The Army is standardizing how armor crews train and shoot

Armor brigades with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia are training with a new set of qualification standards, or gunnery tables.
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The Army is standardizing the way infantry platoons keep up with their combat vehicle skills with an initiative by the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Benjamin Hale)

The Army is standardizing the way crews of Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles keep up with their combat skills.

Brigades with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia have taken the last month to train under a new set of qualification standards, or gunnery tables, against targets set at longer distances for their M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

“What we are trying to do is train our crews to be more adaptable and be more lethal as our adversaries change,” said 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team Command Sgt. Maj. Ryan Roush. “Everyone will go through the exact same validation process. Once these tables are implemented Army-wide, we could receive a new soldier from any unit in the Army and know that the training standard that the soldier has used, are the exact same across the entire Army that we have and then base our performance and expectations off of that.”

Tank crews have to validate their skills twice a year on a unit’s gunnery tables. Under the current integrated weapons strategy there are six gunnery tables that crews must be certified in: Table I gunnery skills test; Table II simulations; Table III proficiency to train with live rounds; Table IV basic skills of the platform; Table V practice and Table VI qualification for crew to participate in live-fire exercises.

Master gunners could previously use their own discretion to create tables with time and distance categories for targets. But with this initiative, there would be set standards that soldiers and crews have to complete, said Sgt. Daniel Blandon, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team Abrams Master Gunner.

Large scale combat operations

Over the last two decades, training for Iraq and Afghanistan was focused on counterinsurgency operations “for a whole career of a soldier,” said Steve Krivitsky, chief of the weapons and gunnery branch at the Directorate of Training, Tactics and Doctrine for the Maneuver Center of Excellence. “There was a series of soldiers that never experienced the long range and then the large-scale, combat-operations-type training.”

Tank crews often were tested only on skills and targets their commanders deemed essential for Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, or that could be shot within the confines of the ranges of their own base.

“When you look at Fort Stewart and Fort Stewart’s ranges, they made a scenario that was tailored to their facilities and their training needs of their unit based on their past performance,” Krivitsky said. “What they chose to shoot would not be exactly the same as what something at Fort Carson might shoot.”

Soldiers at Fort Stewart, Krivitsky said, are “pushing the limits of the training ammunition and the system itself to hit targets up to 2,200 to 2,400 meters.”

The current qualification for the farthest main gun engagement is a single target at 1,800 meters. The requirements under the new tables would increase main gun engagements to seven targets between 1,800 and 2,400 meters.

The new tables also focus on multiple stationary and moving main gun engagements. Now, Tables V and VI will include an offense and defense four-target engagement. 

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With the current gunnery qualifications – for all of the different types of engagements – the average is 31 seconds to defeat a single target, Kravitsky said. But the new standard would involve four targets in a shortened time frame.

“On a four target engagement, they don’t have two minutes, they have 75 seconds. And so that 31 seconds might overlap with another target’s 31 seconds because it’s exposed,” he said. “That speed in combat, the speed at which you deliver accurate fires first, your reward is you win. So our goal is to hit first, hit fast and move on to the next one.”

Officials are finding new ways to use the latest sensors and optics on Bradleys and Abrams. On the M1, for example, the vehicle commander has a Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, or CROWS system for on-the-move target acquisition and first-burst target engagement.

The new standards for Table IV force the tank’s gunner to run through five defensive machine gun skills rather than use the main gun, while the vehicle commander has five tests on the CROWS system.

“When the gunner is executing the machine gun engagements, the vehicle commander is using the commander’s independent thermal viewer to identify supplemental targets,” Krivistky said. “It speeds the process of target acquisition and target hand-off to rapidly defeat multiple targets in sequence.”

The Maneuver Center of Excellence looked at all of the different possible target engagements that a tank crew might see and found 3,264 different variables. With the gunnery tables, officials need to decide which types of engagements are the best use of time and show a crew’s gunnery skills. 

“We only have 30 engagements for live fire so we have to be really selective of which engagements have the biggest payoff to the crew’s experience because the other 3,234 would have to be done in simulations,” Krivistky said.

Once they collect all of the data from 3ID’s training, they will hand it off to the Maneuver Center of Excellence for analysis. Officials from the center will take their findings to the Armor School’s Commandant and if he approves the manual, they’ll go through the publication process which can take three to six months. 

When a new book is published and there’s a “significant change in how we do things,” there will be an implementation period across the Army which takes about a year, Krivitsky said. The 3ID initiative “accelerates the completion of this training strategy and publication by at least nine months which in the Army system, that’s fast.”

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