by Michael Puttré
Jun. 1, 2002
Even an informed observer could be forgiven for concluding that field artillery, at least in US service, is an arm
of the past. The cancellation by the Bush Administration of the Crusader self-propelled howitzer system over the objections
of the US Army and many in Congress received ovations from think-tank analysts, not to mention the mainstream press. US Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld essentially said it's a good gun, but we don't need it. It's hard to argue the necessity of the
system in the context of modern warfare when not one of the US Army or Marine Corps units serving in Afghanistan brought any
of its field artillery components, except for mortars. Not one cannon tube. Not one rocket. Unit commanders reportedly had
the option to bring artillery, and none chose to do so, although it is worth mentioning that British forces in Afghanistan
did bring some 105mm towed howitzers with them.
Rewind to the Persian Gulf War of 1991, where prior to Desert Storm the Iraqis possessed about 120 G5 155mm towed
howitzers, supplied by Denel of South Africa. By some accounts, the G5 was the finest gun of its kind, capable of outranging
all contemporary systems, especially those of the US. Moreover, the Iraqis had hundreds of other 155mm artillery pieces, including
200 GHN-45 towed howitzers from Noricum (Austria), 90+ FH70 towed howitzers from Rheinmetall W&M (Germany), and 76 GCT
self-propelled howitzers from Giat (France). All of these guns were considered superior to cannon systems fielded by the US.
But it was the South African G5s that caused much pre-war agonizing by pundits in the media. In the event, Iraqi artillery
was all but destroyed from the air and by counter-battery fire from MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket Systems] and yielded little
or no combat advantage.
The outranging argument was unlimbered consistently by friends and advocates of the Crusader system. Every time,
the big gun's foes counter-fired that new ammunition for existing systems and precision strikes by aircraft would more than
make up for the inferiority of current US 155mm cannon systems, notably the M109 and M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers
and the M198 towed howitzer. In Afghanistan, US aircraft loitering over the battlefield equipped with Joint Direct Attack
Munitions (JDAMs) became de facto fire-support assets – flying artillery. "In many cases, US Special Forces on the ground
were calling in long-range bombers to provide tactical close-air support," Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told members of the
Senate Armed Services Committee in May 2002. "This had never been done before. Precision [munitions] allowed forces on the
ground in the heat of battle to call in air strikes close to their own positions."
During a DoD briefing that same week, Michael Wynne, principal undersecretary of Defense for Acqu-isition, Technology,
and Logistics, said that the Army's analysis of its indirect-fires requirement focused on Crusader, largely to the exclusion
of other options. "We [the DoD] focused on joint and combined fires," Wynne said. "And joint and combined fires allows you
to reach for MLRS and guided MLRS. It allows you to reach for fighter-bombers. It allows you to reach for even naval gunfire,
if you happen to be close to the coast." The DoD also sees improved munitions for existing 155mm systems as essential to future
indirect-fire capabilities. Chief among these is the Raytheon Excalibur GPS-aided round, development of which the DoD would
like to accelerate with the money saved from Crusader, with possible fielding by 2007. "[In the DoD's analysis], the combination
of what we're attempting to do will, in fact, satisfy all the requirements that the Army desires for indirect fire," Wynne
The possible flaw in the DoD's arguments for killing Crusader – irrespective of whether it was best killed
or not – is the notion that other support-fire options are available to ground forces that are just as effective. Many
would argue that rockets, missiles, cannons, and aircraft are complementary, not inter-changeable. As indicated above, the
MLRS is a proven performer in the counter-battery role, where its range and bomblet sub-munitions make short work of enemy
artillery positions. However, the lack of munitions types available for MLRS all but precludes using it in a direct-support
mission. The reason cannons are traditionally favored in a direct-support role by maneuver units is because of their suite
of munitions. The 155mm suite of munitions, for example, offers illumination, smoke, dual-purpose improved conventional munitions
(DPICM), and good old unitary high explosive (HE); none of which are currently in production for MLRS, although there is a
small quantity of unitary warhead rounds of the GPS-aided Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) Block IA that can be fired
from MLRS launchers.
"The field artillery does not currently have GPS-guided munitions in inventory, but should," said Warrant Officer
(CW3) John Robinson, targeting officer for the division artillery, 10th Mountain Division (Ft. Drum, NY), reached in Afghanistan.
(Robinson points out that even though the division's 105mm guns are not deployed to Afghanistan, he is responsible for the
targeting of the division's mortars and the British 105mm guns they call on.) "Heavy field artillery transformation has been
delayed with the cancellation of the Crusader system; however, that system was not integral to the initial Army Transformation
currently being waged through the IBCTs [Interim Brigade Combat Teams]. In short, the Crusader was to replace Paladin systems
in heavy division and Corps Artilleries, not light divisions or IBCTs, which are going to need support fires also. The stated
goal of the Secretary of Defense is to seek a trade-off by funneling the savings from canceling Crusader into precision-guided
munitions that contribute to precision-strike trans-formation for all maneuver units."
Meanwhile, precision-strike aviation comes with its own set of limitations and costs associated with the air-tasking-order
process and logistics. It might take several hours for an aircraft to get on station, and it takes many other aircraft to
get that one to the weapons- release point. There are tanker aircraft, AWACS, electronic-attack escorts, combat air patrol,
combat search-and-rescue units, etc. Using helicopters in the support-fire role is demonstrably risky, vulnerable as they
are to heavy small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The events of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan during March 2002 bear
this out. These limitations, requirements, and vulnerabilities do not attend fire missions executed by ground-based systems,
which are therefore more responsive to immediate fire-support needs – once the guns and baggage have been schlepped
in-theater, of course.
"It is important to understand that when you are trying to support someone on the ground, you have to be responsive,"
said Ben Collins, manager of business development for fire support, Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control (Dallas, TX),
who is responsible for the MLRS and ATACMS programs. "When you have aircraft or air platforms delivering munitions, they have
to fit into a very structured system. They have specific payloads; they are going after a kill area or a specific target;
and they are doing it at a specific time. What you find when you are supporting maneuver on the ground is that in the beginning
the operation may be based on time, but after that it is essentially based on an event-driven decision-support template, not
a time-driven one. You can't really determine when those events are going to happen, and so you need a very responsive system
that can provide support fires within minutes of a request. By and large, aircraft can't do that."
Then there is the issue of sheer numbers. In Afghanistan, the US could afford to place a limited number of long-range
bombers with long dwell times over the battlefield at the beckon call of select Special Forces units during specific operations.
This would almost certainly not be the case in an extended conflict involving large numbers of US troops against a well-equipped
enemy, and certainly not if the bombers were required for deep strike missions. When brigades, divisions, and corps are on
the move, there is no substitute for field artillery. Once you accept that field artillery in the form of cannons, rockets,
and battlefield missiles remains an essential ingredient of the combined-arms doctrine, then the question becomes how can
it be made more useful, responsive, and survivable.
Command & Control vs. Range & Rate
Curiously, discussions of the importance of artillery command and control (C2 ) have been all but absent from the
public debate about indirect fire in the US. This is in spite of the fact that the command, control, communications, computers,
and information (C4 I) systems for support fires that are being deployed with modern armies promise to dramatically increase
the effectiveness of existing artillery arms more profoundly than the introduction of any prospective platform or even smart
munitions might. In Western service, these systems are represented by the US Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System
(AFATDS); the British Battlefield Artillery Targeting Equipment System (BATES); the French Atlas automated artillery-fire-support
system; the German ADLER command, control, and weapon-deployment system; the Italian SIR; the Norwegian ODIN; and Israeli-supplied
Division Artillery Command and Control System (DACCS) employed by Switzerland. Taken as a whole, the capabilities imparted
by modern C4 I systems are much more significant than the artillery's rate of fire or even range.
"In the artillery life, in order to survive they have to fire and move, to run away as fast as they can," said Avi
Peer, director of sales for the C4 I division of Tadiran Electronic Systems (Bene Beraq, Israel). "Now, getting to the alternative
location, it typically takes a battery linked by conventional military radio on the order of 20 minutes to be ready to fire
again. During this time, the battery obviously is not providing fire support. Having automatic C2 systems allows the battery
to be sending the next round of fires within three minutes of reaching the new location. This is the feature that translates
into more fire in a shorter period of time. It's not only accuracy, it's not only rate of fire. Time between firings is a
much more substantial factor."
Under the Tadiran DACCS, the forward observer has a computer with a touchpanel display, similar to a Palm Pilot but
with a bigger screen (10.4" diagonal), that presents a readable map on which the forward observer records all the appropriate
measurements. He has his own position via GPS built into the system versus the impact points for the shells, which he measures
using laser rangefinders that are also integrated into the computer. By clicking the laser rangefinder, the point that is
being targeted will be inserted into the computer automatically. The computer is equipped with a communications controller
as a PCMCIA card. This, in turn, is connected to a mobile field radio that is controlled with Tadiran software. The forward
observer can directly send the messages to the firing battery – say, if it is a close-range fire situation – or
he can send it to the battalion level and the battalion will send the message to the firing unit. It depends upon the way
that the particular army is structured.
Once the message arrives at the firing unit's fire-command-and-control (FCC) system, the numbers are crunched and
each gun receives its firing order that includes the type of munitions, the type of fuze, type of charge, elevation, deflection,
etc. If the guns are so equipped, the firing order will auto-matically point the tubes to execute the fire mission. Each of
the guns is equipped with GPS and is sending its location to the battery command post. All of the guns and the battery command
post are connected to each other through a wireless LAN. The wireless LAN transmits with low power on a spread spectrum with
a range of 100 to 500 meters, making detection by the enemy unlikely.
All fire-support practitioners are working from the same database and, therefore, with a common map. The DCCS has
a link to the higher echelon (which depends on the size and organization of the army) that plugs into the maneuver system,
the intelligence system, the logistics system, and the communica-tions. The logistics people receive messages automatically
that update schedules for ammunition re-supply as rounds are expended and units move.
All of this automation not only serves to put out more rounds in a given period of time, it supports the commander's
decision-making process. "Add to all of the other problems related to indirect fire the requirement for a commander to make
the right decision under extraordinary circumstances," Peer said. "Because having 20 different targets firing at you while
you have to make the decision about which of your batteries is in range with the right type of munitions is something that
is beyond human capability. This is the function of the command-and-control system, to help the commander make the right decisions
to bring the appropriate munitions in the optimal quantity down on the target accurately in the shortest period of time."
Automating the Fires
In the US, a key component of that automation comes in the form of AFATDS (pronounced "a-fay-tids"), an Army/Marine
Corps program that is propagating through the support-fire arms of both services (see box at bottom). US artillery is very
much a plug-and-play asset, and AFATDS is also. In general, the AFATDS operational facility consists of a vehicle (Hummvee,
tracked vehicle, 5-ton truck) with an installation kit that contains the hardware. In a division (heavy), there are on the
order of 50 AFATDS systems (depending on the structure and how many brigades are involved) in what essentially is a peer-to-peer
network that runs from a firing platoon up through division artillery. On the maneuver side, it is deployed at the maneuver
battalion command post at the field-support center (FSC) up through brigade and up through division. Integral to the process
are forward observers and fire-support teams (FISTs) belonging to the field-artillery fire-support branch that provide a lot
of the sensor capability.
The Army Common Ground Station from General Dynamics Decision Systems (Scottsdale, AZ) is an important intelligence
feed for AFATDS at corps level and below. The Common Ground Station is a system that is deployed at all echelons from brigade
on up. Its mission is to receive all of the tactical intelligence products via datalink from the platforms that are flying
over the battlefield at any given time, including Joint-STARS, U-2, Airborne Reconnaissance Low, Predator or other UAVs, and
SIGINT from the Intelligence Broadcast Network. It uses all that information to create the picture of the battlefield, identifying
and tracking high-priority, high-payoff targets. When the operator identifies one of those high-priority, high-payoff targets,
he sends the information to the appropriate echelon. The Common Ground Station can be co-located with AFATDS, sitting in the
same tactical operations center LAN, or it could be remote and linked through a SINCGARS radio.
"Common Ground Station aids in the 'Decide, Detect, Deliver, Assess' methodology by providing detect/track and predictive
target location data to AFATDS as well as cueing other sensors to track targets," said Major Wayne Ingalls, chief of the target-acquisition
division of the Fire Support & Combined Arms Operations Department at the US Army Field Artillery Center (Ft. Sill, OK).
"It is a method to maintain target tracking on a moving target. It also helps measure the success of reactive counter fire.
If Common Ground Station tracks a lot of vehicles moving from the vicinity of a counter-fire mission, it may be an indicator
that there were not good effects on the target. Beyond counter fire, it can also be used to support deep attacks."
The two systems can have what are known as trigger events between them that will automatically generate a message
in the right format to AFATDS. AFATDS then takes the message and generates a fire mission that can go right down to the firing
units, if the system is set up that way. "This is the real backbone of the system, what makes AFATDS different is this guidance-driven
automation," said Steve Lutz, AFATDS program manager at Raytheon (Ft. Wayne, IN). "Through AFATDS there are a whole string
of things the commander can automatically set so that his fire supporters know his priorities to support his plan of battle."
Theoretically, an enemy artillery could fire a round that could be picked up by an AN/TPQ-36 or -37 Firefinder radar.
While that round is in the air it could be processed through the Common Ground Station to AFATDS, where it is run through
the set of guidances. AFATDS could pick an optimal solution, then transmit commands tactically to a unit assigned to the counter-battery
role to fire, and there could be rounds on the way back before the enemy round impacts, or shortly thereafter. In another
scenario, AFATDS could be set up to support airmobile operations by automatically issuing fire missions to units when SAM
sites are detected. By applying the appropriate guidances, fire requests will go straight through. Why ask questions when
the commander already said to blast all SAMs you locate?
Conversely, besides being a passive process the commander could set restrictions, called intervention points, that
flag him in the event of a particular situation where he doesn't want to give the firing units a blank check. An example might
be if the requested target were a chemical site or a unit with chemical-warfare capability where a fire mission could result
in an accidental release of gas. AFATDS accepts a certain number of target types and target categories that will stop fire
requests at the appropriate echelon so that a command decision can be made.
AFATDS has guidance facilities for helping the commander decide whether a particular mission may be better suited
for non-artillery systems. Its analysis of the target data results in various attack options that are available. Depending
on how the guidance is set up, that mission could be sent off to an attack-helicopter squadron, maneuver brigade, naval platform,
or it could be sent up through the air-support chain to the Theater Battle Management Core System (TBMCS), which is the Air
Force's command-and-control system for man-aging air operations. If that type of option is selected – say, for close
air support – AFATDS will format the data into an air-support request and shift that over to the TBMCS, which will respond
as to whether they are going to service it or not. "Perhaps the most significant departure from the way they have done business
in the past is that AFATDS in one place could link up to all those assets," said Steve Bohan, Raytheon's technical director
for AFATDS. "You can be as centralized or decent-ralized as you want. The sensor input can be right to the guy that who controls
the weapon, or it could be a couple of levels up if you want to centralize decisions."
Additionally, AFATDS can interact with the other members of the Army Battle Command and Control Systems (ABCCS) family,
which are the C2 systems found at each echelon. As a result, the fire-support practitioner gets a comprehensive view of the
battle- space – not only how he can contri- bute to fires and effects, but also what maneuver is doing, what is coming
through the Intel system, etc. SINCGARS is the basic communications method for tactical situations. There are others: the
All Source Analysis System (ASAS) over a LAN; the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) and the Enhanced Position
Location Reporting System (EPLARS) over the tactical Internet.
"One of the strengths of the ABCCS that's been demonstrated down at Ft. Hood in the First Digitized Division is that
it is providing infor-mation that the commander and his staff can synthesize to better co-ordinate and deconflict the use
of airspace or ground maneuver," said Tim Puckett, product lead for ground- maneuver command & control, Raytheon. "We
are on the technology brink where all this information is coming in and being presented to the warfighter where they can actually
and realistically make use of it. That's quite an achievement for the ABCCS to blend all this information together so you
can deconflict fires with airspace or the ground in a complex battlespace with a lot of things moving, with comm latencies,
and stuff like that."
With a new software release Raytheon is delivering this year, AFATDS will become not just a tactical decision-making
tool, but it will calculate the technical solution for cannons and MLRS, sending actual targeting commands to individual platforms.
It calculates the fire solutions to give commands to the weapon platforms to tell them where to aim. Currently, this is done
by the battery computing system (BCS) for cannons and the fire-direction system (FDS) for MLRS. AFATDS will replace the BCS
and the FDS in the units. For the MRLS launchers, the new software provides 9 specific aim point for each individual round
to be fired.
In or Out?
Of course, the discussions of artillery command and control are easily distracted by the issue of whether artillery
remains relevant in the context of modern warfare. Certainly, many armies around the world are investing in and fielding up-to-date
artillery systems. However, few of these countries have any expectation of transporting their artillery units any great distance
– and not by air or even by sea, at any rate. In the US, the issue of artillery transportability was front and center
in the Crusader debate (where the system's perceived lacking in this department settled its hash) and remains topical in the
war against terrorism, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Lockheed Martin has developed a system called the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) that is C-130 transportable.
It consists of a single MRLS pod (one six-pack of MRLS rockets or a single ATACMS missile) that can fire all MRLS munitions.
Theoretically, HIMARS is so transportable that if a force so equipped wished to conduct a raid, it should be possible to fly
a C-130 in, offload a HIMARS, shoot a mission, drive it back on, and get out of there. In fact, Lockheed Martin's Collins
noted that there are three prototype HIMARS systems that could have been sent to Afghanistan along with a certain number of
unitary warhead ATACMS missiles that have been pro-duced, if the Army had wanted them there.
As a matter of doctrine, lighter artillery systems such as HIMARS have great appeal to artillerymen. "The HIMARS
is a system that should be developed and fully fielded, as soon as possible," said the 10th Mountain's Robinson. "My recommendation
would be to replace all separate 155mm batteries of the four light divisions with a battalion consisting of two HIMARS batteries
and one Lightweight Howitzer 155mm battery, also in R&D. We should also develop a wider-ranging family of munitions for
the HIMARS/ MLRS, to include anti-armor and GPS-guided rounds."
While there is general agreement that having the field artillery to perform indirect-fire support and counter-battery
missions is desirable, there is by no means any clear consensus on whether it is worth the time, money, and effort to drag
the guns forward. The availability of British light artillery elements in Afgh-anistan has taken some of the immediacy out
of the decision-making process as far as the US is concerned. However, there may come a time when the US will have to fight
in a remote area without such resourceful and obliging allies.
AFATDS is physically fielded in the US Army in seven of its ten divisions: 1st Cavalry, 2nd Infantry, 3rd Infantry,
4th Infantry, 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, and 101st Airborne; and as of this August in the 25th Infantry. In addition, all
four corps artilleries: I, III, V, and XVIII Airborne have AFATDS fielding comp-leted. It is also at the battlefield-coordination
detachments (BCDs), which are Army elements co-located with the Air Force in an Air Support Operations Center (ASOC). AFATDS
is fielded with IBCT 1, and it is being fielded with two IBCTs at Ft. Lewis. In the Marine Corps, AFATDS is fielded with 1st
Marine and 2nd Marine Divisions and with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. In addition to being an Army and Marine Corps
system, AFATDS currently is on several amphibious-warfare ships of the US Navy, notably the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-21), USS
Saipan (LHA-2), and USS Nassau (LHA-4). The Navy is moving forward to be a contributor to land attack in support of the joint
forces land component commander. For example, AFATDS is central to the Advanced Gun System for the DD(X).
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