New Tanks being put to the test

By Pat Caldwell / For The Observer July 12, 2013 10:04 am

A new M1-A2 SEP Abrams main battle tank is test fired on a gunnery range south of Boise. Eastern Oregonís Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, is currently running the tanks through field trials at the Orchard Combat Training Center outside Boise, Idaho. The 3rd Battalion is the only National Guard unit in the nation to field the new technologically-advanced tank. (Pat Caldwell photo)
A new M1-A2 SEP Abrams main battle tank is test fired on a gunnery range south of Boise. Eastern Oregonís Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, is currently running the tanks through field trials at the Orchard Combat Training Center outside Boise, Idaho. The 3rd Battalion is the only National Guard unit in the nation to field the new technologically-advanced tank. (Pat Caldwell photo)
 

Eastern Oregon’s National Guard unit finding out all about its new tanks in Idaho 

ORCHARD COMBAT TRAINING CENTER, Idaho — Eastern Oregon’s Oregon Army National Guard unit kicked off one of its most important and revolutionary Annual Training sessions this week on the high desert south of the Gem State’s capital.

The citizen-soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment began high-tempo operations centered around the newest, most modern and lethal main battle tank in the world.

The new tank, the M1-A2 SEP Abrams, is the latest version of the U.S. Army’s armor mainstay but is a radical departure from previous models. The nearly 70-ton M1-A2 SEP showcases upgraded gun sights and armor along with improved and superior electronics and color map displays all connected to a high-tech computer system. 

The tank boasts a top-quality communications frame and an enhanced turbine engine. The tank also features what is known as a “CROWS-II” system that is essentially a machine gun — with better sights — on top of the metal turret that can be controlled from inside the armored vehicle. Using a joystick and a digital display, the “CROWS-II” system nullifies the need for a Guardsman to open the hatch to fire the weapon.

The battalion is the only National Guard unit in the nation to field the new technologically-advanced tank.

“It is obviously an upgrade,” Lt. Col. Jason Lambert of Hermiston said about the new SEP tank. “It is the culmination of our NETT (new equipment) training.”

Since the unit returned in 2011 from its second tour of duty in Iraq, Guardsmen assigned to the battalion’s two tank companies — one in Ontario and one in Hermiston — spent their weekend drills at the Umatilla Army Depot learning how to operate the new tank. Now, with more than a year of instruction on the M1-A2 SEP under their belts, Guardsmen will take the final test on the new tank during a three-week training period that began Monday.

Lambert said he wasn’t too worried about how the tankers in the 3rd Battalion will perform.

“Problem solving is what we do,” he said.

On a dusty, isolated gunnery range south of Boise on Tuesday, members of the 3rd Battalion were busy conducting one of the first, and most crucial, tests for the new tank. Because none of the tanks have fired in more than 18 months, each M1-A2 SEP must be test-fired to ensure the gun tube works and the tank is safe. 

The process consists of the battalion master gunner, Master Sgt. Daniel Ishaug, and the unit’s maintenance foreman, Chief Warrant Officer III John Bales — both of La Grande — using a remote system to fire the tank main gun while the crew is out of the vehicle. 

“It is an important safety feature to make sure all the crew is safe. We are testing to make sure the computers are working, the sensors are working and make sure all the computer data is on,” said Maj. Joseph Lundell of La Grande, the battalion’s operation officer.

Once the crew loads a tank round in the gun tube, Bales and Ishaug hook up a remote cable to the trigger mechanism. Then they retreat to the back deck of the tank, duck down and, after ensuring all safety measures are in place, fire the gun.

“It’s like a carnival ride,” Ishaug said. 

Bales said the process is an efficient, and safe, method to ensure the tanks can operate properly.

“We kneel behind the turret. And as long as you take the proper precautions you’re all right,” Bales said.

Ishaug said much of the focus of the test fire revolves around the big gun inside the tank.

“We make sure the recoil mechanism is operating properly. We only do this with new tanks,” Ishaug said.

After the test fire, Bales and Ishaug crawl into the tank turret and begin a sequence of safety checks.

“He has his checks and I have mine,” Bale said. “I’m looking at the cradle of the gun and where the breech attaches to it. We make sure the gun recoils right back to where it started.”

Ishaug and Bales double-check an array of items around the gun tube to ensure there are no leaks or other deficiencies that could harm the crew.

“We shoot (during the test fire) the same ammo we are going to use to qualify with. That gives the crew confidence in the tanks,” Ishaug said.

The test fire, however, was only the first step toward the final exam for the tankers of the 3rd Battalion. In the next 10 days, each tank crew will be required to qualify on a gunnery range with the new M1-A2 SEP. 

The 3rd Battalion consists of Guard units from Hood River, The Dalles, Hermiston, Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City and Ontario.