'Wettiner Heide' exercise

Fire Commands in German, Latvian and English

Fire Commands in German, Latvian and English

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"Pieci, seši, trīs – divi, septiņi, deviņi," Hauptfeldwebel [Sergeant] Kai Stahlnagel* announces the target coordinates for the Latvian artillery guns. "We simply use Latvian. It is much quicker and just as precise this way," he explains. The fire control SNCO and the fire control officer of the Latvian M109 self-propelled howitzer are sitting side by side in their small cabin. 'Wettiner Heide' has dovetailed the different nations with each other like no other exercise.

A large artillery target area in the distance with smoke rising.

Fighting the opponent: Military personnel from five nations work together as part of the multinational artillery battalion. They all carry out the fire commands and deliver the projectiles to the targets as required.

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

“Our multinational artillery battalion of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force ), NATO's rapid response force, includes five nations,” Oberstleutnant [Lieutenant Colonel] Timo Kaufmann says. He is the commander of the battalion. His mission: combat support. Providing long-range indirect fire, the artillery contributes to the successful employment of combat troops. Combat ranges of around 40 km illustrate how the effective use of artillery can influence a battle. Germany, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands and Latvia contribute to the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force multinational artillery battalion.

Hitting the Target Is What Counts

"The challenge is to integrate the different nations with their weapons, procedures and technology into the fire commands and to establish a common standard," Commander Kaufmann explains. He says that for the combat troops, infantry forces or battle tanks that need artillery support, it should not make a difference whether Dutch, Norwegian or Belgian artillery personnel are providing indirect fire. Based on this idea, the 'Wettiner Heide' exercise has served to harmonise the live-fire procedures of the nations. Using real fire commands and live ammunition, the artillery personnel is striving for the best target effect. As part of this effort, each nation has its very own tasks to fulfil.

ADLER – One System to Control It All

Three soldiers are sitting in front of computers inside a small cabin.

Jay (r.) processes the German fire commands and works side by side with the Latvian fire control officer.

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
A row of four howitzers on a field; their barrels point 45 degrees upwards.

These 155-mm M109 howitzers, which weigh about 25 tonnes, are Latvia's contribution to the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force .

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

Stahlnagel is simply called Jay on the radio. The 36-year-old lives in Idar-Oberstein and has been an artilleryman since 2005. “Usually, the fire commands for our German self-propelled howitzers are digital. Everything needed for precise firing is transmitted within the artillery information network, or ADLER for short," Sergeant “Jay” Stahlnagel explains. Experiences with this approach have been very good, he says. Jay received his entire training on the Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzer and is a staunch artilleryman. This howitzer is his thing. "It is different during this exercise," Jay adds during a short firebreak. He goes on to say that the Latvian personnel have been integrated into the multinational artillery battalion with the M109 self-propelled howitzer and that he has been tasked with the integration of the Latvian howitzers into the fire commands. Jay acts as a connecting link for the M109 howitzers. "We do this in Latvian, German or English," he says and smiles.
Together with his Latvian counterpart, Jay processes the fire commands that ADLER transmits to them. The two of them will subsequently transmit all necessary data to the Latvian howitzers. Only a few seconds later, the Latvian howitzers fire towards the enemy. "The integration of the Latvians into the fire commands has been going smoothly, the combat forces have not noticed anything," Jay says.

Trust Is as Important as Technology in Creating Bonds

A tank commander is smiling from his hatch.

It is just as important for crews to get to know each other in person as to coordinate tactical procedures in combat.

Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow

Be it the German rocket artillery firing with the MARSMittleres Artillerieraketensystem rocket launcher, the German and Dutch tube artillery with the Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzer, the Norwegians with their K9 self-propelled howitzer, the Belgian artillery personnel with their light 105-mm field howitzer, or the Latvians with the M109 self-propelled howitzer, the 'Wettiner Heide' exercise brings all of them together in combat. A Norwegian howitzer commander, however, sums up what matters to the soldiers personally. "For us, it is also important to get to know each other in person during the exercise. We know our technology, but knowing and understanding how our neighbours fight creates trust and comradeship.”

*names have been redacted

The Artillery Weapons of the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force

  • Three soldiers observe the impacts of the artillery grenades from a hideout.

    As a rule, all artillery fire is monitored. Norwegian observers measure the impacts and observe the target effects.

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • A row of four howitzers on a concrete pad; their barrels point 45 degrees upwards.

    Heavyweight from Norway: The K9 weighs almost 50 tonnes and is powered by a 1,000-hp engine. A second armoured vehicle, the K10, resupplies the howitzer with ammunition in an automated process.

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • Three firing self-propelled howitzers on a field

    Both the German and Dutch artillery use Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzers. The hybrid control system of the howitzer combines fast, precise firing with high mobility. It is one of the most advanced guns in the world.

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
  • Two rocket launchers fire their rockets with gleaming light trails.

    The MARSMittleres Artillerieraketensystem rocket launcher can engage targets at distances of up to 80 km.

    Bundeswehr/Martin Glinker
  • A light field howitzer during firing. A soldier tugs on the pull cord to fire.

    The light 105-mm field howitzer of the Belgian artillery is being towed by the DINGO all-terrain all-protected carrier vehicle. This setup carries twelve shots. Here, too, four howitzers form a howitzer platoon.

    Bundeswehr/Marco Dorow
by René Hinz