Soldiers and Airmen from the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, the German 1st Surface to Air Missile Wing, and the Royal Dutch Air Force’s 802nd Squadron met to certify their Patriot fire units by conducting a live fire exercise Rapid Arrow 16 at the NATO Missile Firing Installation October 2-14, 2016.
All you can hear is the wind blowing, and the sound of the Mediterranean Sea languidly crashing upon the shores as everyone holds their breath in anticipation. Then in an instant the tranquil scene is violently interrupted by the roar of the Patriot PAC-2 missile leaving the Patriot Launching station as it takes off into the air. As a cloud of smoke and fire billows over the launching area, all eyes follow the missile into the sky where it safely passes near its target qualifying as a hit to then self-detonate over the waters in what can best be described as patriotic majesty. And that was just the first of 46 missiles fired during exercise Rapid Arrow 16.
Exercise Rapid Arrow 16 was a multinational exercise designed to integrate and familiarize air defenders from the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands with each other’s equipment and techniques while conducting the final gunnery certification for each of the nations’ NATO Patriot Evaluators, evaluation of a Patriot fire unit firing a live missile. Everything from range instruction to final training procedures and even meal times was an exercise in integration and teambuilding.
“We have been completely integrated with our Dutch and German counterparts,” said Sgt. Derek Campbell, a Patriot Enhance Operator with the 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment. “We lived with them when they go to dinner, breakfast, whatever it is we are right there with them.”
“We have been able to learn some of their techniques and procedures and be able to take them back to our forces and make ourselves better,” Campbell said.
This annual event was so successful, drawing press coverage and dignitaries from multiple nations, that at the conclusion of the exercise the United States and Germany signed a Letter of Intent to return next year and to make the event even larger. Already planned for Rapid Arrow 17 is the addition of more Patriot launchers to facilitate more live fires and multiple short range air defense displays to include Stinger missile launches from the Avenger weapon system and the German short range equivalents.
“It was good to see each other’s procedures so we can help each other go forward and to make even better procedures and to learn from each other,” said 1st Lt. Jop Van Der Speck a tactical control officer with the 802nd Squadron Fire Unit 3, Royal Dutch Air Force.
At the end of the exercise all seven new NATO evaluators were successfully certified, completing their training. But most importantly, the bonds between the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands were strengthened and will continue to get stronger as they plan for next year’s iteration of exercise Rapid Arrow.
“It has been a great experience to work together with the Americans just to see how our different procedures work and compare them to each other and learn from each other.” said 1st Lt. Anja Gromen, a tactical control officer with the German Airforce.
“It is really important to work together as NATO partners because we also might deploy together.”