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Artillery: What To Do With All Those Unemployed Gunners
   
August 16, 2006: Many, if not most, American artillery troops in Iraq, are not there to operate their howitzers or MLRS rocket launchers. There is not enough need for artillery support to keep the four artillery battalions (containing 54 155mm howitzers and 18 MLRS rocket launchers) each division has, busy. Smart bombs and other guided munitions have largely replaced the use of unguided shells and rockets.

As a result, each brigade has several hundred unemployed artillery troops. Most are put to work taking care of security jobs. Artillery troops are already trained to use their infantry weapons for defending their big guns from ground attack in a combat zone. The artillery troops practice that sort of thing all the time. Those defensive drills include knowing how to set up a defensive perimeter. So the artillery troops are not strangers to security work.

In Iraq, the security work can range from defending bases, to manning observation points and check points. The latter two jobs can be pretty dangerous, although some of the FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) are small, in hostile territory, and subject to constant attack. In a pinch, some artillerymen have been put to work as infantry, helping out with patrols.

Maybe a third of the guns and rocket launchers are actually put to work. Most of the 155mm howitzers are self-propelled (the M-109, which looks like a tank), as are all the MLRS launchers. The MLRS has been particularly popular for the last six months, since the new GPS guided rocket became available. This fall, a GPS guided 155mm shell (the Excalibur) will enter service, giving the M-109s more to do. In most operations, unguided 155mm shells are too inaccurate to use because the fighting is in urban areas. The Excalibur is a different story. The MLRS launchers have used so many GPS guided rockets that these new items are in very short supply, and are rationed.

On the down side, the GPS guided shells and rockets mean that much fewer shells and rockets are needed. It's pretty much, "one target, one shell." With these "smart shells," the number of rounds needed will decline by over 90 percent. That will result in fewer M-109 howitzers and MLRS launchers needed. So for the duration of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the artillery troops won't be working much with artillery.

The U.S. Army has taken note of all this, and has disbanded dozens of reserve artillery battalions, and transferred the troops to other jobs.


  

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Krieglancer       8/17/2006 9:37:32 AM
I am glad that this is getting some coverage, as this is exactly what my cousin was doing in Iraq before recieving his honorable discharge. His unit patrolled the streets of Baghdad instead of using their howtizers 99% of the time. Despite what this article talks about artillery men having training in using their small arms, they don't have training in patrol duty, the use of the Squad Automatic Weapon, and the M203. My cousin said he was the point man and the SAW gunner, which was a bit of a no-no but they didn't know any better. Also the 203 gunner was so bad with it, when he first fired at some enemies on the other side of a river he put a hole in a mosque causing his entire squad to fall on the ground laughing.
 
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JFD       8/17/2006 10:05:44 AM
Actually, the amount of infantry training artillery troops gets depends on their battalion commander. Some commanders do a lot of it, including patrolling. But the minimum needed (to pass training tests) does leave out most of the purely grunt stuff. That said, the gunners usually catch on real quick when they are retrained.
 
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