Colorado Army National Guard members teamed with Active Duty counterparts, U.S. Air Force service members and international partners to conduct a simulated air-land raid during an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems rapid infiltration exercise in Bornholm, Denmark May 24, 2022.
The exercise was in conjunction with DEFENDER-Europe 22 – a yearly multinational training exercise that takes place within Eastern Europe.
“We’re here as part of the DEFENDER-Europe 22 series of exercises, which this specific exercise is a bilateral U.S.-Danish partnership to show the strategic reach of the HIMARS rocket system,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Maranian, commander, 56th Artillery Command, U.S. Army Europe and Africa. “This provides us an opportunity to exercise with a strong and reliable ally and demonstrate the capability of the weapon system.”
After completing a live fire exercise at the Estonian island of Saaremaa the previous day, Soldiers with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery Regiment, 75th Artillery Brigade, Fort Sill, Oklahoma loaded their HIMARS and two High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles into a C-17 Globemaster III. After a short, one-hour flight to Bornholm, the battery unloaded the four vehicles and prepared to execute the next simulation.
The air-land raid utilized four elements: the command vehicle, the Platoon Operating Center, and the two HIMARS systems. Fire missions called into the POC from anywhere in the operation environment through a series of computer terminals and radios. This enables troops on the ground to request fire support in combat situations. The live fire in Saaremaa demonstrated this concept, and while the mission in Bornholm did not fire any live rounds, the HIMARS received the mission from the POC and positioned their systems to get an azimuth of fire digitally.
Saaremaa to Bornholm
The fire mission that took place in Saaremaa was received from the 169th Field Artillery Brigade, Colorado Army National Guard located in Tapa, who received it from American forces in Voru, where it was originally initiated by Estonian Defense Forces, spanning nearly 250 miles. from start to finish, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Isabella Cortes, platoon leader Battery B, said. The 169th was the headquarters unit for fire missions for the battery during DEFENDER-Europe 22.
“Today’s fire mission was received internally,” Cortes said. “However, air-land raids have the capability of coming from whoever you need it to.”
Cortes stated that this exercise is a practical, real-world example of using the C-17’s to carry the HIMARS, where they can land, and within ten minutes, unload the systems, execute a fire mission and reload back into the C-17’s.
“That was the fastest I’ve ever seen of a platoon of the six or seven of these I’ve seen,” Col. Christopher McKee, commander, 169th FAB said. “1-14 is a phenomenal platoon.”
Working with NATO Allies
The intention of the simulated exercise was to practice Danish and American planning and implementation of U.S. systems. DEFENDER-Europe 22 as a whole focuses on interoperability between American forces and its Eastern European allies, and this air-land raid showcased Danish and U.S. forces’ ability to rapidly deploy fire systems.
“The value of training with NATO allies where we are the delivering end of a NATO source target and we are the solution, having a HIRAIN gives us the opportunity to compliment inside NATO for their long range precision into a normally out of range target,” McKee said.
It is important to note that the exercise was planned over a year ago and was not the result of the crisis between Ukraine and Russia, however that crisis reminds us that defense and cooperation is important for the NATO alliance.
“We do always think about how things are perceived, but frankly the 30 nations of the alliance working together throughout this difficult time need to show solidarity amongst one another and prove that we are about our collective defense, and I believe we showed that today,” said Maranian.
Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov echoes this sentiment in a statement on Twitter, “Today's Danish-American exercise on Bornholm shows Denmark's special responsibility for peace and security in the Baltic Sea region.”
This was the first time HIMARS had come to the Danish island, a historical event that not every party was comfortable with. Although the air-land raid was a planned event that preceded current events, the Russian embassy produced a note from 1946 relating to the Soviet handover of Bornholm to Denmark after WWII stating that this event was violating that note.
However, the utilization of said note from 76 years ago is not applicable to the Danish government of today. According to Jakob Seerup, a PhD, researcher and curator at Bornholm’s Museum, the note was applied broadly when it was first introduced and it wasn’t until new government officials were part of the Danish government that the policy changed.
“Danes over-implemented the contents of the March 1946 note. Up until 1983, there was not a thought in Copenhagen about any foreign troops even visiting Bornholm,” Seerup said in an article published by Lossi 36. “Only the election of a new government made it possible to reinterpret the note which, by the way, did not mention the stationing of foreign troops.”
While this aforementioned note could potentially question the legitimacy of foreign troops on Bornholm, if one was to look to the Danish experts and officials there would be no question as to who has the authority to allow these troops on this island.
Bødskov told Danish television station TV2, “There is no deal between Denmark and Russia that entails a ban on foreign troops on Bornholm. It is Denmark alone that decides what happens on Danish territory.”
A Soldier’s Perspective
The historical significance of the air-land raid was not lost on the Soldiers involved in the exercise. The excitement of getting to travel to a foreign country, work with their soldiers and show off the equipment they work with every day was a unique opportunity for the troops in Bravo Battery.
“We were so excited to be involved in it, even though there were only two launchers that were able to board the C-17 for this mission it was a group effort,” Cortes said. “They understood the importance of it as well as the historical aspect of it, as well as building relations, so they were happy to go on the C-17 and be able to enjoy the air-land raid and also to be a part of something bigger.”
“The significance of this comes down to capabilities and strength. Host nations such as Estonia or Denmark are always going to understand their terrain and situations better than we will,” McKee said. “What they lack though is extended firing capabilities. So for us to be able to connect with their systems and fire on targets on their command is an incredible step forward building an interoperable force.”