Artillery: ARTHUR Makes A Comeback

November 14, 2009: Italy us buying five Swedish ARTHUR mobile artillery-hunting radar systems, for about $24 million each. ARTHUR was developed in the 1990s, and was found wanting during its first combat use recently in Afghanistan. Canadian forces there reported that, of 3,200 "incoming objects" ARTHUR reported, only two turned out to be real. There were other problems as well, but the large number of false positives was particularly worrisome. These were often caused by friendly aircraft, or distant electric transmission line towers, being mistook for incoming fire. The Swedes hustled to fix these problems, at least to the satisfaction of potential customers.

ARTHUR is carried in a Bv206 tracked vehicle. The radar can detect shells or rockets fired from up to 40 kilometers away. Within a few seconds, the systems computer can calculate the location of the firing artillery to within two meters. Given the availability of GPS guided shells (Excalibur) and rockets (GMLRS), you can have return (counterbattery) fire on the enemy artillery within a minute. But Italy, like other ARTHUR users, wants to use it to detect and go after irregular forces firing mortars and rockets at bases during peacekeeping operations.

ARTHUR has been selling to many NATO countries, as it is of more recent vintage than the American FireFinder, and has gotten rave reviews from existing users. But these reviews were based on peacetime tests, not actual battlefield use. The Canadian experience had a chilling effect on ARTHUR sales, at least for those nations planning to use it in peacekeeping operations.

The combat experiences of FireFinder and ARTHUR should inspire developers of this kind of equipment to come up with more realistic testing procedures, especially for peacekeeping operations. Both the U.S. and Sweden modified their artillery detection systems based on the problems encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, FireFinder often failed to catch incoming fire, either because of equipment failure, or because the enemy was using tactics that fool the radar. For example, in Iraq, American bases were generally on higher ground than the mortars firing at them. Putting bases on the high ground enables you to watch more of the surrounding area. But FireFinder needs a line-of-sight to get a good fix on the firing weapons position. If the mortar is too far below the radar, FireFinder cannot accurately spot where the fire is coming from.

Another problem is that if the mortar is too close, FireFinder is much less likely to quickly determine where the fire is coming from. So the enemy mortar teams get as close as they can before they open up. This still makes the mortar teams vulnerable to counterattack by coalition troops, but not the immediate (in a few minutes) artillery fire that FireFinder can make happen under the right conditions.

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