Mortars, artillery and rockets have been the weapon of choice for insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are mobile and can be easily hidden, giving Coalition soldiers just seconds to take cover when they are launched.
The Army, taking a note from Navy warfare technology, adopted the C-RAM system or Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar system. Known to the Navy as the Phalanx, this "system of systems" detects, warns and intercepts incoming rocket, artillery and mortar rounds at forward operating bases and significant targets in Iraq and now Afghanistan.
"It's amazing. Totally amazing product," said Staff Sgt. Alberto Marcillo, D Battery, 2nd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery. "I know for my fellow crew members they love it, especially every time it fires and it destroys the target. They know when we do this in theatre we'll be saving lives."
Using multiple layers of detection, the system can identify incoming enemy munitions in the space protected by the C-RAM, with a human operator certifying the target.
The system then lets out a loud alarm and voice of "incoming, incoming, incoming" to allow Soldiers the seconds they need to take cover. The C-RAM then shoots hundreds of 20mm rounds from its six-barrel gun at the incoming munition, detonating it in the air. The rounds themselves will also explode at a certain altitude so as to reduce injuries on the ground.
D/2-6th ADA Soldiers conducted certification exercises the third week of April at a Fort Sill range specifically created to practice on the C-RAM system. These certifications allowed them to become instructors on the system. Because Fort Sill is currently the only installation capable of testing these systems, they will also teach Soldiers from around the country.
Marcillo led a three-man team that was certifying as operator instructors on the interceptor system.
"It's been obviously a secret weapons system for quite a number of years and right now we are doing the certification process so we can have an actual training for the rest of the Army so we can deploy them throughout the Army forces," he said. "I've been on this weapons system on prior deployments. I've seen it in action. It's a proven weapon system."
A retired sailor who worked with the Phalanx weapon system was there to certify the crew team on the interceptor system.
The certification process is also a learning experience as the teams help the Army understand their capabilities and responsibilities. The system has only been in the Army's inventory since 2005, but they are constantly looking at how to adapt and improve it for wherever the mission takes them.
"We're learning a lot, and we're trying to figure out how best to deploy the weapon," said Marcillo.
For the C-RAM to adapt to the Army's needs, they had to make it self-sustainable so it can go anywhere. The system can also be broken up so that if a commander just needs the warning system they can have it, along with the Soldiers to operate it.
In Iraq in 2007, Marcillo was asleep in his tent after pulling guard duty and was awakened by the sound of incoming munitions and explosions.
"At first, I woke up out of it and didn't think anything of it until it got louder and closer. Then I heard the Phalanx weapon system kick off, I heard the alarms go off, [and] hit the ground. Then I started hearing explosions but not on the ground anymore, but in the air. I know that weapon system saved my life and fellow Soldiers on my particular FOB."
That incident prompted Marcillo to become an instructor on the system.
"It's a very important weapon system for defense out there. It already saved my life, it saves Soldier lives, it saves equipment, it saves time out there. So it should be a vital part of the Army's inventory."
Article by Caitlin Kenney, Fort Sill Cannoneer