FORT STEWART, Ga. - For a split second the earth literally vibrates and rises to meet the sky as the main gun of the M1A2SEP Abrams Tank fires thunderously loud, shaking all that is around it.
However, tank crews not currently firing hardly miss a beat as they continue to go about their business, as the awesome firepower of the M1A2 is nothing new to them because they’ve been in gunnery for a few weeks now.
Company C, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment “Desert Rogues," conducted a live-fire accuracy screening test at Red Cloud Range, Nov. 6.
The LFAST is a phase in gunnery where crews establish and verify the accuracy of the main gun on their tank.
The “Desert Rogues," along with the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment “Battle Boars," both of the 2nd Armored Combat Brigade “Spartans," 3rd Infantry Division, have been rotating through crew-level mounted gunnery Tables II-VI here at the ranges during the last month, and will continue to do so for weeks to come.
The gunnery is an Army training requirement and serves as a validation of the skill and proficiency of the crews of the M1A2SEP Abrams Tank and the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, explained Sgt. 1st Class Mark Martin, the brigade master gunner, 2nd ABCT.
As the Spartan’s master gunner, Martin is considered a subject matter expert on every technical aspect of the Abrams platform and also has a thorough understanding of how to best resource all that is necessary for the employment of the vehicle in the training environment.
“You can look at Tables II-VI as following the Army’s crawl-walk-run-phase methodology,” Martin said.
The gunnery process actually starts before the ranges with Table I, which consists of prerequisite training focused on safety and standard fundamentals. This is something that all crews must go through prior to the following tables. Table II is the first table that takes place on the range. It is a non-firing course, which keeps the focus off of putting rounds down range, and keeps the focus on crew proficiency, fire-commands and internal crew duties. Next comes the LFAST, as described above, followed Table III/IV, which is a machine-gun and main-gun fire, the focus here is on the weapon systems along with crew duties. Table V is practice for the next table, Table VI, which is the qualification table. Scoring well and passing Table VI officially qualifies the crew on their particular platform, explained Martin.
“So as you can see each table is kind of like a building block for the next table, leading up to qualification,” said Martin.
Col. Scott Jackson, commander, 2nd ABCT, also used a building analogy to describe the gunnery.
“This gunnery is literally the ground work, the foundation of the house which everything is built upon here,” said Jackson. “You wouldn’t want to send a soldier into combat that wasn’t qualified on his personal weapon, and for the same reason we wouldn’t want to send a crew of three or four who are not proficient in the operation and maneuvering of their personal vehicle and its weapon systems.”
This gunnery holds even more importance than qualification however, given the state of operations over the last few years. With the brigade going on multiple back-to-back deployments, and with operational focus on counter insurgency, there has been little need of mounted armor on the battlefield, and crews have been conducting dismounted operations for the last few years.
“Our tank crewmen haven’t been on a tank in combat for seven years at least,” said Jackson. “For the last 12 years we have slowly shifted from our core competencies -- The Army that invaded Iraq back in 2003 is not the Army we have right now.”
In fact, because of the grueling operational tempo that the Spartans have been living the last few years, they haven’t even been able to conduct a mounted gunnery since 2011. Therefore this gunnery represents more than just validation for the Spartan brigade, it is a signal that it is time to step back into the armor role in which they are traditionally designated.
“There is a need right now to build our traditional foundation,” Jackson said. “This gunnery represents a totally different skill set than what we have been doing -- it’s a skill set we have a history doing though, so we are quickly returning to it.”
For all intents and purposes it does seem that the Rogues and Battle Boars are doing well, especially considering mounted maneuvers is new to many of them, despite being hardened combat veterans. However, Spartan 6’s goal is not as black and white in regards to qualification.
“The number one priority I have is to ensure that our crews are confident in what they can do,” Jackson said.
All in all it looks like the crews of the Rogues and Battle Boars are doing better than just building confidence.
“The crews have progressed from table to table; they’ve gotten quicker and more confident in their fire commands,” said Jackson. “Bottom line: these guys are doing phenomenal and I’m really proud of them, I couldn’t ask for better results.”