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Artillery should remain a statistical weapon -by David Marsiano

Category: Defence Industry

Artillery should remain a statistical weapon -by David Marsiano

In the next few decades the use of tube artillery will not decrease, on the contrary, it is expected to grow. - writes Col. (res.) David Marciano, former Head of the Weapons Development in the IDF Ground Forces Headquarters, and currently CEO for Soltam Systems.

Despite this significant statement - categorically, he argues: "There is no need to invest resources in developing an accurate shell." In his opinion there are more worthwhile directions for artillery development and in the following article he elaborates. The universal and main question that keeps the force builders busy is the analysis of the operational needs and deriving from them the desirable solution. The main difficulty is the constant dissonance between the understanding of the existing operational needs and those that the armies are expected to meet in the future. This dissonance increases even more the moment one takes into account the technology aspects.

In this article I will try to examine the future of artillery - supposedly a weapon system that has been around for scores of years and that the physical principle of its operation has not changed at all a system based on a free ballistic trajectory , and as such, a statistical weapon.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of casualties in the World Wars and other battles were caused by artillery weapons, there are ongoing processes that have led to the decline of the artillery's prestige. This phenomenon results from the introduction of exotic means of guided munitions such as the pinpoint PGM's,; the strengthing of air forces and their participation in the ground battle; the changing nature of conflicts that the world has experienced in the past few decades; low-intensity conflicts in which the weight of the fighting in built up areas has risen and that the fact that armies have "frozen up" on the development of artillery in directions and measures compatible with its potential.

It is still feasible to state that the scenarios in which a land maneuver is executed, the delivery of close , continuous and extended fire support is required and will continue to be so in the future . The only platforms suitable for this kind of fire support are tube artillery. In this regard I believe that "as long as in the future battlefield there will be statistical targets (infantry, antitank squads, and land-based maneuver forces) the requirement for statistical weapons will remain". Hence, it seems that in the next few decades the use of tube artillery will not decrease, on the contrary, it is expected to grow.

The starting point for examining the life expectancy of any weapon system depends on three basic questions:

1. What is the operational mission that the weapon system should fulfill?

2. Is there a better alternative in terms of cost against operational benefit?

3. What are the technological abilities available to upgrade the system best in order for it to be able to handle new operational objectives and tasks?

For tube artillery, the main task is, as noted, to provide close fire support to maneuvering forces in all forms of combat, and allow them freedom of operation by limiting the enemy's fighting ability. Additional tasks at the core of the artillery fire missions' effort are neutralizing enemy artillery and the participation in urban combat, which was not one of the core issues of occupation in the past, but looking at the nature of the clashes in the last three decades shows that the artillery was not ready to ideally support these conflicts. Artillery has additional tasks such as destroying armor, handling sporadic targets and covering large-area targets.

The answer to the second basic question," is there a better alternative?" is that some tube artillery tasks have more appropriate solutions. Such as destruction of armor, which should be done using Precision Fires or anti battery fire which is already handled effectively by rockets. On the other hand close fire support for the maneuvering forces which is a priority task is best done using the classic tube artillery units.

The answer to the third question, about technology, is that the tube artillery units hold enormous potential in terms of their operational capabilities and that their potential growth in terms of operational challenges will allow it to provide the much needed solutions for tomorrow's battlefield.

New challenges for the artillery

The challenges associated with the traditional requirements from artillery include:

  • Raising the effectiveness of the mission including increasing the accuracy.

  • Creating continuous fire support.

  • Providing a cycle of target engagements.

  • High target-artillery unit ratio.

  • Reducing the task cost in economic terms, flexibility in using force and more.

Among the new challenges that produce a wide range of new tasks are:

  • Increasing the range of fire.

  • Development of specialized capabilities to fight in low intensity conflicts.

  • Assistance in electronic warfare, intelligence, laying and removal of land mines.

The common mistake, made mainly by engineers whom also influence the "force builders" responsible for developing the weapon systems, is the development of weapons for point targets with a terminal effect of "destruction", ie a precision bomb. This phenomenon is derived from the simple fact of the available technology of PGM's (precision guided munitions). During the last two decades we have witnessed an unnecessary drift towards the development and requirements of systems using this technology.

It should be clear enough if we review the amount of weapons that are allocated to " hard" targets: tanks, air craft, ground based PGM's, air to ground PGM's, rockets, anti-tank missiles - all these without the development of an accurate artillery shell.

This article claims to reject this trend under two main arguments: First, there is no need for the development of an accurate shell s since there are enough weapons on the battlefield trusted with targeting armored forces. Second, that there is no need, since the nature and purpose of the artillery is to handle the targets of statistical nature.

This fundamental understanding should convince the engineers to develop tube artillery with a tendency which I have stated above. In order to improve the effectiveness for statistical "soft" targets such as infantry, antitank squads and light vehicles, one has to deal with several challenges: improvement of accuracy, increasing the terminal effect on the target and increasing the firing range.

In terms of precision we have to distinguish between the need for increasing the accuracy and on the other hand the development of a PGM artillery shell with pinpoint accuracy. In terms of the terminal effect on the target one should direct the R & D efforts to achieve an effective first volley without the need for correcting fire, as well as creating a surprise and an effective continuous effect.

In terms of increasing the range the move to 52 caliber cannons should be made.

Another increasing trend, that is buying a foothold among many armies in the world, is the wheeled based tube artillery. United States and NATO lean in this direction in light of the need for deploying forces around the globe. Other non- Western armies are attracted to this solution mainly due to cost considerations: The system is cheaper in procurement and maintenance and with virtually no limitations to the operational performance considering the fact that artillery is not operated from the front lines and has nearly no limits in movement.

The main reason that IDF is examining this system is largely due to the need to transfer forces between arenas without the dependency on large tank movers. That is added to the economic consideration; since tube artillery systems based on a wheeled platform will improve life cycle costs without compromising their operational benefits.

I do not deny this trend, but I definitely suggest considering it well.


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