Monday, April 24, 2006

Smaller is better 
The artillery is getting a new weapon: The Excalibur features a precision-guided warhead as small as 50 pounds, with a near vertical drop to the target.It's about time.

The Army has depended on Air Force CAS for far too long, while the Air Force has steadfastly resisted creating and fielding munitions that are suitable for close-in urban combat.

If the new weapon can be fielded down to Brigade level or below, the amount of firepower the Army can deliver in the first few minutes of the fight increases exponentially - as does the Army's ability to follow up on urgent and perishable intelligence.

A cordon and raid can take hours to plan and execute at the company level. But with this weapon, the Army will be able to flatten a suspected enemy safehouse in a residential area within minutes of getting the report, with a small fraction of the collateral damage you would expect from a fixed-wing airstrike.

It will also allow the Air Force to preload its planes with other types of ordnance not duplicated by the Excalibur system, resulting, I believe, in a faster response and more flexibility across the fire support system. Close Air Support can take a day to plan, even under ideal conditions. Synchronizing the ground operation with a fixed wing presence is difficult under any circumstance. Indeed, infantry units dedicate a full-time staff officer in the S-3 section, a captain, to working the aviation piece into the battle. This is in addition to the Fire Support Officer and the Aviation Laiason Officer.

Our M109 Self Propelled Howitzers are largely gathering dust. It's a fine system - but the enemy rarely chooses to engage or allow himself to be engaged in open areas where our artillery and Close Air Support can be effective. Many of our cannoncockers have been relegated to quasi-infantry and quasi-police tasks on the ground in Iraq.

Significantly, the Excalibur would represent a huge increase in capability on the part of our artillery forces, looked at in terms of the spectrum of options it opens to the maneuver commander. The Crusader would have represented an incremental advance, and done almost nothing to deny the safety of cities to the modern guerrilla fighter. The Excalibur, if it works out, will change all that. The M109, the 155, and the 105 can still cover much of the open area battlefield. The Excalibur enables us to reach out at the enemy where he lives and breathes. The Excalibur isn't an incremental improvement. The Excalibur could usher in a quantum leap forward in Army doctrine and the potency of battlefield military intelligence, gathered at the local level.

Rumsfeld was right to scrap the Crusader and focus on transformative technologies like this one.

Splash, Out


Ah, yes: Crusader and Excalibur, two solid, all-American names...naught!
A couple of notes...

Excaliber ain't cheap. Like $80K apiece, from what I've heard. The big question mark is, of course, how far they can bring this down. The next generation will be a large fuse with wings that screws in like any other fuse and gives *any* shell GPS guidance. No word on what they're expecting to have to pay for that, hopefully it will get below $20K, but I can't even guess.

We also have Netfires coming up. A 30-lb warhead (plus the destruction wrought by what's left of the 120-lb missile with fuel) with a 40km range (for the PAM). No word on cost yet.

Finally, FCS-NLOS is basically Crusader-Atkins. It drops a few km on the outside, back down to 109 ranges, but includes all of the fire control, self-TOT, autoloader, and other goodies from Crusader. And, if loaded almost empty, fits on a C-130 (the ammo can ride on the ammo trailer on another flight).
time to bring back the recoilless rifle?
That's all great and good bud...but it's really a null point. We have had a laser guided precision round for the 155mm suite for years. I have been out for 7ish years and we had the M712 Copperhead when I was banging rounds down range.

The Copperhead round does a great precision job now. The only difference and one that is important is that the XM982 Excalibur round will not require a laser designator.

Sure...it's a step up...but the article you linked to makes it out as if the Artillery community has been playing back seat because of capability. That is so not the case. US Artillery is playing back seat, or rather no seat, because of Air Force in roads in the planning phases and the politics that is the Pentagon.

There is no reason for all of these statements about a lack of capability. That is not true. US Artillery is more than capable of providing DS to mounted and dismounted units in a MOUT environment.

One of my favorite comments from the article is "The program enables soldiers at the tactical level to precisely locate a time-sensitive target for fires within about five minutes, he said."

US Artillery is currently capable of this. The problem is not one of capability...it is of upper echelon's getting in on the game and "clearing the fires". To be honest...it takes less than a minute to get a round in the air. The call comes in...the FDC checks the FLOT on the map...clears the fire...by this point the computer has plotted the fire solution...the guns have the data in milliseconds...and within less than a minute rounds are down range.

With the advent of GPS and laser systems the whole process from FIST to Shot Out takes no time at all...far less than 5 minutes. 5 minute processing would mean evals being failed when I was playing FDC in the mid 90's.

The sad things is that opinion has become fact. This is a null point man. Saddly people in and out of uniform believe it.

A M119 105mm battery is quite capable of supporting an infantry battalion in the field or in a MOUT environment. Completely. They can provide accurate fires 24/7 regardless of the weather. It is not an issue of not being capable of performing that role. It is a combination of uninformed staff and the political in-roads of the Air Force.

I think you're largely correct, but the artillery trajectory is not vertical - and you need that in order to call any precision fire "precision," in an urban environment.

Second, the 105mm gun is an excellent piece. And you can call danger close missions to within 100m with it with experienced crews, FOs, and using ammunition with identical lot numbers.

But many units did not deploy with 105mm guns. During my own tenure in Ramadi, the options available to the FSO went from 60mm straight to 120mm (mortars), then to 155mm, then to CAS. There were simply no 105s available.

Part of that, of course, was due to the decision to deploy three infantry battalions from the 53rd Brigade separately, without the brigade headquarters. We recieved an attachment from the 2-116th Field Artillery (a company minus) but without their 105s. They handled security duties.

The copperhead round is a possibility, but does not match the Excalibur's potential because of the eyes-on requirement.

By the way - in the First Brigade, 1rst Infantry Division in 03, the usual time from RTO or Q37 counterbattery radar acquisition to "shot-out" was between 12 and 22 minutes.

Battalion mortars were responsive between one and four minutes.

When countering light mortar fires, I think anything over two minutes is mission failure. I don't recall a single blood trail or dead moojie from dozens and dozens of countermortar missions, nor do I recall a single disabled mortar found near a recorded grid.

Our indirect fires, both Arty and infantry, have got to do better - and battle staffs have got to streamline the clearing process.

Part of that, I think, is ensuring the Special Ops guys coordinate a little more closely with owning units on the ground.

I don't know what the delay was with brigade fires. It ordinarily took less than a minute for the battalion to clear fires. The Brigade has an order of magnitude more units to contact.

Maybe commands can notify brigade of wide swaths of "clear-to-fire" zones ahead of time. Not FFZs. By this I mean that battalions will assure brigade that they will have no elements - logistical, tactical, or anything else, in any other unit's sector between 2100 and 0600, for example, unless the brigade TOC is notified otherwise.

Once the Brigade knows this, then fires need only be cleared with the battalion that owns the real estate involved.

Since it takes less than a minute for a sharp battalion to clear fires (Assuming the staffs have been battle tracking properly all along), it should take about a minute for a whole Brigade to clear fires on a given spot at night time.

Some smarter heads than mine have got to work on that problem. But as far as I can tell, the best countermortar technique was the ambush, the OP, and the security patrol surprising and engaging the mortar crew with direct fires.

All the indirect fire piece did was prevent them from staying in one place for five minutes instead of two.
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