Massive goes to war
Sometimes you just don’t know what to expect from research trips, especially when it’s a formal visit to any type of government agency, branch or institution. You have a rough idea of what will take place so you hope for the best, prepare for the worst and pray the trip proves worth its while. Usually, things turn out quite OK. Occasionally, things become awesome. Like when we visited Nordic Battle Group.
We had to get up insanely early in the morning for the three hour drive to the military camp at Skillingaryd. We had our first scheduled appointment at 0815 and the weather services threatened with snow storms and icy roads. Luckily, we had none of that. In fact, as dawn broke not long before we reached the rendezvous location it revealed the start of a beautiful day – perfect weather. We met our appointed VOB (Visitor and Observers Bureau) officer from the Land Warfare Centre as planned and followed her into the camp. She arranged for a food package at the mess and then we went to meet one of the senior officers in charge of the live-fire exercise we would be observing. He gave us a basic but thorough run-down of what would happen during the day.
Simply put elements from the Nordic Battle Group (NBG) would play out a fictive scenario where they were moving into an area with a known enemy force spread out over three fortified locations. There were also a few unknown elements within the terrain the NBG company commander had to consider. To solve the mission, he had access to his regular mechanized infantry units, a mortar unit, an Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) and limited Close Air Support (CAS). He also had access to a small Command and Control element to help coordinate the assets. The NBG force would engage enemies in an area that was nearly 7 kilometers long and a few kilometers wide.
After the briefing we were introduced to another officer who would be our guide in the field during the exercise. He gave us armbands to wear so we could be identified as non-participants and we also got to don bright vests to make sure we were clearly visible in the terrain. Our VOB officer also handed out ear-plugs to everyone. Safety is paramount! We then idled at the camp for a while and talked to the officers there, explained who we were and what we did, talked about games, war and also got to promise that we wouldn’t ask to see anyone do “jump-shots” in the field. Because they don’t actually do that. Just so you know.
Eventually we headed out following the NBG armored personnel carriers to the exercise field. We parked off site and then walked into the area, passing several huge signs letting people know that strolling around the area was not only forbidden but could also be quite hazardous to your health. We quickly reached the first stop which was the deployment area for the mortar teams.
The VOB took the time to explain some of the issues of this particular type of exercise. Since it was a live fire exercise and the company commander had quite free reigns to solve his objectives it was more of a challenge to maintain a high level of safety. The entire flow of the exercise was there for slower than it would be in reality, to make sure everything was checked and double checked before rounds were fired etc. There were also quite a number of control officers around, marked with yellow and blue armbands. They also acted as a form Game Masters, adding a dynamic element to the exercise while being able to maintain a high level of safety. The focus was on the company and unit commanders tactical and leadership skills and there would be follow-up exercises in the days to come focusing on speed, accuracy and execution. Our guys got to talk to the mortar crews as we waited for the first sounds of contact, which soon echoed in across the landscape. Machine-guns and assault rifles engaged the first enemy targets encountered by the infantry and radio chatter picked up in frequency.
We were pulled back to a safe distance and waited for the rounds to start flying. A mighty thump announced the departure of the first round. Not knowing how much they would fire, but seeing the other infantry elements advancing, our guide moved us towards the engagement zone. As we left, we heard three more thumps as more rounds screamed towards their distant targets.
We walked quickly down a dirt road and eventually met one of the NBG infantry elements. They had engaged targets in the vicinity and were getting ready to move out again. We snapped a few pictures and moved past them in the direction they would advance. Along the way our VOB pointed out and commented various details as the guide gathered info on how the troops planned to move. This allowed him to lead us in right next to the advancing vehicles and dismounted troops. The whole world rumbled as tracked APC’s rolled past us, gunners ready to fire from the turrets.
We moved into the terrain, following closely behind some of the troops as they advanced. They picked up the pace and so did we, running with cameras and microphones across the uneven terrain. We caught up with the troops just as they formed a line and took position along the top of a ridge. Even as they were taking cover they identified enemy targets in the terrain below. They then opened up with assault rifles and machinegun fire, neutralizing the visible enemies.
More threats appeared and the fire-fight erupted again. Suddenly one of the NBG soldiers dropped like a sack of flour and started screaming in pain and agony. He had been designated a casualty by the officers controlling the exercise and this was his 15 minutes of fame caught by the Massive cameras. Without hesitation the soldier closest to him rushed to his side and grabbed his wounded comrade, pulling him towards the rear.
He started assessing the injury, tearing off the vest and webbing to expose the “wound”. The squad leader ran over, asking for a report. They communicated quickly and effectively, the medic providing additional information about the casualty as he treated him. He was quickly identified as having a serious injury and one of the vehicles was called up to evacuate him. A runner was sent back to guide them in across the rugged terrain. The other soldiers continued engaging enemies in the field below until all targets had been taken out.
The unit prepared to move out again as soon as the casualty was evacuated so our guide moved us towards the next engagement point. Again we traversed the rough terrain, trying to catch up with a squad that was advancing in parallel. We reached them just as they were grouped in a huddle, going through a quick briefing of the impeding assault. They finished the huddle and then advanced towards the target in a line. We followed closely behind until they split off to head up a hill. We broke right and joined up with the previous unit again. They had taken position in a series of trenches, overlooking a long road and an open field. We could see a simulated technical far away and a sniper target next to it. The soldiers were calling out targets, coordinating with command elements and trying to get a fighter plane overhead to come in for a CAS run.
The other unit on the hill sent over reinforcements and took a defensive posture, covering the left flank. Another unit advanced to the right, fired a smoke grenade at the technical and then withdrew. Billowing smoke marked the target and the plane came in fast and hard, simulating an attack run. A charge exploded below and the troops followed up with a hail of lead and tracers from multiple locations. Shouts, explosions and gunfire filled the air. One machinegun jammed up, causing the gunner to frantically clear his weapon but causing a temporary lull in fire from his position.
A spotter next to him picked up his slack and engaged some of the targets in his sector. Within seconds the gunner had cleared the jam and was back to putting fire down range. When all targets had been destroyed, calls of “Cease fire!” travelled down the line. This also signaled the end of our visit.
Our VOB and guide officers drove us back to the camp and we said our good bye’s. The fact that they allowed us to be so close to the soldiers and their vehicles during large parts of the exercise meant we could get closer than we ever hoped for. Sound recordings were made just a few feet from rumbling engines and smattering guns. Pictures were taken close enough for the photographers to get close ups of the brass casing. Our guide officer was eager, willing and more than able to understand what we needed. Our VOB was very keen on making sure we got what we came for and she provided us with more information and insight than we could ever have hoped for. They combined all this with a strong sense of responsibility and adherence to protocol and safety regulations. Experiences like these are fantastic sources of inspiration and reference. They also help us create solid action sequences in our games, since they allow us to better understand the dynamics and forces involved during operations like these. Being able to experience things first hand has no substitute!
We would like to thank the Swedish Armed Forces, in particular the Land Warfare Centre and Nordic Battle Group, for giving us an experience that vastly surpassed all expectations we had as we started the trip that dark, early morning. A special thanks go out to our VOB and guide for their professional attitude and helpful demeanor. Thank you guys!