By Pfc. Joshua Cowden: The hum of a distant aircraft enveloped the wooded training area as 30 mm rounds rattled through the crisp night air. An Apache zings through the night sky as it returns for another pass down the live fire qualification lane at the installation’s newly acquired aerial gunnery range on Fort Bragg, N.C., Jan. 27, 2020.
Photo By Pfc. Joshua Cowden | A U.S. Army AH-64D Apache Longbow prepares to engage targets during an aerial gunnery range exercise at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Jan. 27, 2020. The 1,100-acre range has over 460 targets controlled by a team in the observation tower. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Joshua Cowden, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
Pilots assigned to the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade put their expertise to the test as they executed the live fire training exercise in both day and night conditions. These types of exercises are key to maintaining unit readiness and allowing the pilot crews the chance to react to a live, simulated exercise.
“We are doing aerial gunnery table qualifications to up our readiness level and proficiency as crews,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Seaton, a pilot assigned to 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. “I just really enjoy getting out here and being able to shoot. Putting training rounds down range is a lot more fun than dry firing.”
This range validates the crew, team and platoon proficiency by simulating real world scenarios, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen Mudge, a master gunner assigned to 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
“The scenarios are developed off tactics, techniques and procedures,” Mudge said. “The range has many capabilities for the master gunner to create and change targets, or replicate a particular enemy echelon. This range is the bench mark for unit readiness.”
Mudge was the grader for this qualification range and provided feedback on each of the pilot teams’ firing iterations.
“Ranges like this one are a great asset in building team cohesion,” Mudge said. “Team cohesion is always built in a high level exercise like this. We further this cohesion by taking advantage of thorough after action reviews after each engagement scenario.”
This type of exercise must be planned out months in advance and requires a lot of moving pieces. Mudge must put together a plan for the script readers and the simulated exercise and put up all of the targets required through the multiple-table exercise.
“If you want to put together a really good gunnery range that everyone likes and gets benefit from, you have to put in a lot effort,” Mudge said.
Previously, Fort Bragg aviation crews had to travel to other installations to perform aerial gunnery ranges. This all changed in 2019 when Fort Bragg unveiled a brand-new range specifically created for these types of exercises. Equipped with the latest high-tech cameras and feedback capabilities, the $45 million range sits on over 1,100 acres and includes 460 targets controlled by a team in the observation tower.
“This range is a much better training tool than the previous way gunnery ranges were conducted,” Mudge said. “It’s great that we can stay at home station and do this scale of training now.”
Training opportunities like this are limited in numbers for aviation units and must be taken full advantage of. Only a certain number of rounds are provided to fire each year so that limits the number of opportunities to execute live fire training exercises.
“Our goal is to never waste a minute of range time,” Mudge said. “Every minute is valuable.”