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CALFEX ‘98: Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise

By Scott R. Lynch

For three consecutive Mondays in July and the first Monday in August, the general public, ROTC cadets, and Allied military personnel are treated to an outstanding show of U.S. Army Combined Arms Warfare. The display demonstrates the destructive capabilities and lethal results that are obtained when you combine the power of Armor, Field Artillery, Infantry and Close Air Support. The show is presented by the 1/16th Cav Regiment (The largest squadron in the Army ) and takes place on the Lawley/O’Brien Ranges at “The Home of Armor” Fort Knox, Kentucky.

From a central parking area on the post, Army buses carry the visitors out to the range. Upon arriving at the range you have a couple of hours to climb in, on, and around the various pieces of equipment that make up the modern Army. Qualified personnel are on hand to explain weapon systems operation and answer any questions. All the vehicles in the show, as well as a few from WWII, Korea and Vietnam are on display for several hours before and after the show. Infantry soldiers in full combat gear and camo painted faces display their M16’s and M249’s while describing the tools of the trade. While at the range, cold water and sunscreen are provided, with food and other refreshments available for purchase.

The show opens with a “BANG,” and two M1A1 Abrams tanks roar past the seating area, firing on the run at enemy tank silhouettes down range. The shaded bleachers give you a first hand perspective of the battlefield, and for the next hour your heart pounds and the earth shakes under the explosive barrage being sent down range. The commander leaps from his tank, welcomes the crowd, and signals one by one the start of the individual firepower demonstrations.

First two infantry squads patrol the hill below us, as Ghillie suited snipers dig in at the left and right flanking positions. Reactive targets pop up from a trench line and the squads hit the deck as machine gun fire erupts. The enemy drops back and the squads advance using the SAW’s for covering fire. Spotting enemy tanks, they drop flat again. A soldier from each squad springs up, aims and fires an M136 (AT4) Light Anti-armor Weapon, which explodes into the tank. M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFV) roll in with 7.62mm coaxial machine guns blazing, drop their rear doors and pick-up the squads. As they move to safety, the M3’s launch TOW missiles at the advancing armor.

Next, a demonstration of the power and accuracy of the “King of Battle,” Artillery. An M109 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzer unlocks its barrel in front of the bleachers and lobs several 155mm rounds on a distant hilltop. To the left of the crowd the MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) unloads its tubes firing 227mm rockets in six-second intervals. As the artillery moves off the firing area, an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter flies in, spinning 360 degrees in front of the crowd while hovering 100 feet off the ground. The pilot moves it to the edge of the grandstand and lights up the 30mm cannon under its nose. He finishes the demo by launching 2.75 inch rockets from the side pods to the excited clamor of the crowd.

It’s time for a battle! The section commanders exit their vehicles and meet the squadron commander in front of the seating area. Using a terrain model board of the range area, each leader explains his unit’s objectives and their plans for achieving them. Smoke grenades are ignited downrange to highlight areas of importance for the spectators as they listen to the battle plan. Enemy vehicle silhouettes have been strategically arranged in various formations downrange.

As the battle begins, the vehicle to vehicle communications is piped over the P.A. system. A team of M3 Bradley mounted scouts have identified an enemy recon element and report the grid position back to the unit.. The enemy recon element discovers the scouts and launches a Rocket Dispensed Minefield, effectively cutting off the BFV’s retreat route. A thunderous explosion rocks the range as the scouts deploy a Trailer Mounted mine Clearing Device consisting of a tethered projectile and a couple hundred pounds of C-4. The blast clears the road and allows the scouts to make their getaway.

Once the scouts are clear of the engagement area, an M1A1 tank platoon, Mechanized Infantry, and a platoon of Apaches work together to destroy the forward security forces. Paladin 155mm Howitzers suppress enemy air defenses clearing the skies for two USAF A-10 Warthogs. The A-10’s make several low passes, blasting deep at the enemy with their GAU-8/A 30mm Gatling guns. While the opposition scrambles to establish a firing line on what has (intentionally) been exposed as an area of weakness, the MLRS destroys follow-on forces isolating the main element from any reinforcement.

The finale unfolds as the main body attempts to penetrate the U.S. position and are cut to ribbons by six M1A1’s firing a series of 120mm volleys. (NOTE: If your pulse isn’t racing at this point call for a doctor...’cause you may be dead!) The Apaches join in firing rockets and the 30mm chain guns, while the BFV’s take out dismounted troops with 25mm cannons, and 7.62mm machine guns. To end the battle the tanks pop a solid wall of smoke, masking their movement to a defensive position.

The show, although very expensive to produce, is free of charge, and open to all ages. For information on CALFEX ’99 contact: Fort Knox Public Affairs Office (502) 624-3351

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N3 (December 1998)
and was posted online on October 14, 2016

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