CHELMNO, Poland -- The sky over the Vistula River was slate-gray, but there was no rain--so the Polish Army's 12th Mechanized Division had to improvise.
The troops had wanted to ferry some of their heavy equipment across the Vistula as part of NATO's Anakonda 2018 exercise in November. But the river had fallen so much overnight that sand bars had appeared in its middle, creating the danger of the motorized ferry running aground. So the soldiers practiced landings only on the staging-area side of the river.
The ferry would make a loop on that side, then land, dispatching an armored personnel carrier and a dozen troops to clamber up the bank toward an imaginary enemy.
In addition to armored personnel carriers and tanks, the 12th has an array of big guns--self-propelled howitzers, multiple-rocket-launcher systems, antiaircraft systems and surface-to-air missiles.
Nearby, the 12th Mechanized Field Artillery Battalion conducted a joint fire exercise with troops from the U.S. 82nd Field Artillery Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Lt. Col. Daniel Noga, who led the Polish troops, enthused that his country would soon be getting the American-made M142 HIMARS multiple-rocket-launching system in order to gain more big-gun range. With extended-range guided munitions, M142 rockets can reach targets up to 100 kilometers away, experts say.
With Russia fielding artillery with increasingly longer ranges, the U.S. Army has named long-range precision fires as its top modernization priority. Here, where Poland is part of the forces protecting NATO's eastern flank, which side has the most effective artillery is of vital concern.
Half a world away at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Col. John Rafferty, director of the long-range precision fires cross-functional team, is spearheading the creation of the Army's next generation of long-range artillery, rockets and missiles. He's also a key player in ushering in a task force approach to equipment development that is aimed at putting weapons in the field years earlier.
Rafferty joined the new Army Futures Command in August. An important component of his job is getting the key players in the development of big guns working simultaneously rather than in sequence--an approach aimed at reducing weapons delivery time, he said.
The traditional equipment-development model is linear, Rafferty noted. That is, one player completes their development task before the next starts theirs.
With a linear model, "first we develop a concept, then...