Artillery: Toward a New Century

Saudi Arabia — February 1991 On 2 August 1990, the forces of Iraq invaded Kuwait. From the first days of the world’s response to the Iraq’s invasion, Army National Guard soldiers reacted, initially as volunteers, and later as members of mobilized units. During this period, the Guard went through its largest mobilization since the Korean War. The response of Guard soldiers and their families vindicated the trust that the nation had placed in them. Many support units – transportation, quartermaster, command and control headquarters, military police, medical and others answered the call and served in the desert, providing less-heralded but very necessary functions. More than 62,000 Army National Guard soldiers were mobilized, and of these, nearly 39,000 deployed to Southwest Asia. Tensions erupted into a fighting war on 17 January 1991, when Allied air forces initiated a devastating air campaign. The scope of the conflict widened in February when, after a series of skirmishes and battles along the borders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq, the Allied ground offensive began. Six Army National Guard field artillery battalions supported the advance into Iraq. One of these battaions, the 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery, Oklahoma Army National Guard, was armed with the Multlple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS). Field artillerymen of this battalion supported the ground attack by firing salvos of MLRS rockets into Iraq, and continued to support the massive ground offensive with responsible, accurate and devastating fire throughout the campaign. The MLRS rockets were so deadly that the Iraqi soldiers called them “steel rain.” The dedicated and selfless service of the Army National Guard in Operation Desert Storm carries on the 355-year National Guard mission of defense of the nation.

The decade of the 1990s ushered in myriad regional threats to the security of the United States. By May 1991, the INF Treaty had contained the nuclear threat of the superpowers, and the official disintegration of the Warsaw Pact in July and the Soviet Union in December reduced the number of superpowers to one—the United States. Army commanders realized that Europe would not necessarily be the only battlefield, and they became increasingly concerned about other likely trouble spots, such as the Middle East and Latin America.

The first sign of the new challenges to come had occurred in October 1983 in Grenada. Field artillery played only a minor role in Operation Urgent Fury , chiefly because planners did not consider enemy artillery a threat and because they wanted to keep the deployed force light. Also, the desire to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties, requiring positive identification of a hostile enemy force, mitigated the use of indirect fire. Operations there did, however, point out the need for more planning at the joint level.

The next involvement in Latin America came in 1990 during Operation Just Cause in Panama. Here too the mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available also restricted artillery fire, although the presence of field artillery had a strong deterrent effect. For example, artillery in the 7th Infantry Division fired intermittently, discouraging sniper attacks, and similar positions at roadblocks and checkpoints enhanced security.

Operation Desert Storm

Full-scale warfare reappeared in early 1991 with the offensive in the Persian Gulf region against the Iraqi Army, which validated the U.S. Army’s twenty-year effort to reform and modernize its forces. To be sure, for Operation Desert Storm , the United States and its coalition partners possessed air superiority; had a six-month period to build up their formations during Operation Desert Shield; enjoyed terrain and weather excellent for conventional fighting; and, most importantly, were highly trained and technologically sophisticated compared to the unmotivated, undisciplined, poorly trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers. Both sides employed a considerable amount of artillery, with the Iraqis having the advantage in the number of mostly towed pieces that outranged comparable American models and were extremely well dug in and camouflaged. Yet, in battle, the Iraqi artillerists were no match for their well-trained counterparts. When it became clear that the enemy could not locate opposing artillery, allied batteries ceased their “shoot ‘n scoot” tactics, remaining in position or closing in to deliver their devastating fire. And the coalition forces overcame the numbers gap by employing the multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) as well as radar and aerial reconnaissance to acquire targets.

For the Southwest Asia campaigns, the Army deployed two corps artillery headquarters, seven division artillery headquarters, and seven field artillery brigade headquarters, comprising forty-three battalions in all. Two of the seven brigades and their six battalions, including the only multiple-launch rocket battalion in the reserve components, were Army National Guard units that performed with distinction. Both artillery brigades were nearly fully trained in gunnery, and, unlike maneuver brigades, they were able to deploy without first going to the National Training Center in California.

Although the 100-hour ground war was short for testing all aspects of field artillery, several conclusions were self-evident. The precision-munitions revolution made forces vulnerable throughout the battlefield, and any firing system that could be detected risked being detected, engaged, and destroyed within minutes. Commanders at all levels praised the global positioning system (GPS), which freed soldiers from land navigation in a largely featureless area. The system was crucial in providing accurate and timely fire support. The MLRS, or “steel rain” to the enemy, contributed significantly to counterbattery efforts and the suppression of enemy air defenses. Limitations included the rocket’s 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) range; long-range communications that proved cumbersome and, at times, unworkable during long movements and rapid displacement; and maintenance and logistical support, especially ammunition resup-ply. Five MLRS battalions and six divisional MLRS batteries supported the ground offensive and were particularly effective against preplanned targets and in attacking fixed targets of opportunity using the Army tactical missile system (ATACMS), with self-contained positioning and laying capabilities. But the ATACMS’s use along with other weapons systems also created problems, especially in coordinating deep fire; its high trajectory could put aircraft at risk. To be more effective, the fires of artillery, gunships, and air strikes had to be better integrated. Nevertheless, precision-guided systems, such as the ATACMS, greatly enhanced the Army’s field artillery capabilities.

Operations also highlighted the need for an organic rocket battalion rather than a battery in the division artillery. The battery had an insufficient number of launchers to cover the division area and inadequate capabilities for command and control. There were simply not enough launchers to support the division aviation brigade and reconnaissance squadron, to suppress enemy air defenses, and to provide adequate counterfire. Additional rocket firepower was also deemed necessary because of the limited range and firepower of the M119 105-mm. howitzer and the lack of mobility of the M198 155-mm. howitzer. A wheeled rocket system, with the ability to be transported on C-130 aircraft, was needed for light and early deploying contingency forces, and an extended range beyond 45 kilometers (28 miles) for the rocket itself was vital. An extended range for the Army tactical missile was also desired.

Desert Storm saw the first use of Copperhead precision-guided munitions in combat. Rounds fired by the 1st Battalion, 82d Field Artillery, scored successfully. Such an accomplishment, however, involved a large investment of resources and significant overhead and a great deal of coordination to put the observer with the laser designator in position and to survey the target if the observer did not have a reliable global positioning system. The fire-support teams also needed better equipment. The FIST vehicle used in the heavy divisions lacked mobility and sustainability to keep pace with the maneuver elements, and the weight of the laser designator in the light forces caused difficulty in acquiring targets with speed. Other combat-support vehicles also needed to become more mobile. Likewise, the 155-mm. self-propelled howitzer served well but did not have enough power to keep up with the M1 Abrams tank or the Bradley fighting vehicles.

As in previous operations, Army doctrine for fire support above the corps level did not exist, which affected operations at the joint level. The number of fire-support elements was inadequate. As a remedy, the Field Artillery School recommended placing additional fire-support elements at echelons above corps, including a new 31-man fire-support element for Third, Seventh, and Eighth Armies, as well as staff elements at the Army component and joint forces headquarters. Manning levels for the existing fire-support elements at brigade, division, and task force echelons also appeared inadequate for continuous and split operations.

Other problems appeared in the area of target acquisition. The Firefinder radars— AN/TPQ-36 (countermortar) and the larger AN/TPQ-37 (counterartillery)—had been introduced in the 1980s utilizing technology from the 1960s. The radars could locate hostile indirect-fire weapons 20-25 kilometers (12.4-15.5 miles) away within a 100-meter (328-foot) accuracy, but lacked sufficient range, mobility, and processing power; the AN/TPQ-36, in particular, often acquired false targets.16 Many thought that in addition to the counterfire radars unmanned aerial vehicles, such as those used by the British, would have provided artillery the ability to acquire targets before enemy guns fired. Operations also substantiated the need for field artillery observation helicopters to acquire targets and mark them for Copperhead munitions. But helicopters in Desert Storm were almost always in use for division aviation to designate targets with the laser-guided HELLFIRE (helicopter-launched fire and forget) missile system, thus limiting their use by field artillery.

Elements of a forward corps support battalion provided supplies and maintenance, as well as other support, for field artillery brigades during Desert Storm . Problems appeared in repairing equipment as the battalion had had limited experience in supporting artillery brigades in peacetime. Also the battalion was usually positioned too far to the rear to provide adequate timely support. In short, new systems that allowed for greater dispersion on the battlefield and that increased firepower (more ammunition required) and mobility also placed greater demands on the support system.

Reorganizing the Force

A by-product of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in 1991 was numerous regional threats from the emerging nations. Where the United States once faced a unified threat with a policy of containment, the focus became one of responding to a broad variety of contingencies. To fight a major land war, the Army’s forces had been forward deployed and structured for conventional warfare under a doctrine of attrition and annihilation. The reduction of the Soviet threat, as well as competition with domestic requirements for declining resources, dictated an Army for the 1990s much smaller than that of the previous decade based primarily in the continental United States. National strategy changed from one based on a European scenario to one of power projection in contingency operations requiring a broader spectrum of forces than ever before. Deterrence remained the primary objective, with deployment forces to be tailored not only from the Army but also from the other services. New emphasis was placed on joint and multinational operations to achieve quick decisive results under any conditions. Coalition forces, such as those used in Southwest Asia in 1990-91, were projected to be the norm. The doctrine shifted from deep attack to simultaneous attacks throughout the depth of the battlefield. Until 2003, the precision weapons used by artillery forces in Desert Storm were rarely employed. Instead, humanitarian and peace operations in northern Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Macedonia became more common, using deterrence and local diplomacy to ease tensions rather than engaging in combat.

With the loss of a creditable enemy, the Army faced substantial reductions. As the size of the Army decreased, so did that of the field artillery. The elimination of nuclear requirements precipitated the replacement of 8-inch howitzers by the MLRS and the retirement of nuclear ammunition for the 155-mm. howitzer. Force reductions also included the elimination of signal personnel in field artillery battalions, which resulted in the requirement for artillerymen to operate all communications and automation equipment—tasks that also included laying wire, installing telephones, and operating all switchboards as well as radios. Field wire terminals and devices formerly installed, operated, and maintained by signal personnel also became the responsibility of the artillery. All other signal soldiers in the line batteries and service batteries were reassigned to headquarters batteries.

A total of 218 field artillery battalions (96 Regular Army, 17 Army Reserve, and 105 Army National Guard) and 38 batteries, including the batteries in armored cavalry regiments (27 Regular Army and 11 Army National Guard), existed in 1989 prior to the war in the Persian Gulf. By the end of the decade, only 141 battalions (50 Regular Army and 91 Army National Guard) and 22 batteries (12 Regular Army and 10 Army National Guard) remained. Army Reserve field artillery was reduced by 100 percent as a result of the “bottom-up” review by Secretary of Defense Les Aspin in 1993, which in fact eliminated all Army Reserve combat arms units, allowing that component to focus on support and service organizations.

Further reductions were made in conjunction with fielding the 155 -mm. Paladin self-propelled howitzer to the heavy divisions, beginning in 1995; each firing battery was reduced from eight to six howitzers per battalion for a total of eighteen rather than twenty-four howitzers per battalion. The number of howitzers in the heavy divisions thus fell from seventy-two to fifty-four. The six-gun batteries allowed the Army National Guard to modernize its artillery with the Paladin in a more timely fashion, and it allowed more Paladin battalions to be organized. At the same time, the MLRS battery and target acquisition battery were replaced in the heavy division by a “command and attack battalion,” each containing a combined headquarters and service battery, two rocket batteries (each with nine launchers), and a target acquisition battery equipped with Firefinder radars. The new battalion increased the division’s organic fire support and provided more control to the formerly separate batteries. Another advantage of doubling the number of rocket launchers was that the division artillery could provide the direct-support battalions with reinforcing rocket platoons and still have rockets available for general support.

These changes were in line with the interim Division XXI designs. While the Army of Excellence (AOE) division had been structured to conduct separate deep and rear operations to defeat the enemy in a close maneuver fight, Division XXI was organized to attack the enemy simultaneously throughout the battle space. The AOE division was designed to fight in mass, Division XXI to fight in a decentralized pattern. The division as a whole was to comprise 15,820 soldiers and have two reinforcing field artillery brigades supporting it, at least one of which was to come from the National Guard. Each brigade was to have one battalion of eighteen 155-mm. self-propelled howitzers and two MLRS battalions, each with twenty-seven launchers. Thus thirty-six 155-mm. howitzers and one hundred eight rocket launchers would reinforce each heavy division.

Return to Iraq

After the attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan, relying on special operation forces and airpower with precision-guided munitions rather than field artillery. Many, however, felt this was a serious error, and two years later during Operation Iraqi Freedom field artillery troops were included as part of the force. The Army followed traditional practice, with direct-support battalions fighting alongside their respective brigades. Battalions from corps and division levels provided general support.

Nevertheless, some qualitative differences were evident. The ratio of artillery pieces to U.S. tanks and infantry fighting vehicles was the same or higher than in Desert Storm, for the initial phase of Iraqi Freedom was won with fewer divisions. In fact, the Army used the lowest ratio of field artillery pieces to troops in combat since World War I. In the main combat operations of March and April 2003, the Army field artillery contingent consisted of one corps artillery headquarters, two division artillery headquarters, three brigade headquarters, and eleven battalions. Each of the cannon and rocket launchers delivered a greater volume and higher rates of fire than in Desert Storm. Field artillery once again proved itself, operating in the worst weather, including a severe sandstorm that stopped most other means of fire.

Following Desert Storm, the Army had made concerted efforts toward digitization in its Force XXI designs. Field artillery had previously led the way in its adoption of a computerized tactical fire control system, referred to as TACFIRE, and by 2003, Army units were interconnected with digital networks allowing for much improved communications and situational awareness. Using digital means, field artillery units could routinely deliver firepower within two minutes.

The battle saw the debut of the ATACMS’s unitary missile, a missile using GPS for guidance, having a maximum range of 270 kilometers (167.8 miles) and a low circular error probable, and dispersing over 400 improved conventional munition bomblets over a wide area. The missile was effective against personnel and lightly armored targets, as well as in attacking long-range command-and-control targets. Other “firsts” were the combat use of the M109A6 Paladin 155-mm. self-propelled howitzer, the high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS), search and destroy armor munitions (SADARM), and the Bradley fire-support vehicle, all earning high marks from artillerymen in Iraq. Although Iraqi artillery systems compared reasonably well with those of the coalition forces, they rarely were effective because the Iraqis were deficient in their ability to acquire targets. With their superiority in this area, the coalition forces were often able to destroy enemy artillery before it could be a real threat.

Room for improvement existed, however. Alternatives were needed for the dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, as unexploded bomblets proved a problem for both civilians and friendly forces. Aerial systems delivered most precision-guided munitions, a problem in close combat where their explosive radius made them too dangerous to use. Artillery systems, with few exceptions, were still area fire weapons, their imprecision limiting use in close combat. Field artillery needed more precision to be effective in the close fight. Better communications equipment also proved necessary, as well as more detailed maps and improved command-and-control vehicles. Troops were reliant on close air support for counterfire, believed to be timelier. In practice, however, the usual response time proved too long, and the use of artillery could have been more effective. In addition, artillery could fire a variety of munitions, including illuminating rounds. Clearance procedures for using MLRS and ATACMS also often proved cumbersome.

At the same time the Army was deployed in Iraq, the institution was undergoing a major reorganization. The traditional twentieth-century concept that field artillery was never in reserve had resulted in pooling resources at the division level and above, allowing flexibility in supporting operations as required and enhancing branch training. Divisions normally had attached a direct-support field artillery battalion to each of its combat brigades, but the practice became formalized with the modular transformation of the Army. Although there are benefits in training for combined operations in the fixed brigade organization, commanders may find less flexibility designing task organizations for specific operations.