, they're usually better for it and more excited about it."
The Army has always relied heavily on its Soldiers passing on their knowledge to their peers and subordinates, strengthening camaraderie while maximizing its resources. Fowler said the course also instructed the students how to impart the contents of the curriculum to their fellow Soldiers upon returning to their respective units.
"When we put them through this class, they're not only a gunner but also a trainer so they can conduct their own classes and teach new gunners," Fowler said. "This class was designed to be the sustainment for these guys."
Much of the training consisted of classroom instruction utilizing training aids such as Javelin training units and computer simulations. This allowed the Soldiers to experience troubleshooting, targeting and firing the Javelin without the immense price tag that comes along with the live ammunition.
"Just for the sight alone it's about $125,000," Fowler said. "One round of ammunition is about $70,000. That's why we do a lot of indoor training; the rounds are so expensive and there is nowhere on Oahu that you can fire these live missiles."
In order to negate the high cost of the weapon, Fowler said the old systems that have been turned in receive updates, bringing them to Block 1 classification.
"The old systems that have been collected up will be shipped back to the depot in Alabama and reconfigured into the new systems, recapturing the cost of producing the new system," Fowler said. "This collection, reconfiguration and redistribution is Army-wide."
Despite the cost, Keen said that the Javelin will prove to be a worth-while asset as the Army shifts the majority of its efforts to closing the conflict in Afghanistan.
"With the change in focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, this will give the opportunity for the Soldiers in mountainous terrain to effectively utilize these Javelins," Keen said. "With the increase in observation power and the fact that they are actually being used in combat, the Soldiers take the training to heart. Each squad will be capable of attacking fortified enemy positions such as bunkers, reaching out over 2,000 meters with a missile."
Fowler agreed, saying that the Javelin training and the Javelin itself will reinforce the brigade's capabilities as a better power projection force for the Pacific region.
"Obviously it's a force multiplier," Fowler said. "With the capabilities these units will have at the squad and platoon level, for these guys to actually be able to look out over 2,000 meters in total darkness and be able to identify targets is worth its weight in gold. But then you couple that with the actual round which is effective against any armored vehicle on the face of the Earth, in addition to bunkers, buildings and things of that nature."
Morris echoed Fowler and Keen with enthusiasm for the weapon's target acquisition and tracking as well as the lethality of the ammunition, making it the ultimate squad-based weapon.
"If you take any squad-based weapon system, a sniper for instance can reach out to about 1,000 meters," Morris said. "This delivers the payload two and a half times that distance. It can defeat pretty much anything, not just armor; if it can get a lock on to it, the Javelin will destroy it."
The Soldiers that graduated from the Javelin training course can now apply their knowledge of the Javelin and pass on those skills to their fellow Soldiers. Not only will this increase readiness for current operations, but it lays the foundation for years to come.