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Artillery: Cheaper Is Worse
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November 20, 2007: America's NATO allies are discovering, the hard way, that unguided artillery shells are not only old-fashioned, but counterproductive in places like Afghanistan. The Taliban tend to use civilians as human shields, and that means you have to be precise when you go after the bad guys with artillery. A typical situation has Taliban gunmen holding out in one building of a walled compound or village. In nearby buildings, there are women and children. While killing the Taliban is good, killing the civilians can be worse. Smart bombs should be able to fix this, except that sometimes the smallest smart bomb, the 500 pounder, has too much bang (280 pounds of explosives). A 155mm artillery shell should do the trick (only 20 pounds of explosives each), but at long range (20 kilometers or more), some of these shells will hit the civilians. This is where the new U.S. GPS guided Excalibur shell [PHOTO] comes in handy. Unguided shells land anywhere within a 200 meter (or larger) circle. The GPS guided Excalibur shell falls within a ten meter circle (the middle of that circle being the "aim point".)  The Excalibur just entered service a year ago, and the troops find it invaluable for hitting just what you want to hit.

 

For most NATO nations, the drawback is cost. A "dumb" 155mm shell costs under a thousand dollars, while one Excalibur costs $50,000. But when you take into account the civilian lives saved (and good will retained), it's a different story. Moreover, friendly troops can be closer to the target when Excalibur is used, meaning your infantry can get into the shelled target quicker, before any surviving enemy can get ready to shoot back. The Excalibur shell is worth it in other ways. Ten 155mm shells (of any type, with their propellant and packaging) weigh about a ton. Ammo supply has always been a major problem with artillery, and Excalibur is the solution. With Excalibur, fewer 155mm shells have to be shipped thousands of miles, and looked after until they are used.

 

Excalibur was developed in cooperation with Swedish engineers, and the shell is to be used by the Swedish Army. Australia has adopted Excalibur as well. Now, as a result of combat experience in Afghanistan, more NATO nations are realizing that Excalibur isn't so expensive after all.

 

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mrcrea       11/20/2007 12:27:14 PM
While I agree with 90% of the article, we're still going to need to ship a large number of shells to the battlefield in the future.  Excalibur is great, but if you need to saturate an area with artillery before assulting it, you'll still need about the same number of shells.  I just don't see a way to reduce the amount of artillery shells we field without putting our men at risk.  Granted we can put our shells right where the men say  they want them but the enemy can move so we still need that saturation of fire that we had with the old shells.
 
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ker       11/20/2007 5:40:23 PM

While I agree with 90% of the article, we're still going to need to ship a large number of shells to the battlefield in the future.  Excalibur is great, but if you need to saturate an area with artillery before assulting it, you'll still need about the same number of shells.  I just don't see a way to reduce the amount of artillery shells we field without putting our men at risk.  Granted we can put our shells right where the men say  they want them but the enemy can move so we still need that saturation of fire that we had with the old shells.



Makes me think about affencive and defencie fire.  When raiding or attacking closly cowordenated precision fire.  When defending the friendly troops can stay in fighting positions or AFVs wile artilery blasts away at the enemy aproches. 
 
Is anyone thinking about what to do when the enemy forces large numbers of women and children the run toward our troops banging pots and pans.  They would tell the press that it was cival disobedence. 
 
At some point hidding behind the skirts of little girls hast to get old. 
 
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WarNerd       11/21/2007 4:34:58 AM

While I agree with 90% of the article, we're still going to need to ship a large number of shells to the battlefield in the future.  Excalibur is great, but if you need to saturate an area with artillery before assulting it, you'll still need about the same number of shells.  I just don't see a way to reduce the amount of artillery shells we field without putting our men at risk.  Granted we can put our shells right where the men say  they want them but the enemy can move so we still need that saturation of fire that we had with the old shells.


If by "saturate an area with artillery before assaulting it" you mean covering fire to make the enemy keep his head down
while your troops cross the intervening ground, then I agree.  But it will probably be mostly smaller stuff, like mortars, with the big 155mm and MLRS going after specific targets only.  And by using precision guided rounds you can keep up "saturate an area with artillery" until your troops are a LOT closer.
 
If you can put a surveillance drone overhead, then the only effect of the enemy moving to avoid precision artillery fire is usually to break cover and invite their destruction by precision artillery fire.  Surveillance drones and precision artillery fire are a synergistic pair that can reduce many defensive postures to a set of "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" choices.
 
If, on the other hand, by "saturate an area with artillery before assaulting it" you mean the old WW1 idea of "kill everything so the troops can have a walk over" call the Air Force.  They would love to try.
 
 
 
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doggtag       11/21/2007 8:24:25 AM
If you can put a surveillance drone overhead, then the only effect of the enemy moving to avoid precision artillery fire is usually to break cover and invite their destruction by precision artillery fire.  Surveillance drones and precision artillery fire are a synergistic pair that can reduce many defensive postures to a set of "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" choices.
Nope, sorry, WarNerd,
I already offered up the argument of using UAVs and other sensory assets, to cue artillery: precision pinpoint fires negating any need for area effect suppression fires, if the idea is to outright neutralize (read: kill or destroy, not scare away or drive into hiding) a given threat,
but nobody bought it.
 
Apparently, some people still need to get their "barrage fix" on, feeling that smell-of-napalm-in-the-morning psychological high that only comes when they see the area they think the enemy is in is pummeled to a pulp, even if the majority of shells into a given area don't even hit anything of tactical value.
 
The whole idea of precision fire is to negate the need for several guns firing into an area (projected or preferred impact zone) several times to get the same target.
Even if a typical 6" artillery shell may weigh in at about 100 pounds, if it's landing 200m or more away (assuming I'm being fired at from >20km away), why am I even worried? At that distance, the lethality of a 100 pound shell (lethal burst radius) is barely enough to scratch my paint.
Trying to remedy the situation by launching in hordes of shells, in hopes even a few of them get fragments near enough the target to damage it, is only causing you more barrel wear than achieving anything of significant tactical advantage that can't better be served by a PGM.
Plus, a precision-guided munition is more likely able to compensate better for crosswinds, and other flight-influencing weather, than any unguided shells.
I was under the impression that was one of the key reasons why the M777 and NLOS-C were designed with such light tubes: construction aside (titanium alloys), the idea of being PGM-compatible was written into their requirements.
The need to fire fewer PGMs than unguided shells means a reduced wear and tear rate (lower replacement rate = cost savings) on the barrel and other components.
 
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mrcrea       11/21/2007 10:11:53 AM
No I completely understand the ability of a UAV to loiter over a site and direct fire on the target, but we keep assuming that we're going to be fighting against an enemy who cant hit our air assets.  If we fight in Iran or N. Korea, or China you can bet they'll be able to hit our UAV's.  Like I said, this system is great, but if we don't have the exact GPS coordinates of where we want to hit it's still going to be like the old days.  The only way we get that is if we have eyes on, and with out UAV's to track their movement targeting a stationary GPS coordinate for a moving formation or single individual unit is not going to get them all the time.  I never said the tech wasn't good I just said that there are times where pinpointing a building isn't going to be the norm, and when we ship shells we should probably take that into account.
 
If you would read what I said, there's nothing that says I want the stone age to stay as status qou.  Hell I love this tech.  But saying that we're not going to need near the same number of shells is just asking for trouble.
 
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Sabre       11/21/2007 2:12:27 PM
I agree that there will continue to be a need for sheer volume of fire.
 
The problem with using the mortars that an Infantry Battalion or Rifle Company has for any and all suppression fire missions, is ammunition resupply can be quite difficult that far forward.  Howitzers have superior range, allowing them to be further back behind the FLOT and still range in on targets, so ammunition resupply is much easier (and arty units are certainly focused on efficient ammunition resupply).
 
I don't care how good we think our sensors and UAVs are, how much we think we have forever lifted the fog of war, there will be plenty of times in the future where we don't have the time or resources to pinpoint every enemy combatant, or times when it simply isn't necessary, when it will be just as effective to send dozens of "dumb" HE shells at $500 a pop, instead of a few $50,000 Excaliburs (although I am a big fan of Excalibur).
 
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KlubMarcus       11/21/2007 4:48:14 PM
Saturation artillery is going away just like carpet bombing. The reason is fuel and tonnage. Accuracy allows you to get away with getting the same results with fewer rounds. Precision strikes work even better against larger targets/formations!
 
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WarNerd       11/22/2007 6:17:02 AM
I don't care how good we think our sensors and UAVs are, how much we think we have forever lifted the fog of war, there will be plenty of times in the future where we don't have the time or resources to pinpoint every enemy combatant, or times when it simply isn't necessary, when it will be just as effective to send dozens of "dumb" HE shells at $500 a pop, instead of a few $50,000 Excaliburs (although I am a big fan of Excalibur).
There are, I think, several specious arguments here:
We do not need to "pinpoint every enemy combatant", we probably do not even need to pinpoint a majority to break a large unit.
 
"just as effective to send dozens of "dumb" HE shells at $500 a pop, instead of a few $50,000 Excaliburs" is erroneous because you are using factory costs, not final costs for your comparison.  You need to add in the transportation costs to get the shells to the point of use.  The extra trucks and drivers, guards and their vehicles, the extra support for the extra people, and the fuel (and the costs to transport the fuel) for the vehicles, all to get the shells to the guns.  Add all this up and the cost advantage for the "dumb" HE starts going away.
 
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neutralizer       11/22/2007 6:26:52 AM
Some points.
 
To suggest that the Taliban are routinely using human shields is a gross exageration.  The reality is that if you have a position in a town (eg alongside the police post) then the Taliban are liable to attack it even though there are civilians in the vicinity. 
 
From what the UK and Canadians are saying most arty in Afg is close support and 'danger close', ie the target is within about 250 metres of own troops, ie in small arms range as well.  First this doesn't actually present much opportunity for 'human shields' per se, but the action could again be close to a village.  The issue is collateral damage.  UK has solved this one very cost effectively, they use 105mm.  The Canadians don't seem to have had too much problem eitehr, their competant observers can drop a dumb 155mm on a compound. 
 
There seems to be this infatuation with PGMs as the answer to ever problem.  It isn't, the first point is that precision munitions need precise targets, now its true that some armies are now putting a lot of effort into improving 'mensuration' as it is now called.  However, guys rushing around on foot are not precise targets.  But they are susceptable to a few volleys of well placed airburst HE, and some armies adopted PPD fuzes as standard many years ago.  Of course if the target is at extreme range then it may be necessary to use precision munitions to get a sufficiently tight group, but it seems that this is not a notable problem for current opps in Afg.
 
Of course this is only an issue if destruction is an issue.  But suppression is often what is needed.  All supression needs is for arty fire to be life threatening, that means it needs to be over the target area but fire doesn't need to be vey intense.  Suppressive fire suppresses the enemy while own forces more to the most advantageoeu position or some other purpose. 
 
Now, who has used the most gun fired prescion muniitons, almost certainly not the US.  We don't know how much of the laser guided stuff the Russians used in Chechyna, but there is reasonable evidence that teh Indians used a fair amount in Kashmir a few years baack.  Of course laser guided shells are proably not as effective as those aimed at coords, because these aimpoints may not be visble to a laser equipped obsever, ie the front wall of a compund nrather that the middle.
 
Last time I looked UK was 'European', and they are using GMLRS in Afg, in fact they seem to quite like the mix of GMLRS and 105mm, they'll probably like it even more when the new L50 shells reach the theatre.
 
Meanwhile European PGMs are selling to more customers that Excalibur is.  In the last few weeks both Australia and UK have joined the list of SMArt customers (or BSFM as UK likes to call it).
 
European nations will doubtless buy Excalibur, although I suspect the UK is currently keener on a non-existent 105mm version although everything suggests Excalibur is in their IFPA program (budgeted at almost $4B, excluding UORs for currrent ops). 
 
The other reality is that the main fighting is in the South of Afg, mainly involing Canadian, US, UK, Danish, Estonian, Duth and Aust units.  Not forgetting the ANA and the efforts going into to improvomnh their arty which is equipped with 122mm.  This also means arty is less of a problem for otehr European nations in other parts of Afg.  And before we have any more underinfomerd US comments I'll remind readers of the published comments of the previous NATO theatre commander "Deploying the Germans to the south would would have created a vacuum in the North".
 
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lastdingo    .   11/22/2007 7:19:23 AM
A typical strategypage.com article. The U.S. Americans are the brightest, the others envy that and copy them.

Well, in fact guided munitions aren't so new at all. The U.S: forces were just quite slow in developing the Excalibur round.
There are dozens of guided munitions programs in the world for 120mm mortars alone, and many for artillery calibres as well. Including cost-effective course-correction solutions that are independent of GPS.

And point munitions like Excalibur are utterly cost-ineffective for many artillery fire missions. Excalibur is fine against stationary, visible targets - and pretty pointless for anything else.

But the worst is that the alleged accuracy (as stated CEP) is deceiving. The technical failures are always ignored whenever a NATO army offers a CEP value. So your functioning shells might land somewhere in a 20m diameter circle, but some not so well-functioning shells might land almost anywhere else. Like a couple hundred meters long.

And in my humble opinion does Afghanistan show much less the value of guided munitions (although the limited vegetation helps PGM a lot), but the dire need for mortars for quick and effective fire support.
 
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