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Feb 4 2021

Engage!

The soldiers of enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group LITHUANIA provide a striking demonstration of their accuracy during live-fire exercise VIGILANT LEOPARD. 250 tanks and armoured infantry soldiers from Germany, the Netherlands and Norway are undergoing a complex training programme in the Pabrade training area while employing their Leopard 2A6 and 2A4 main battle tanks as well as their Marder 1A3 and CV 90 infantry fighting vehicles.

Preparation is everything

It is still early in the morning when the soldiers approach their combat vehicles. The first daylight clears out the dense fog and unveils the behemoths made from several tons of armour steel. Prior to going on the range, the main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles need to be camouflaged. The combat vehicles are supposed to blend in with the natural surroundings despite their size. For this purpose, their crews attach evergreen branches of coniferous trees to their tracked vehicles. Additionally, strips of white fabric and white paint are used to imitate a thin layer of snow. While the soldiers are preparing their main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, the officers in command are briefed on the upcoming exercise scenario: The objective is to contain an attacking armoured enemy for several hours.

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The right camouflage renders even the more than three metre high Leopard 2A6 main battle tank invisible, Bundeswehr/PAO EFP 
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A Dutch armoured infantry soldier with his HK417 assault rifle in firing position, Bundeswehr/ PAO EFP 

Vigilance saves blood

Dutch armoured infantry soldiers as well as Norwegian main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have moved into positions at the forward defence line. They have dug themselves in at the edge of the forest and vigilantly monitor the terrain in front of them. Their task is to reconnoitre the approaching enemy as early as possible. "Today we have the special challenge that the fog is reducing our ability to see enemy vehicles and infantry, but I am confident that my men's watchful eyes will not miss anything," states the Dutch armoured infantry platoon leader. Despite temperatures slightly below freezing and icy winds, the soldiers sit tight in their positions, waiting for the enemy. Suddenly one of the armoured infantry soldiers notices something moving at the edge of the opposite forest. Initially, it is only silhouettes before he more and more clearly recognizes enemy vehicles in the fog. The armoured infantry soldiers' tension is rising.

The position is to be held

Immediately, he relays the information to his fellow soldiers via radio. "Two enemy infantry fighting vehicles at right forest. Distance 800 metres." All armoured infantry soldiers now try to identify individual enemies through their sights. They recognize that additional enemy tanks are driving out of the forest, heading towards their positions. The engine noise is getting louder and the squealing of the tracks can be heard. Antitank teams are quickly formed and light antitank weapons are brought into firing position. The platoon leader assigns the targets to the individual light antitank weapon shooters via radio. All other soldiers assume firing positions with their assault rifles or machine guns and target the enemy infantry. What matters now is the accuracy of every individual soldier. This is the only way to keep delaying the attack. "Everybody ready? Surprise fire on my command," the platoon leader radios to his armoured infantry soldiers. For a short moment, time seems to be standing still. "Commence fire," he shouts in his radio set. All armoured infantry soldiers open fire on the enemy at the same time. Ear-shattering noise of battle is filling the air.

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While the light antitank weapon shooter engages the enemy vehicle, another soldier uses an assault rifle to provide covering fire for him. Bundeswehr/PAO EFP 
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Norwegian main battle tanks at the Parade training area. The NATO partner uses the Leopard 2A4 model. Bundeswehr/PAO EFP 

Reinforcements move in

The enemy's numbers continue to increase. Also main battle tanks are closing in on the positions of the armoured infantry soldiers. It is now clear that the opponent's main effort of attack is on the Dutch company. By working together, the Dutch and Norwegian companies manage to block the opponent. The battalion now shifts to mobile defence. Radio is used to coordinate the withdrawal and integration of the Dutch company. Now comes the moment for the tankies. "Start your engines. Tanks, march!" Staff Sergeant Thomas S. orders the crews of the German main battle tanks. With a deep rumble, the 1,500-horsepower-strong steel behemoths come to life. Side by side with the armoured infantry, they move into position and prepare for integrating their fellow soldiers and stopping the enemy. "As a platoon leader and tank commander, what matters to me now is that we function as one unit together with the armoured infantry," says Staff Sergeant Thomas S. Just a few moments later, the Leopards have reached their ordered position. They immediately start with their core task: engaging enemy main battle tanks. Meanwhile the armoured infantry soldiers jump out of their trenches and run to their infantry fighting vehicles through the thick undergrowth. As soon as they reach them, they quickly get in one after the other, bring their hand weapons into firing position over the side of the vehicle and withdraw to the next blocking position.

Massive firepower

Now the tanks are the mainstay of battle. They are highly mobile despite their 62 tons and can effectively engage opponents up to a distance of 4,000 metres with their 120-milimetre cannon. With their so-called KE rounds (KE = kinetic energy), they are able to penetrate any kind of vehicular armour. These kinetic projectiles area ideal to prevent the approaching armoured enemy from advancing any further. It also plays into their hands that the enemy tanks now have to attack across open terrain. Here the Leopards can exploit their full combat potential. Now the motto is "fire and movement". In this, the German Leopards act as the anvil to fix the enemy while their Norwegian fellow soldiers attack the flanks of the enemy. In doing so, the Leopards only stop for a short moment to aim and fire an accurate shot. Right after that, the main battle tank moves to its next firing position. Thus the German and Norwegian tank crews succeed in annihilating one enemy main battle tank after the other.

Mission accomplished! The enemy is retreating. Lieutenant Colonel Peer Papenbrook, the Commander of enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania, is pleased: "This success must not only be accredited to the individual soldier but also to the smooth teamwork of tanks and armoured infantry. Right here and now, the soldiers of the Battle Group have proven that they form a multinational unit, thereby securing success in battle."

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The Leopard 2A6 main battle tank can carry up to 42 rounds. 15 of those are immediately within reach in the turret. Bundeswehr/PAO EFP 
Story by Sascha Klenk

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