Army Spartan Brigade preparing to put newest combat vehicles through their paces

Army Spartan Brigade preparing to put newest combat vehicles through their paces
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“Spartan Brigade” soldiers inside a M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams tank participate in new equipment training in September 2022. The brigade is the first to complete a new modernization initiative and it is now headed to the National Training Center. (US Army/Pfc. Dustin Stark)

WASHINGTON — The US Army is about to get a peek at how its newest fleet of Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Paladin howitzers will operate together in “austere” environments.

Soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 3rd Infantry Division, also called the “Spartan Brigade,” recently became the first to completely divest from their older combat vehicles and receive the Army’s latest rides. They are now preparing to head to the National Training Center in California next month for a reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSO&I) event that will test out interoperability. 

“The expeditionary RSO&I, while not specifically tailored to the new platforms, is there to help stress us, [and learn to] sustain and build combat power with the new equipment,” Spartan Brigade Commander Colonel Ethan Diven told reporters during an October 2022 call. “[We’re] trying to mirror what it would be like to deploy into an austere environment, from fort-to-port, and then generate combat power on a foreign soil.”

As part of the Army’s new Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model (ReARMM), the brigade began turning in legacy vehicles in 2021 and receiving 87 M1A2 System Enhancement Program version 3 (SEPv3) Abrams tanks, 125 M2A4 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 13 M7A4 Bradley Fire Support Team (BFIST) vehicles, 18 M109A7 Paladins, 18 M992A3 Field Artillery Ammunition Supply Vehicles, and four Joint Assault Bridges.

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Given the breadth of the equipment, each of the seven battalions received new vehicles at different times and began collective training at the company battalion level. This incremental fielding process enabled the brigade to incrementally “sell lessons back to the Army”, including ways ABCTs could be sustained and how to mitigate capability gaps, according to Maj. Steven Philips, a logistics officer with the Spartan Brigade.

For instance, Philips asked, “How does the Army utilize some of those legacy platforms to make up for that challenge that comes along with a heavier piece of equipment?”

He said the brigade provided the larger Army with feedback including the challenges that came with recovering the heavier M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams tank, which tips the scales at 73.6 tons, more than a couple tons over the M1A2 SEPv2’s 71.2-ton weight. In the future, the service wants to use one M88A3 Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift and Evacuation System (Hercules) to recover heavy vehicles like the M1A2 SEPv3, but until that new vehicle is fielded, the service will use two older M88A2 Hercules to recover each SEPv3 Abrams tank.

By late September 2022, the brigade wrapped up the weapon modernization piece of the equation when a M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams tank crew completed operator new equipment training. Since then, soldiers have been participating in a series of command post and fire coordination exercises designed to help them work together in contested environments at a distance in preparation for their 30-day National Training Center rotation set to begin in February. 

Soldiers will first deploy to California for the RSO&I activities, according to Lt. Col. Daniel Hodermarsky, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd ABCT, 3rd Infantry Division. Then over two weeks, the Spartan Brigade will participate in force-on-force maneuver against soldiers from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment before moving into a few days of live-fire maneuver exercises and then redeployment back to Ft. Stewart. 

“The austere environment of the high California desert will definitely put the increased range and refill capabilities, as well as the new communications capabilities and some of the on-the-move and tracking capabilities we have to the test,” Devin added.

While the Spartan Brigade is the first to modernize, it won’t be the last. Soldiers with the 1st ABCT, 3rd Infantry Division — also known as the Raiders — have also begun the ReARMM process and turning in their legacy their older combat vehicles.