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Elite commando gunners head on experimental missions with US Marines

14 May 2021
Specialist commando gunners covertly patrolled deep behind ‘enemy lines’ on experimental exercises with the US Marines designed to shape the operations of tomorrow.

It’s up to Royal Navy, Royal Marine and British Army commandos from 148 Commando Forward Observation Battery to bring a rain of fire and fury down upon enemy positions by guiding the guns of the Fleet – their own 105mm howitzers of 29 Commando Royal Artillery – or USMC HIMARS with pinpoint accuracy.

During exercises in Western Scotland alongside the US Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 101 Regiment Royal Artillery, elite reconnaissance strike teams operated deep behind hostile lines to call in precision guided munition and airstrikes.

Using small raiding craft and exploiting new kit and ways of working to identify enemy targets and call in fire to destroy them, the stealthy teams used a digital network to communicate quickly so a variety of munitions could be unleashed, paving the way for allied air, ground and naval forces to move in and control the area. 

Among the impressive firepower and tech at the disposal of the observers: Osprey tilt-rotors, drones, mobile rocket systems and the deep reconnaissance teams from the US Marine Corps Force Recon. 

The intensive training – dubbed Exercise Fleet Battle Problem – took place at the Kirkcudbright Training Area, in south-west Scotland.

It helped the 29 Commando teams – normally based in either The Citadel in Plymouth or Hamworthy Barracks in Poole – reconsider their role as part of Future Commando Force modernisation, which returns commandos to raiders from the sea, using the latest cutting-edge kit to help them in their missions.

“148 Battery played a huge role in Fleet Battle Problem and it was a seminal moment in their lifespan with the opportunity to wrestle with the wicked problem of increasing the endurance, duration, range, mobility, connectivity and lethality of their patrols,” said 29 Commando Commanding Officer Lt Col Dave Glendenning RA.

“Fleet Battle Problem examined the complex issue of winning the fight to get to the fight, whereby deliberate tactical action can defeat the strategy of an adversary.

 “The exercises reinforced the demand for investment in digital fires software, tactical communication systems and complex amphibious training opportunities to deliver credible political choice in the early years of the Future Commando Force programme.”

The digital fires network saw 148 Battery provide valuable information using enhanced MPU5 radios – rugged yet lightweight devices which feed crucial data back to commanders, which considerably reduces the amount of kit usually carried by around 15kg (roughly the weight of a typical microwave). Aside from its lightweight construction, not needing fixed infrastructure proved another bonus.

The commandos also worked with uprated Kestrel night vision devices and Mk3 Laser Light Modules, which can illuminate enemy targets at range, which aided their mission under the cover of darkness.

148 Battery are specially qualified in calling artillery, naval gunfire control and airstrikes to support 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and UK Special Forces. They are experts in covert insertion, patrols behind enemy lines, concealment, encrypted communications and battle damage assessment. 

They are part of 29 Commando Royal Artillery, the gunners of 3 Commando Brigade.

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