Testing mortar skills in the hills of Australia

Testing mortar skills in the hills of Australia

Marines with the 120mm mortar platoon for Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, load a round into an M327 120mm mortar during a combined artillery and close air support training exercise following the conclusion of Talisman Saber 2013. Photo by Cpl Michael Oxton.

TOWNSHEND ISLAND, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA (August 30, 2013) – Like a drum beat, the cannons of naval vessels, rockets of circling aircraft, and shells of artillery pieces echo across the valley. Sweating under the weight of their armor, mortarmen anxiously wait for the opportunity to add their notes to the song.

Marines and Sailors of the 120mm mortar platoon for Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, recently participated in a four-day, coordinated fire-support training exercise following the conclusion of Talisman Saber 2013 here, August 3.

The platoon fielded the Expeditionary Fire Support System - two M327 120mm mortars based on the internally transportable vehicle - to compliment the two M777 Howitzer 155mm cannons and four M252 81mm mortars provided by BLT 2/4. The Australian Army added two M777 Howitzer 155mm cannons of their own and a number of forward observers as well.

The fire support scenarios included close air support from AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters and AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, and the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters of the Royal Australian Army.

"The training we conducted works our ability to coordinate our timing in conjunction with the other fires to ensure we are providing the maximum amount of firepower in support of an infantry mission," said Cpl Adrian N. Gonzalez, a section chief for the 120mm mortar platoon, BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Los Angeles, Calif.

The multi-day exercise included engaging targets at varying ranges, working artillery and mortar rounds around incoming aircraft conducting close air support, and complimenting effects from other weapons systems.

The bilateral nature of the training provided additional value, as fire missions came from the Australian Joint Fires and Effects Coordination Center, in addition to the 31st MEU's Fires Support Coordination Center, relayed by forward observers of both nations.

"I didn't know we would be talking directly to Australian forward observers until I heard the accent over the radio," said 2ndLt Franklin A. Borders, fire direction officer for Echo Battery, BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Tullahoma, Tenn. "It doesn't matter though, we can take a fire mission from an Australian observer or one of ours."

The mortarmen gained valuable experience working with their Australian counterparts while expending 60 high explosive rounds and 14 white phosphorous rounds in support of the combined operations.

The EFSS is valued for its ability to bridge the gap between the ranges of the 81mm mortar and 155mm Howitzer. The 120mm mortar platoon engaged targets at an average range of 2,500 meters, with their longest round reaching a target at 4,000 meters, all in conjunction with land, sea, and air fire-support assets.

"Being able to spend nearly a week training with all of these different assets, both U.S. and Australian, increases our ability to provide fire support in a combined effort," said SSgt Jarad L. Wilcox, operations chief of the 120mm mortars platoon, BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Reno, Nev.

The live-fire exercise following the conclusion of Talisman Saber 2013 provided effective and intense training to ensure U.S. and Australian forces foster and sustain cooperative relationships that enhance regional security, stability and prosperity. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps' force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.

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