GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- It has sounded like a nonstop thunderstorm at this base for the past two weeks, during which the Army has conducted the largest artillery exercise in Europe since the Cold War.
More than 3,700 soldiers from 26 nations are participating in Dynamic Front 18 -- the Army's premier multinational artillery drill on the Continent -- almost three times as many participants as last year. The exercise, which began Feb. 23, wraps up on Saturday.
"I think everybody realizes the importance of readiness, and this is a great readiness-building exercise," said Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Europe. "Also, units are realizing how much we can do on this training area and the kind of quality experience you get when you work together here."
The focus of the exercise is to improve communication between artillery from the different nations -- and to identify how to best use their assets.
During the training, the soldiers had to answer, "how can we make sure we have responsive fires, to maintain strong deterrent capabilities here in Europe," McGuire said.
One answer has been to encourage NATO allies to incorporate Artillery Systems Cooperation Activities, a computer program used by several allies to communicate in real time, linking their field artillery and command and control systems.
This year nine nations are using the ASCA system, four more than last year. It's increasing use has made for better synchronization of the various artillery pieces, said McGuire.
"Up until the late '90s, soldiers would call for artillery fire with radios, and it might take 10 to 15 minutes to get support. Now we do it digitally, and this saves a lot of time," said Brig. Gen. Antonio Aguto, commanding general of the 7th Army Training Command.
Using modern methods such as the ASCA system, observers from one ally call for fire from another ally's guns, with much faster response times, Aguto said.
"This is a huge asset to our soldiers," he said.
NATO allies and partner nations brought a host of big guns to fire during the training. In total, there are seven rocket launching systems, and 94 artillery pieces, including eight German Panzerhaubitze 2000 armored howitzers, 14 British L118 light guns, and 18 U.S. M777 155 mm howitzers.
Communicating among the various platforms has been a challenge, but so far the troops have had a very successful drill, said British Bombardier Marcus Box.
"It's like cars," Box said. "We all use different makes and models, but we all have cars, and we can generally figure out what car does what better. And for us, how do we use each of them to take advantage of that."