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Southwest's firepower tested... well below zero

By Capt. Vance White
First published in
SFOR Informer#129, December 26, 2001

The lanyard quivered, taut as a bowstring in the bitterly cold air. For one moment longer, the only sound was the whisper of the knife-sharp wind across the snow-covered plain. Then a single barked command broke the silence: "FIRE!"
Exercise Balkan Gunner had begun.

Glamoc - It started on Dec. 6 with the United Kingdom Battle Group (UKBG) Mortar Platoon of Gurkha soldiers and the gunners of 127 (Dragon) Battery joining Canada's Romeo Battery at its home in Glamoc. The training brought units from the Canadian, Dutch and United Kingdom battle groups together to test their interoperability and effectiveness in giving indirect fire support under one command element.
The exercise marked the first time, for this rotation, that the newly formed Offensive Support Group (OSG) Headquarters had the opportunity to work together with its sub-units in theatre. The OSG is commanded by Lt. Col. André Harvey, commanding officer of 5e Regiment d'Artillerie Légère du Canada (5e RALC), from Valcartier, Quebec, Canada.
"The OSG is an independent manoeuvre unit that combines all indirect fire assets under one commanding officer to be employed by the division commander," said Harvey. "It would normally be used as a 'show of force' asset by demonstrating its capabilities. The guns themselves are a deterrent, but combining the units maximises the deterrent effect."
The main objective of Exercise Balkan Gunner was to ensure the units involved could work together. Such teamwork is called interoperability.
"We want to standardise the way we do business," explained Harvey, who is very enthusiastic about the opportunity to command troops from different nations. "We need to bring two batteries of artillery and a mortar platoon together on the same targets at the same time. We need to ensure we have similar standards and procedures."
With the various technologies and equipment employed by the different units, some procedures were simplified. The "interoperability bugs" were worked out in the one-day Command Post Exercise (CPX) so the two-day Live Fire Exercise (LFX) went ahead without incident. It was only the sub-zero weather that slowed things down. Partial visibility due to blowing snow limited the ability of Forward Observation Officers (FOOs) to call for rounds to be sent down range.
"Despite the weather, I think the exercise went very well," said Royal Artillery Capt. Charlie Anderson, 127 (Dragon) Battery FOO and MND-SW HQ G3 Artillery staff officer. "The modified procedures we used to bring fire down worked for both the British and Canadian guns as well as the Gurkha mortars. If called upon, the OSG will be very effective."
"We've worked through the interoperability issues. If and when we're needed, we'll be ready," said Harvey near the end of the exercise. "I'm very confident with the leadership and soldiers in the units."
Apart from the HQ element of 13 Canadian personnel from Valcartier, the units that make up the OSG are Romeo Battery, the Canadian LG1 105mm light howitzer based in Glamoc, and 127 (Dragon) Battery, the British 155mm mechanised AS90 guns based in Sipovo. For the exercise, the Royal Gurkha Rifles Mortar Platoon with its 81mm mortars was deployed and a tank platoon from the Netherlands Battle Group simulated the manoeuvre element with its Leopard II tanks.
These units are employed by their respective battle groups during normal framework operations, but would be brought together under the OSG command element for a specific operation if the division commander felt it necessary in a particularly tense situation. Attack helicopters and "fast air" could also be brought under OSG command if deemed necessary.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Canada, Netherland, UK

Training and Exercises