January 30, 2004

Battle Palace Intrigue

[Full Disclosure: this is my day job.]

Field Artillery has long been known as the King Of Battle. But there are rumblings that the King may be dethroned, at least in the U.S. Army.

From Inside The Pentagon, Army Eyes 'Joint Fire Control Teams' To 'Enable' Lighter Ground Troops (I'm not sure why 'Enable' was in scare quotes):

One capability being eyed for cuts is artillery. Given the changing missions the Army is being called upon to perform in the post-Cold War era, Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker has told a number of Pentagon officials his service could cut 40 artillery battalions across the active and reserve components, sources tell ITP.

But Maj. Gen. William Webster -- the 3rd Infantry Division commander tasked with reorganizing his forces as a vanguard for Army structural transformation -- says he is hanging onto all his artillery battalions, at least for now.
There's a surprise. The Pentagon brass tries to tell the operational guys what they need to do the job they just did.
Webster this month has begun implementing a plan to divide his division into five brigades rather than the current three (ITP, Jan. 22, p1). But the commanding general says eliminating even a single artillery battalion could jeopardize readiness for near-term operations. Rather, Webster has opted to reduce the number of guns within each of his artillery battalions, he tells ITP.

Each of the 3rd IDís three brigades currently have a cannon battalion of 24 guns. Under the new configuration, the division will field just 16 guns in each of four brigades, says Webster, whose headquarters is at Ft. Stewart, GA. His fifth brigade, centered around aviation, will have no artillery.
Not counting the divisional artillery (and I don't think it changes under Webster's plan; they allude to that later), that reduces the total number of tubes in the division from 72 to 64. That doesn't seem so bad. What the article proposes is the idea of 'joint' fire support controllers who are capable of directing air, naval gunfire, mortars, tube artillery, rockets, and missiles (currently, it's a stovepipe situation, with each service controlling their own fire support systems). I think in general it's a pretty good idea; coincidentally, AFATDS is quite capable of tasking all those systems.

The Air Force isn't too keen on the idea, though:

"Iím not sure that weíre solving a problem," responds Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan Leaf, who, as a two-star, served with Webster at the Coalition Force Land Component Command headquarters at Camp Doha, Kuwait, during major combat in Iraq last spring. "In my recollection, we had an abundance of close air support" in Iraq.

In fact, Leaf said in a Jan. 23 phone interview, coalition ground force chief Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan requested shortly after the warís onset that planes shift from the close air support mission to air interdiction. That meant attritting enemy ground forces from the air much deeper, before they came into close contact with friendly land troops.
He's half right, but the reason for the shift was beause the artillery was pounding the dogshit out of the close targets -- they didn't need nearly as much CAS as they originally thought, so they wanted to save air support for long-range interdiction.
The joint community continues to seek ways to minimize close battle, when avoidable, Leaf said. In the right context, effective tools exist to hit enemy forces from a distance, he said.

. . .

Many in the Army believe Air Force officials sometimes exaggerate the ability of longer-range weapons to achieve objectives that, in the end, require close-up solutions.

"We have to realize that fighting, though, canít always be solved with a JDAM," said one officer, referring to the Air Force and Navyís Joint Direct Attack Munition. "There are things that guys have to roll up their sleeves and [do, like] crawl in a hole and see if itís Saddam. Or you have to go into basements or go into buildings. You canít always stand off and say, 'Kill íem.' And we saw that during Iraq."

"It is clearly preferable to engage an enemy at a distance when you have a choice," Leaf responded. "Long-range precision weapons are an important part of that capability. When the close fight is necessary, precision becomes especially valuable to the land commander. It would be wrong to overstate or understate that contribution."
Fair enough; one of the longstanding criticisms of artillery is that it is inherently non-precision, especially in a close fight. However, that's being addressed with new GPS-guided rocket and cannon rounds. Another effect will be a smaller number of rounds required to achive desired effects, which will result in a shorter logistical train.
Another lingering Army concern has been to avoid the appearance of relying on another service, like the Air Force, for combat effectiveness, some observers say.

In December 2001, Army Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck -- then the two-star commander of the 10th Mountain Division -- left behind his air support operations squadron when he deployed forces to Afghanistan, according to ground and air sources. When 10th Mountain forces ran into a tougher-than-anticipated al Qaeda enemy in Operation Anaconda three months later, Air Force officials -- left out of Hagenbeckís planning -- pieced together single-man ETAC teams and, with the Navy and Marine Corps, assigned aircraft at the 11th hour to rescue and support ground troops in trouble (ITP, Oct. 3, 2002, p1; and Nov. 21, 2002, p1).

Later, when Hagenbeck complained about lagging Air Force support in a military journal, air officials privately were outraged. But Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper sought to bridge the growing fissures, and initiated an effort with then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki to review the Anaconda experience.
. . .
The Army left its heavy artillery at home when it deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, but brought it to last yearís major combat operations to topple Saddam Husseinís regime in Iraq. Some ground force leaders say artillery proved useful in Iraq, but others say it was unnecessary against such a weak foe.
Sooooo... had Hagenbeck brought his artillery to Afghanistan, would there have been a need for an 11th hour rescue? I don't think so. Also, who exactly is saying that we didn't need artillery in Iraq since they were such a 'weak foe?' We already SAW what happened when we didn't bring artillery to a fight against a 'weak foe' (*cough*ANACONDA*cough*)! And that's ignoring the possibility of fighting a stronger foe in the future! Iran, North Korea, Syria? Yeesh -- bring every tube you got, then call UD and order more!
Once in place, howitzers have a slow rate of fire compared to other weapon systems on the modern battlefield, some critics say. Many military experts believe tanks and aircraft are more responsive and decisive than artillery against a challenging adversary.
No, no, and no:
  • Rate of fire: the M109A6 can fire four rounds per minute for three minutes (then one round per minute thereafter, based on barrel temperature). With 24 (or even 16) tubes per battalion, that's a lot of steel on target. Compare that to a strike aircraft -- once it dumps its basic load, it's back to base for more. How many 155mm rounds can you get on target in that time? Tanks? Yeah, they can get off two or three good shots per minute as long as their ammo holds out, but tanks have other problems...
  • Responsiveness: ...a tank can only hit what it can see. A cannon can hit a target 20 miles away, shift fire, and hit another target 20 miles from the first, all in a matter of minutes. An airplane can do that, but it has other problems...
  • Effectiveness against a challenging adversary: We have become spoiled in battle - our aircraft have not faced a significant threat since Vietnam. We have 0wnZ0r3d the skies everywhere we've fought, losing only some helicopters and a handful of fixed-wing aircraft to enemy fire (and none at all to enemy aircraft!). How much less effective would a strike aircraft be if the crew actually had to be worried about enemy fire? How many fewer F-14s, F-15s, and F/A-18s would be available for strike missions if the enemy could put serious pressure on their bases or carriers?
I wish I could quote the After Action Reports I've seen, but trust me when I tell you that the Field Artillery was a Stone Cold Bad-ass Mutha True Playa in Iraq. With a little bit of streamlining, it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Posted by Chris at January 30, 2004 03:15 PM

Category: The Day Job

the dreaded AFATDS. what do you do for them? i'm assuming you are a programmer.

Posted by: Captain Scarlet at January 30, 2004 04:25 PM

I spent most of my active-duty combat arms career with a Cavalry squadron in Germany during the cold war, when the Abrams was the newest, baddest thing on the block. But what let us sleep at night was knowing that we had twenty-four beautiful eight-inch howitzers in the DS arty battalion, that we could ALWAYS count on to help pull our fat out of the fire.

When the zoomies can promise me steel on target, in the middle of a blizzard, 24/7, on two minutes notice, I'll take their whines that "artillery is obsolete" seriously. Until then, as far as I'm concerned, they're just a sub-branch of Artillery -- and a not very good one, at that.

Posted by: CavDude at January 30, 2004 09:31 PM

CPT Scarlet: Yeah, I'm a software engineer working on it. Why 'dreaded?'

Posted by: Chris at January 30, 2004 10:11 PM

CavDude: King Of Battle, baby! Redlegs all the way!

And I love the Abrams; it is absolutely the baddest piece of hardware on the ground anywhere in the world. But it can't be everywhere at once, and the arty basically can. In Iraq, the average time between the FO's initial Call For Fire and FFE rounds (not adjust rounds) arriving on target was five minutes. And I forgot all about the all-weather angle. An M109 or M198 doesn't care what the weather is.

Alas, I think they've retired the M110s (although they may not be done yet). I think they're replacing them with MLRS, but I'm not sure.

Posted by: Chris at January 30, 2004 10:25 PM

my unit was field afatds in korea first. they did a drive by fielding and the software was so bad we told them at the end of training that it was going to be our grimaldi(sp?) doorstop until they fixed it. i'm sure it works better now but it left a bad impression on a lot of people.

Posted by: Captain Scarlet at January 31, 2004 02:38 PM

I'm not sure why the original Korea fielding didn't work any better than it did; 1st CAV (who, IIRC, got it about the same time) seemed to like it OK.

Anyway, it's a lot better now; just ask anybody in 3ID or 4ID.

Posted by: Chris at January 31, 2004 03:00 PM