RUKLA, Lithuania --- Around 6,000 servicemen and -women from nine different NATO nations, including around 1,300 from the enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup, have spent almost two weeks training with armoured vehicles and heavy equipment.
Ozelot air-defence missile platforms fire Stinger surface-to-air missiles at enemy aircraft identified by [surveillance radars. While the troops practise high-intensity combat, air-defence units from the air force protect the army soldiers from enemy attack from the air.
For the purposes of these manoeuvres, it is assumed that the fictional enemy has already destroyed a good deal of infrastructure in the course of the Iron Wolf exercise. Most bridges have been booby-trapped or otherwise rendered impassable. As intended, the German-led eFP battlegroup avoids them. The plan is to obstruct the enemy forces from certain defensive positions and destroy them in a localised counterattack.
In the course of this operation, the soldiers encounter an obstacle. Where there was once a bridge, there is now a treacherous torrent blocking the way ahead for 200‑odd armoured vehicles, trucks, troop carriers and combat vehicles. This is a job for 901 Heavy Engineer Battalion from Minden, North Rhine-Westphalia. They are able to build a temporary bridge using their M3 amphibious vehicles. image2
All-round protection for the battalion
At this crucial stage of the mission, the soldiers are sitting ducks for enemy air strikes.
Cover is therefore provided by 3 Squadron, 61 Surface-to-Air Missile Group from Todendorf in Schleswig-Holstein. From their small, tracked vehicles – their Ozelot platforms – Squadron Leader Milo D.’s men can spot and identify enemy aircraft at distances of up to 20 kilometres.
If an attack is imminent, they can engage the target when it is still six kilometres away and up to 3,000 metres up. “We are always among the first troops in place when it comes to waterway crossings,” Squadron Leader D. reports. “Before the amphibious craft get to work, we secure the intended location of the new bridge against aerial attack.”
And now it’s time for Lieutenant Vladimir A.’s team. The 26‑year-old platoon leader from the 4th Company of the engineer battalion outlines the plan with precision: “My men and women investigate the waterway and the banks. Depending on how wide the river is, we use up to 12 amphibians that can be coupled to one another. In this exercise, we have a distance of 88 metres to deal with.”
The bridge is assembled in two parts from bridgeheads on either bank. “One is built pointing upstream, the other downstream,” explains the lieutenant in charge of bridge construction. “Then, on command, the two parts scissor together to complete the bridge. After a brief test to made sure the bridge can take the strain, the battlegroup can cross the river.”
But there’s no time to have a breather while the vehicles get under way. Full concentration is required, particularly from Squadron Leader D.’s soldiers. “In this scenario, we are expecting an enemy air strike from the north-west,” he announces. The air space is monitored from the reconnaissance, command and fire control vehicle.
Ultra-modern and unique
The light air-defence system consists of the Ozelot missile platform in combination with the two Wiesel delivery vehicles. These armoured vehicles are operated by two soldiers each. Each of the delivery vehicles has a multiple launching system at the back equipped with two Stinger guided missiles on either side.
Junior Technician Marcel M. drives one of the delivery vehicles. The 21‑year-old is his commander’s right-hand man. During the waterway crossing operation, he is deployed as a MANPADS operator, firing shoulder-launched missiles. “You have to stay completely focused at all times. In the worst case, a moment of inattention on my part could put my comrades’ lives at risk,” the junior technician says.
The Ozelot system is considered one of the most up-to-date short-range air-defence systems available. During Iron Wolf, it is providing all the ground forces with comprehensive air defence.
The light air-defence system
The purpose of the light air-defence system includes protecting ground troops, airbases, communications facilities and port infrastructure from airstrikes. It is chiefly directed against attacks from low-flying aircraft, helicopters and unmanned airborne targets. Its weaponry consists of four Stinger man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) combined in a removable multi-launcher system. Four Stinger missiles are carried at the rear of the Ozelot platform for reloading.
The multi-launcher system also includes a sensor block with a high-luminosity video camera, a thermal imaging system and a laser rangefinder. The Ozelot system is deployed in combination with a reconnaissance, command and fire control vehicle, which provides it with targeting instructions, using a 3‑D radar system to independently monitor the airspace in a radius of up to 20 kilometres.
Supplementary reconnaissance data from other sensors can also be integrated into the air situation display via radio data transmission. One reconnaissance, command and control vehicle has the capacity to coordinate the firing of up to eight Ozelots. For situations when it is deployed independently of such a control vehicle, the Ozelot has a passive infrared sensor with which to identify airborne targets.