FORT RILEY, Kan. — It starts off pretty innocuous — a little “Thunk!” as Pfc. Jordan Hayes drops in a long-range training mortar round into a 1064A3 120-mm mortar tube — but moments later the area around him erupts with sound as the round leaves the tube on its journey to its target, up to 7,200 meters distant.
Hayes, an assistant mortar gunner with C Troop, and other soldiers with 5th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team were recently in the field at Fort Riley’s training areas conducting a semiannual live-fire certification exercise which will also help prepare them for an upcoming National Training Center Rotation.
“The goal is to have [the soldiers] able to execute all tasks to standard — most specifically, be able to occupy an area within the time standard and then be able to get, with a one-round adjustment, effects on target, and then timely and accurate fires with a hip-shoot mode,” said Capt. Terence Robinson, commander of C Trp., 5th Sdqn., 4th Cav. Regt. “That is really the point of any certification.”
As one of a cavalry squadron’s main responsibilities is to conduct advance reconnaissance for the heavier maneuver elements in a brigade, mortarmen in a cavalry unit have to be able to move quickly—something mounting a mortar on an M113 tactical vehicle allows them to do.
“Mounting a mortar on the ground is a lot easier, it is cleaner, though it is tougher for the 120-mm guns because it’s a very heavy system,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jay Bennett, a mortar section sergeant with A Troop, 5th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. “But at the same time the track [vehicle] gives us the mobility and the capability keep up with our mounted counterparts in the reconnaissance element.”
The section sergeant, his driver and gun crews give a two-gun section, like the one being trained by the squadron, a total of 12 personnel. Each gun is serviced by an ammunition bearer, a driver who also serves as assistant ammunition bearer, an assistant gunner, gunner, and fire direction center noncommissioned officer.
The process of conducting a fire mission can be broken down into three parts, Bennett said. This first is called the initiation of fires.
“They call us, and we do a clearance of fire through our troops, squadrons, or whatever the case may be,” he said. “Once we’ve got it cleared that there are no friendly forces on the ground, fire direction comes up with the datum using coordinate geometry—I know we all loved that back in high school—and breaks it down for the guns.”
The mortar crew then indexes the data they just received onto a sight — if in degraded mode — or with the aid of a computer system.
“Once it’s set up, rounds are sent up from the ammunition bearer and then fired onto the impact area,” Bennett said. “The forward observers adjust it from there to where he wants it, and once it is on target, we fire for effect.”
A fully functioning and well-trained mortar section can be an invaluable asset for a commander on the ground.
“All indirect fires are based upon timeliness and accuracy, it’s just that mortars get there a little quicker, even though they sacrifice a little range from conventional field artillery,” Robinson said. “But [they provide] much faster response time from call for fire to effects on target.”