The temperatures may have been cold here last week, but Thompson Hill Complex was hot as about 70 Soldiers from B Battery, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., performed live-fire Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar training.
The Soldiers, who are a mix of Air Defense Artillery, known as ADA, military occupational specialties, were transitioning from the Avenger surface-to-air missile system to Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar, known as C-RAM.
“It’s been excellent; we’ve been knocking them (incoming mortars, rockets) out of the park,” said Spc. Clifton Hawkins, B/5-5th ADA. “It’s amazing to come out here and see how everything on the C-RAM works, and to come together as a unit and perform well.”
In addition to live-fire training, the battery performed a command post exercise and mission ready exercise during the two-week training, Jan. 24 through Feb. 7.
The short-range air warriors had been familiarizing themselves with various aspects of the C-RAM at their home fort since October, said Staff Sgt. Quavise Cherry, B/5-5th ADA squad leader.
The C-RAM weapons system includes an electric six-barrel gun that can fire 75 20mm high explosives rounds per second and a layered network of counter-mortar radars. A series of the guns are used to, say, defend an outpost against indirect fire, known as IDF, said a C-RAM trainer. It’s radar system provides early warning of incoming fire.
Fort Sill trainer Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Nardi, with D Battery, 2nd Battalion, 6th ADA, engagement operations cell platoon sergeant, was one of about 40 instructors working with the 5-5th. He said the training was designed to replicate conditions the Soldiers will see in combat.
Small drones were flown around Thompson Hill Range to simulate aircraft appearing on radar to force C-RAM commanders to discern potential threats, and to make decisions to fire, Nardi said.
“Should we shoot the round and risk the aircraft in the air or do we let the round come in?” he asked. “It’s a real challenge for decision making. There’s no by-the-book answer.”
The Soldiers also trained on a new radar system they will see once deployed, as well as the computers and software they will use in an engagement operations center.
In addition to the live fire, the Soldiers used simulators, Nardi said.
“We use a computers system that puts in fake radars, air tracks and IDF rounds, so that they can get the simulation without firing rounds,” Nardi said.
Hawkins said the training instructors and Raytheon contractors provided invaluable information.
“The Raytheon guys are essential to the training,” Hawkins said. “A lot of them are former military, they have the knowledge base. They’re the glue that holds us together.”
Transitioning to C-RAM requires a Soldier to learn an array of systems, Nardi said. This includes forward area air defense hardware, software and communications equipment; an air defense command and control center, a radar network and the gun.
Although they might have used one of the systems as an Avenger crewmember, which is Military Occupational Specialty 14S, or Air Defense Battle Management System Operator, which is Military Occupational Specialty 14G, “they will come here on C-RAM and work them differently than they are used to,” Nardi said.
Cherry, a 14S, said one difference with C-RAM is that he’s sitting inside an Engagement Operations Center looking at computer screens.
And, C-RAM operators have less time, typically 10 seconds to react to indirect fire, than Avenger crewmembers who engage aircraft, Hawkins said.
The two-day command post exercise laid the groundwork for the battery’s communications and reporting to the first sergeant and commander. It tested the unit’s standard operating procedures and other protocol.
The mission readiness exercise was the culmination of the training and included the EOC Soldiers operating in a combat scenario, detecting IDFs and firing the C-RAM.
First Lt. Benjamin Bowman, B/5-5th ADA platoon leader, said his Soldiers had done a lot of classroom training with the C-RAM at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but it was the first time they had fired it.
“These newer Soldiers at the unit are getting trained quickly,” he said. “I’m very impressed and proud of them.”
The Soldiers returned to Washington state, and will deploy to perform their C-RAM mission.