Gunners, forward observers and command post officers of the 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (4 Regt) were put through their paces on one of the most explosive and dynamic artillery exercises.

Exercise Chau Pha, held at the Townsville field training area in June, was designed to progress live-fire certification from battery to regimental level, and prove the regiment’s ability to provide offensive support to combat teams within the battlespace.

Lieutenant Genevieve Butler, from 106 Battery, completed her first live-fire plan as a command post officer (CPO) during the exercise and said it was a high-pressure, high-reward experience.

“When you've got live ammunition and people relying on you to know the information is accurate, it is really daunting,” Lieutenant Butler said.

“But we've also got the staff around us for safety and the gunners know what they're doing, so it's a seamless exercise.”

As the CPO, Lieutenant Butler was responsible for receiving the forward observers’ call for fire and computing that data for the gunline to then engage specific targets within precise timeframes.

“It's pretty cool to be commanding the battery, as my first live-fire activity as well,” she said.

“Having the ability to facilitate all of those rounds being sent down range and working with the gun line, it's a pretty rewarding experience.”

Lieutenant Butler said there was a great sense of relief after completing the mission successfully.

“When you’re sitting in the protected mobility vehicle during a fire mission, sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s going smoothly, but then you hear the rounds are landing on target. Hearing that play out in real life is a really good feeling,” she said.

Australian Army Gunners Thomas Graham, left, and Zach Campbell from the 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, load the M777 155mm Howitzer during Exercise Chau Pha. Photo: Gunner Gregory Scott

Sending more than 300 bombs down range from his gun detachment in just one day, 106 Battery Delta detachment commander Bombardier Patrick Bartlett said the opportunity to conduct large live-fire missions was an unmatched experience of adrenaline and physical endurance. 

“Shooting bombs is one of those uniquely addictive experiences you get to experience in Defence,” Bombardier Bartlett said.

“There’s really nothing that compares to finishing a fire mission with large fire rates; it’s an absolute dream.

“Physically, artillery is one of the most explosive and high-intensity jobs. The gun preparation is pretty taxing; the guys are lifting 45 kilo bombs at a minimum, barrel-ramming and getting repelling charges ready. It can be exhausting.”

But many hands make light work, and Bombardier Bartlett said there was a lot of training and preparation to ensure all the gunners were prepared to execute high-level live-fire plans in the field.

“Team synchronicity is absolutely paramount,” he said.

“We can't move the gun without a team effort and that's why we train our lads really hard, so they can integrate with anyone in our battery and do their drills accordingly.”

The regiment is now certified to participate in the upcoming Brolga series of exercises, where it will integrate as the 3rd Combat Brigade’s organic fire support.

More photographs can be viewed on the Defence image gallery.