'Thunderbolt Assassins' Prove their Lethality in Artillery Exercise
(Source: US Army; issued June 12, 2017)
A Fires Directional Center truck accompanying a HIMARS launcher is unloaded from a C-17 transport aircraft onto a dirt landing strip to fire a six-round missile volley before re-entering the aircraft and flying back to base. (US Army photo)
FORT LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. --- An M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) moves off of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. The HIMARS races to its firing spot, the launcher-loader module moves into position, and the operator presses the button. Within a matter of minutes, six rockets head towards their targets and the HIMARS moves back onto the C-17 to return to its base location.

This speedy maneuver -- a HIMARS Rapid Air Infiltration, live fire mission -- was recently conducted by a HIMARS crew from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, the unit also known by the moniker "Thunderbolt assassins". The operation was in support of the 62nd Airlift Wing's rapid mobility exercise.

The exercise is a scenario-based training operation to improve broad-spectrum mission readiness and interoperability between the Army and the Air Force. It also demonstrates the forcible entry capabilities of the C-17 and HIMARS launchers as an operational and strategic strike package in support of combatant commanders.

"A HI-RAIN is an air mobile version of a field artillery raid which is the classic artillery mission," said Cpt. Jamie Holm, commander of A Battery, 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment. "We have a known target and use speed for security to put rockets on a target that will shape and make way for a larger operation."

He goes on to say that this type of operation is crucial as the military moves into a multi-domain battle (MDB) mindset. The MDB strategy will give combatant commanders the ability to open access across the different domains of air, land, maritime, space, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum.

"This is a critical step in validating our role in the Asia-Pacific response force," said 2nd Lt. Joe McNeil, platoon leader for 1st Platoon, A Battery. "It validates our ability to integrate into different units from the Army, Air Force and Marines, and to support any kind of mission with fires."

This particular training mission consisted of loading a HIMARS and a Fires Directions Center Truck onto a C-17 and flying from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Wash., to Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. As soon as the aircraft lands, the HIMARS and Fire Directions Center Truck unload. The HIMARS moves to the firing point, receives the fire mission, and sends six rockets down range within 20 minutes. Afterwards, both vehicles reload the aircraft and return to the JBLM.

"We have been rehearsing for the past two weeks for this mission," said McNeil. "After receiving the orders, we started with the joint training. We worked with the Air Force to making sure that we had a plan between us on how we will get the vehicles on and off the aircraft, tied down to the aircraft, landing procedures, shooting, how to get back on, and other similar procedures."

In April, the 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment worked with the 5-11th Marines, 1st Marine Division, to test the range on the high frequency radio that would communicate the firing missions. The Marines sent fire missions through the high frequency radio from Pendleton Marine Corps Base, Calif., to Yakima Training Center, Wash., with great success.

"We were trying to replicate the same thing here by receiving the fire mission over high frequency from the brigade FDC at JBLM," said McNeil. "We have found that the advantage of using the high frequency is that, it might not be able to send a lot of data through it, but the range makes up for it. We were able to receive a two rocket fire mission here, in California, from JBLM in Washington. The mission came up really quickly and we had no issues getting it at all."

Twelve minutes after leaving the aircraft, the first rocket shot off and within three minutes, four rockets hit their target.

"If it wasn't for the safety verifications, we would have shot the first fire mission within two minutes of leaving the aircraft," said 1st Lt. Robert Sincero, the A Battery executive officer. "We were worried that we would have some communication issues, since we ran into so many during our rehearsals earlier this week. In the end though, the communications between the truck, the launcher and JBLM worked flawlessly."

The C-17 Globemaster aircraft has capabilities that also contributed to the speed and accuracy of the operations.

"One of the biggest advantages with working with the Air Force is that they have a type of Wi-Fi system that we are able to hook the HIMARS into so that we don't lose GPS signal," explained McNeil. "This is insanely important for us because if the GPS is lost, then the system in the HIMARS has to be reset. We can lose a minimum of six and a half minutes if we have to reset the system."

McNeil continued, "Not having to reset the system allows for a quicker response time coming off of the aircraft and being able to fire multiple missions in the allotted time. Overall, this mission was a true success."

"Even though the nature of war is immutable, it's characteristics and form are always changing," said Holm. "This type of mission is how we as a military are adapting to today's characteristics and form."


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