By Mr. Cliff Kummer, Mounted Test Division, Maneuver Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command Public Affairs
JOINT MANEUVER READINESS CENTER, 7th ARMY TRAINING COMMAND, HOHENFELS, Germany – In the morning dawn, 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR) Scouts surprise-ambushed a world-class opposing force from an unheard of 1,600 meters with their Stryker vehicles poised widely across a valley.
Over a hill, Infantry from 2nd Squadron, 2CR engaged the enemy’s main body at extended ranges, providing supporting fire for their dismounted Infantry.
New firepower upgrades to 2CR’s Strykers were making an impact on their ability to detect and lethally engage targets at longer ranges during the operational test.
These Soldiers from the 2-2CR and 4th Squadron, 2CR trained with the new Stryker upgrades at the JMRC.
Two upgrades to the Stryker platform being operationally tested over 10 days were the Infantry Carrier Vehicle –Dragoon (ICVD) equipped with an unmanned turret housing a 30mm cannon with enhanced optics, and the Common Remotely Operated Weapon System-Javelin (CROWS-J), Infantry and Recon Stryker variants with a mounted Javelin capability.
The U.S. Army Operational Test Command (USAOTC) based at Fort Hood (Now designated Fort Cavazos), Texas, created a unique opportunity for the Army to learn about the new capabilities being fielded to the 2CR while providing an opportunity for the unit to train in a realistic environment while enhancing their readiness.
USAOTC’s Maneuver Test Directorate prepared for a year to execute the test and provide data to support the Rapid Acquisition and fielding to 2CR — based off a request 2CR made to increase and modernize their unit’s war fighting capabilities.
Specifically citing the ICVD impacts, Capt. Brandon J. Shorter, commander of the OPFOR’s Blackfoot Company said, “The ICVD provides an all-weather, limited visibility, long range target acquisition with long range fires capability that is challenging and changing the way we fight; we are maneuvering to avoid them.”
While each system was intensely evaluated through developmental testing, the operational test was the first opportunity Soldiers had to employ the systems in an operationally realistic environment and in the way they will use them in combat.
“Getting the systems into the hands of the Soldiers who will use them and letting them employ them in an environment closely replicating combat against a free-thinking OPFOR — that’s the only way to truly understand whether or not the systems are effective,” said Col. Brian McHugh, MTD director.
“That is the uniqueness and importance of operational testing and we are the folks who do this,” he added.
“The operational test provides us an opportunity to take a new system, ring it out for the Army, and gain actual feedback in a real world environment,” said Maj. Jared D. Coil, Officer-in-Charge of the 2CR higher headquarters element during the test.
During the past 18 months, MTD worked with the 7th Army Training Command, and 2CR to create the test.
Additionally, Blackfoot Company from 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment at the 7th Army Training Command provided a hybrid threat of a Motorized Rifle Company and a squad of irregular forces as the OPFOR.
Test missions were built around Decisive Action scenarios, specifically offensive and defensive operations, as a foundation. With this base, the team worked closely with 2 CR to identify and incorporate their essential tasks to build an operational test that addressed all data requirements while integrating unit training objectives.
“Our ultimate goal at MTD and USAOTC is to build tests that address the Army Chief of Staff’s priorities of modernization and readiness,” said Lt. Col. Jason Davis, MTD’s test operations officer.
“Testing and training don’t have to be mutually exclusive — the Army gets more bang for the buck if we combine the two.”
Davis explained how part of the test’s overall purpose was to provide information contributing to a Capabilities and Limitations Report (CLR) of the two new Stryker variants.
“The CLR is important because it lets the commander know what the vehicles can and can’t do and will influence how he employs the systems,” said Ron Thomas, the MTD test officer.
To achieve this, 2CR units conducted eight missions — four day and four night —enabling them to operate their new systems in different conditions against a myriad of OPFOR formation threats.
“This Stryker test event provides us an opportunity to experiment in the development and execution of Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures,” said Capt. Craig Hymel, the Commander of Ghost Troop.
One Scout Section Sergeant in the 2CR said the operational test provided Soldiers with the opportunity to become familiar with the new ICVD and CROWS-J system capabilities.
“We gained knowledge of the new systems during the New Equipment Training but we are gaining experience through employing them during the operational test,” said Staff Sgt. Nathan F. Dragovich.
To capture this Soldier test feedback on what works and what does not, the MTD test team created a data harvest method which administered surveys and After Action Reviews (AAR) after each mission.
Data harvests immediately following a mission is crucial to the operational test, Thomas added.
“It allows us to get the data while the fight is still fresh in Soldiers’ minds,” he said.
After completing an AAR for drivers and gunners following a limited visibility deliberate attack, Sgt. Kelton J. Snyder and Sgt. Noblay J. Deus, both gunners on the new Stryker systems, said it was great to be able to provide input and felt their statements counted.
One key question at each AAR was how the platforms impacted the mission.
When discussing the CROWS-J, section sergeants and other junior leaders agreed the capability allowed them to fight the armor fight much more dynamically, allowing for the repositioning of anti-armor capabilities quickly across the battlespace.
“This kind of insight is what we need to ensure we are informing the Army on what the Soldier on the ground has to say about the platforms,” said McHugh.
“Sometimes things look good on paper but don’t work out in the real world.”
Praising test unit Soldiers, McHugh said, “The Soldiers have stayed engaged and motivated throughout the event and I am thoroughly impressed with their articulate and insightful feedback.
“The Army will clearly benefit from the professionalism of Ghost Troop and the Soldiers from the Blackfoot Company’s OPFOR.”
An Infantry officer himself, McHugh explained how increasing demands on the nation’s military forces makes it more important than ever to ensure Soldiers have the right equipment for current and future threats they may face.
“Getting systems into the hands of Soldiers in a rigorous and realistic event is a critical component to ensuring they have the right equipment that works for them to fight with,” he said.
He said USAOTC’s charter is to create the opportunity where fully stressing the systems and Soldiers to gain feedback on equipment system effectiveness, suitability and survivability is the goal.
“Clearly, the ICVD/CROWS-J test at JMRC accomplished this, with the added benefit of increasing training readiness for 2CR,” he said.
“It is ultimately the number one mission of all of our tests — to inform the Army while assisting in building trained and ready forces,” McHugh said. “When we do this, it is ‘Mission Accomplished.’”
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
As the Army’s only independent operational tester, USAOTC tests Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical users to provide data on whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. USAOTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer — the American Soldier.