The booming sound of Browning .50-calibre machineguns echoed across the range at Puckapunyal as a platoon of M113AS4 gun cars opened fire on two closing drones nearly 200 metres away.
CAPTION: Australian Army soldiers prepare for a combat team quick attack with M1A1 Abrams and M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers during Exercise Iron Warrior 23 at Puckapunyal. Story and photos by Corporal Michael Rogers.
A cheer broke out as one drone shattered into pieces, the direct hit turning it into flaming confetti that littered the field in front of the carriers.
As the second drone flew out of sight, the crew of gun car ‘Battle Axe’ raised their hands in victory, bragging rights secured.
It’s the first time a drone target shoot has been run during Exercise Iron Warrior, the culminating live-fire exercise on the mechanised regimental officers’ course.
The serial was added in response to increased drone use in the modern battle space, according to School of Armour Tactics Wing instructor Warrant Officer Class Two Robert Kelly.
“We want to keep the training as current as possible, and if you look at the conflicts in Ukraine and overseas, drones are heavily influencing the battle space,” he said.
During the nine-week course, infantry and engineer officers were taught vehicle navigation, manoeuvre tactics and mounted firing on the armoured personnel carrier.
Mechanised Tactics instructor Corporal Ross Pickard said the biggest challenge for students on course was the speed at which everything was done.
“It’s a pretty big change of pace. Instead of being able to take a couple of minutes to make a decision, you’ve got maybe five to 10 seconds,” he said.
“Their planning cycle to make a quick decision, whether to commit to something or withdraw, is compressed. It draws from a lot of knowledge and skills they already have, but they have to be able to do it quicker.”
Exercise Iron Warrior also put participants through their paces in an ambush, a convoy escort and combat team assault, working alongside Australian light armoured vehicles (ASLAVs) and M1A1 Abrams.
CAPTION: Australian Army M1A1 Abrams provide support by fire for a combat team quick attack.
The final activity was a 15km-long, combat-team assault with a mine field breach, something combat engineer Lieutenant Drew Roberts was particularly excited about.
“It’s very close to what we do as engineers. I studied that kind of tactical action at Holsworthy, so it’s cool to see how it looks,” he said.
Lieutenant Roberts said the hands-on nature of the course made it particularly effective.
“It’s by far the best course I’ve done in Army, due to its practical nature. There’s obviously a classroom component but then you are out field, banging it in for days on end,” he said.
“You start the course and you struggle to move your single car, but by the end of it you are finding it pretty easy to manoeuvre the entire platoon.”
Infantry officer Lieutenant Thomas Wylie joined the Army after he finished a physics degree and decided being trapped behind a desk wasn’t for him.
CAPTION: Australian Army soldiers celebrate after a direct hit brings down a drone target.
His part-time job as a mechanic during university came in handy during the course, and said it felt good to get back on the tools, because even officers aren’t above operator maintenance.
“It was great being so hands-on with the vehicles. For those like myself, who are posting to dismounted units, it’s great to sit in the hot seat and get the experience while we can,” he said.
“Especially as we move through and start to phase out these buckets, there will be less and less chance for me to get in one of them again.”
For junior officers the course is the final hurdle before being posted to their first unit as a platoon or troop commander.
As for the drone that got away, it was found to have been clipped twice in the propellers – hit, but not brought down.
CAPTION: The remains of a drone target shot down.