FORT HOOD, Texas - Soldiers of the 510th Clearance Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, began training to field their recently acquired FGM-148 Javelin “fire and forget” missile system on Jan. 23, 2014.
The addition of the Javelin to the 36th’s arsenal greatly enhances the unit’s combat strength, just in time for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, said Sgt. Richard Czerniak, a team leader in the 510th Clearance Company.
The Javelin anti-armor missile system is an improvement over the previous M47 Dragon missile system, a command-wire missile system, which required soldiers to remain stationary while tracking the missile to its intended target.
With the introduction of an on-board tracking system, soldiers are now able to move from their position immediately after firing the missile.
“I love learning about stuff like this, it’s a great weapon,” said Czerniak. “It mitigates the risk of sending soldiers in all the way.”
Along with the Javelin systems, soldiers also received a week of training provided by defense contractor Systems Studies & Simulation Inc., also known as S3.
“This is the only time I’ve ever trained with the Javelin,” said Czerniak. “The training is great, but it needs to be a little bit longer.”
Due to the recent Army-wide re-budgeting efforts, S3 was forced to make the course more compact, reducing it from two weeks to one said Andrew Reed, a senior specialist with S3.
“In spite of cutting down the timetable from 80 to 40 hours I still feel we are getting the necessary training to the soldiers,” said Reed. “Now it’s everything they need to know without all the additional stuff that would help, but not necessarily need to be included in the training.”
One of the key training events lost was the live fire of the missile system.
Each round, produced by Javelin Joint Venture, a partnership between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, costs more than $70,000, said Reed. The time and money needed to coordinate a live fire was not feasible within the one-week time constraint.
“Since we don't do a live fire, some of the training we do conduct has to do with our training devices for the Javelin,” said Reed. “That includes our Basic Skills Training which is an indoor trainer.”
The BST is a virtual system through, which soldiers can simulate all of the steps of fielding the weapons system, such as unpacking, loading, firing and reloading the weapon.
“The BSTs actually grade our soldiers harder than actual systems,” said Reed. “The reasons being that that soldier must fire the system perfectly every time.”
The increased difficulty of using the virtual systems allows Reed peace of mind in knowing that he has trained soldiers to fire the Javelin with deadly precision. Also, by increasing the soldier’s operational knowledge of the equipment, Reed can begin incorporating malfunctions and other stress inducing elements into the training.
“I know he’ll work through it and fire the missile and finally, hit his target,” said Reed.
The S3 trainers ended their class by instructing the soldiers on how to further their training and encouraging them to share what they had learned with their units.
BSTs and MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) versions of the Javelin are available at the Fort Hood Training Support Center. Also, each unit issued a Javelin system is entitled to request one live round per year for training purposes.
“In Anniston where [Javelin Joint Venture] stores the rounds there’s a certain number of rounds which have already reached their shelf life,” said Reed. “What they want units to do is request those rounds so they can use them in training and firing them on ranges.”
If a round surpasses its designated shelf life, Javelin Joint Venture is required to de-mill the rounds, or make inert.
“If they use them for training, then the soldiers get some training out of it and they don't have to spend money to keep de-milling the rounds,” said Reed.
Being able to ensure that soldiers receive every possible opportunity for training is a source of pride for the instructors of S3, many of whom are former soldiers themselves.
“Even though I can’t be in combat with soldiers anymore, I’m hoping that I can make a difference,” said Reed.
For these veterans, making a difference means certifying that the soldiers they train are capable of firing the Javelin missile system with flawless precision.
While the instructors may lack the resources and funding needed to provide the ideal training experience they desire, they are still able to meet their goal of preparing soldiers to field the FGM-148 Javelin in combat.
In 2013, the Army had a 99 percent successful hit rate for rounds fired during training, said Reed.