Murphy's Law: Smart Shells Everywhere


May 19, 2020: In early 2020 Libyan GNA (Government of National Accord) forces captured a base belonging to a Berber militia allied with the LNA (Libyan National Army) and found several Chinese GP6 155mm laser-guided artillery shells. These were apparently obtained from the UAE (United Arab Emirates) which has supported the LNA since 2013, via air transport or by road from Egypt. The GNA has received support from Qatar and Sudan. Sudan has withdrawn its support and Qatari support was limited to weapons and ammo flown in. The Libyan civil war began in 2012 when Islamic terror groups and dozens of major militias throughout the country fought for control after the overthrow of the Kaddafi dictatorship in 2011. Islamic militias controlled the eastern cities of Tripoli and Misrata. A previous elected H0R (House of Representatives) government is based in the eastern cities of Tobruk and Benghazi and its LNA controls over eighty percent of the country. The rival, UN-backed GNA government called in the Turks in late 2019. This Turkish intervention has been condemned by most Arab nations. Russia sent in spare parts and technicians to refurbish a lot of the Russian made, Cold War era, combat vehicles and artillery the LNA was using. Initially, the UAE supplied light aircraft and Chinese made armed UAVs (similar to the American Predator). Turkey brought in their own UAVs, which were also similar to the Predator. The UAE has supplied many other types of military equipment to the LNA but has never provided details because technically Libya is under a UN arms embargo which was violated from the start by smugglers and later nations.

But how did the Chinese laser-guided shells get to Libya? The UAE is known to have bought the GP6 from China but where did China get the idea from? The design of the GP6 is based on the Russian 1990s 152mm Krasnopol shell which in turn was based on the 1970s American 155mm Copperhead laser-guided shell. China bought a manufacturing license for Krasnopol in 1997 and, dissatisfied with its performance, developed their own version, the GP1, which were effective 20 kilometers from the gun. This led to an improved (more capable and resistant to jamming) GP6 shell that is good up to 25 kilometers.

By the 1990s Russia had developed a 155mm version of Krasnopol and by early 1999 sold a hundred of these to India. These guided shells were used in the late-1999 war between India and Pakistan near Kargil, high in the Himalayan Mountains along their border. India bought that initial lot of Krasnopol 155mm shells and laser designators for evaluation. When the fighting broke out in Kargil, the army used Krasnopol and found that these shells were only worked about 25 percent of the time when used against targets high in the frigid mountains. The shells were also incompatible with some of the 155mm howitzers the Indian Army used. Russian and Indian artillery officers agreed that Krasnopol was not effective in high mountains. Russia had tested Krasnopol at sea-level and the 2,500 meter high mountains of the Northern Caucasus. The Kargil fighting was in mountains three to four times higher and much colder. Russia fixed these problems and sold thousands of additional Krasnopol shells to India. France evaluated these improved Krasnopol shells in 2001 and found they did work with Western 155mm howitzers and laser designators. China noted the Kargil problems and avoided those early problems and are now exporting more laser-guided shells than Russia.

The U.S. found the Copperhead too expensive and not worth the effort in actual combat. Troops were still eager to have a workable guided shell and in 2007 the U.S. put a 155mm GPS guided shell into service. A decade later there were two types of GPS guided shells in service and both proved very effective in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. As with other GPS and laser-guided weapons the laser-guided shells are more accurate. This did not bother the Americans who had plenty of laser-guided weapons and have steadily improved the accuracy of their GPS guided shells. One disadvantage of laser-guided shells is that to work they require someone near the target (on the ground or in the air) to aim a laser at the target so the shell can home in on the reflected laser light. That has not proved to be a major problem but the GPS guided shells have become the favorite for the artillery crews that use them and the ground troops who call in artillery fire. The GPS shell means far fewer shells have to be fired to hit a target and that a target can be hit with the first shell. This is a major advantage because after the first shell lands the enemy takes cover and subsequent shells are much less effective. The GPS guided shells is also a lot safer for friendly troops who can be closer to the target without danger of being hit. In Libya the GP6 shell made the LNA forces a lot more effective when fighting in urban areas.


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