2015/03/25

The Difficult Completion of War

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I guest-blogged on OnViolence, one of the very few MilBlogs that reliably don't cheerlead for war or for more military spending, ever:


The have a recurring fascination with critical discussions about Carl von Clausewitz' theories, so I blended in with a military theory piece with does the same.

S O
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2015/03/24

Why there's always enough money for warfare in the U.S. federal budget

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As budget votes get going this week, keep an eye on the three most magical letters in Washington: OCO. In an era where so many politicians harp on “removing the burden of debt from our children,” OCO – which stands for Overseas Contingency Operations – represents an escape hatch. Put money into OCO and it doesn’t count as spent, at least not against the constraints Congress has shackled itself with for four years. It’s a great deal – as long as you’re part of the military. (...)
OCO has created a double standard for D.C.’s insistent deficit conversation. Domestic spending must be held down, without gimmicks, games or tricks. But you can keep the military base budget static, load up the OCO, and use that money on virtually anything the Pentagon does. Congressional Republicans’ OCO end-around in this budget resolution, attempting to please deficit hawks and war hawks at the same time, borders on the absurd.
David Dayen, Salon.com

A structural fiscal bias in favour of loose money on military spending.
What could possibly go wrong?
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2015/03/19

Battlefield missile artillery from the blackpowder age to the 21st century - Part IV

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The future role of the artillery

Reconnaissance drones and modern combat aircraft possess astonishing sensor capabilities, day and night, through fog or clouds or in clear skies. IR sensors that spot muzzle flashes of howitzers on several square kilometres simultaneously and radars which can detect, identify and during their movement also track individual vehicles are available. Radars can also distinguish between tracked and wheeled vehicles, which makes it easier to filter out the mostly higher priority tracked vehicles.


(Try to ignore the horrible speaker)

This astonishing wealth of sensor capabilities will be diminished by hardware and behaviour countermeasures, but it's still reasonable to expect a huge mismatch between the ability to detect targets and the air vehicle's ability to engage targets: Drones and modern combat aircraft rarely carry many munitions, and even miniaturized munitions which substitute direct hits for large warheads don't change this much.
An F-35 on station for 20 minutes could detect hundred of targets if a battalion battlegroup is on the move in the area - and it could engage about four.

This mismatch is being complemented by the artillery's improvement of effective ranges, particularly of the rocket artillery. Guided rockets have negligible dispersion (CEP less than 10 m) even at maximum range, and thus it makes sense to increase maximum ranges very much since no ever-worse dispersion makes this pointless any more.

Close air support historically had three major advantages over artillery:
(1) the ease with which it used very heavy warheads 
(2) the ability to shift the effort by hundreds of km within an hour or two
(3) bird's eye view

Nowadays and in the future rocket artillery matches this in regard to #1, almost so in regard to #2 and can maintain direct radio comm with air power or artillery's own aerial drones to match strength #3 in regard to munitions delivery choices.

The relationship between air power and artillery may thus largely revert to 1917's Artillerieflieger or artillery observer planes, which spotted the targets and radioed targeting messages to the artillery.

Artillery without a bird's eye view by combat aircraft or drone and without various kinds of electromagnetic reconnaissance aircraft for SAR, GMTI radar modes and triangulation of radio and radar emissions beyond the capabilities of ground-based sensors will be horribly outmatched in a conventional battle. A superior range would be irrelevant if coupled with such disadvantages and unnecessary if the opposing forces are that disadvantaged. Still, long ranges are nice to have.

Minimized dispersion and long range become relatively unimportant when the target detection fails and area targets need be shot at. An encircled brigade may be reduced to an area of woodland and villages with all open areas vacated due to the sensor threat. A pocket-busting effort may require lethal and will-breaking area fires on the woodland, for example. This may favour large thermobaric warhead rockets as used by TOS-1, and the range wouldn't need to be better than TOS-1's.

Artillery in mobile warfare on the other hand needs to keep things simple, and preferably be able to maintain its reconnaissance efforts (artillery radar, control of drones, processing of drone sensor data) on the move. It also needs to be able to evade superior ground forces on very short notice or to defend itself.
Furthermore, mobile warfare can be expected to cause resupply challenges. The arrival of ammunitions supply trucks will usually happen only every 2nd day, but may not happen for four days in a row. The ability to carry the needed ammunitions with the manoeuvre force is important, and this may be hundreds of missiles per MRL. It's thus important to make efficient use of a heavy lorry's flat bed. This favours howitzers over rockets because of the much smaller mass and volume of the propellant, but it also places much emphasis on optimising the choice of rocket calibre. One and the same MRL may be required to make use of very different rocket calibres.

122 mm Grad-P single tube
artillery rocket launcher (c)Bukvoed
Rocket artillery -particularly with guided rockets- may also be called upon to compensate for survivability issues of mortars and weight and cost of system issues of self-propelled howitzers. 122 mm rocket launchers on tripod exist; they were meant for guerillas. Lightweight MRLs can use a SUV or 2 ton lorry as vehicle, and still easily substitute for a 120 mm mortar in range and effect, save for short range or mountainous terrain shots (that would require an expensive guidance to bend the rocket's trajectory). Guided munitions might still be tracked by opposing forces' counter-artillery/mortar radars, but the extrapolation of the shot's origin would be unreliable because of the trajectory manipulation by the guidance. This can be used by guided mortar rounds as well, but mortars fire in the upper elevation group (above 45°), so their projectiles have little time to fake their origin compared to a rocket fired at low elevation.

A MRL could also be used to temporarily bolster area or point air defences by loading surface-to-air missiles such as IRIS-T-SL, MICA VL, CAMM which require little radar support for their employment. In extreme cases a MICA VL-like rocket could be launched with nothing but a datalink-provided firing solution from an AEW&C aircraft 200 km away or a passive infrared sensor sighting of a target.

Rocket artillery has gained in versatility, and individual reloading or manipulation of rockets may make more sense than previously. The majority of munitions may still be delivered as standardized transport packages, but a single expended rocket fired at a point target may in the future be replaced by hand with another rocket to solve the dilemma whether to load a new package or not. Packaged might also be mixed this way, by adding a few PGM munitions to an area effect package. Manual reloading is only possible up to a certain weight, of course.
That is, unless rockets become semi-fixed, with propulsion section and warhead/guidance section separable. Tails might even be delivered in ready-to shoot transport containers, with noses transported in the fashion of  howitzer shell. The artillerymen could then screw the appropriate noses on. A battery train might carry 1,000 noses and a mere 800 tails, for example. This way they would need to carry less ammunition mass and weight, for carrying 100 AT minescattering rounds too many would merely mean to carry 100 nose sections, not 100 complete rockets too many.
Semi-fixed ammunition and a separation of warheads and propellant in the supply system are common for howitzers and nothing very exotic. It's just not commonplace with rocket artillery.

Corps-level rocket artillery may turn towards missiles like ATACMS, Iskander, LORA - capable of replacing guided bomb strikes in up to 300-400 km depth.

Finally, it's perfectly possible that MRLs will make use of quite primitive missiles such as smoke rockets without any form of trajectory correction. Smoke is very ammunition-efficient compared to suppressive or even destructive fires, and can be used with little risk of causing civilian or friendly casualties. Smoke munitions have likely been neglected in the past. They are in use and multispectral smoke that blocks thermal vision has been developed and introduced, but the share of smoke rounds in the national ammunition stocks may be much smaller than optimum.


Typical artillery smoke agent (the other typical one is the more hazardous WP).

The MRL

Valkiri Mk. I
MLRS' approach of using a tracked vehicle for a long range MRL is highly questionable on cost and radar signature grounds. The Valkiri's approach of using a truck that looks like a regular supply truck (tarpaulin over the launcher) is more promising for most purposes. A future MRL could use a standard medium or heavy truck as vehicle, with a folding container. The limited off-road capability of a 8x8 truck with the by now ordinary CTIS would suffice. This would be particularly favourable for a corps-level artillery unit: Survival would depend on deception and after firing a dash to concealment (long-range aerial radars cannot look behind steep hills, buildings) for reloading.

Ray Ting 2000
The other extreme could be TOS-1-like (based on a medium or heavy tracked AFV chassis), but with compatibility for a wide range of missiles: Short range heavy warhead rockets, medium range area effect rockets with cheap means of dispersion reduction and finally precision missiles and anti-radar missiles of about 100 km range. A manoeuvre brigade with such MRL support could use it as main effort firepower and against high value targets (such as area air defence radars) in a very large radius.
 

TOS-1A

The rockets

An extension of the range by gliding is possible and probably suitable against stationary targets, but the relative slowness in flight compared to a fully ballistic shot makes glide munitions less suitable against fleeting or otherwise mobile targets. Boeing's experimental use of a Small Diameter (Glide) Bomb on a MLRS rocket is an example for this and a most obvious pointer at the substitution relationship between bombs carried on combat aircraft and rocket artillery munitions. A once planned employment of multiple SDBs in an ATACMS rocket was another example.

The sensor threat may make some radar and infrared stealth details worthwhile. This may range from paints over fin design (or exclusive spin stabilization) to low signature propellants.

MRL may also be called upon to deploy rockets which in turn deploy a sensor drone. This way a MRL unit may first launch its own eyes into the sky and then follow up with lethal fires on detected targets. An added benefit is that this drone may also serve for BDA after the strike and potentially could stay effective for a long time intermittently if it can collect energy (with photovoltaic cells, for example).
Such sensor submunitions were under development (I'm not sure if ever introduced into service), but the one-time use characteristic creates a cost-efficiency challenge.

A long-term possibility is the deployment of small killer drone submunitions which infest entire landscapes and hunt for individual soldiers or engage vulnerable components on vehicles and heavy weapons.

The original idea behind precision guided munitions was to hit very difficult-to-hits targets, but soon thereafter the idea that PGMs reduce the necessary ammunition supply quantity arose. This proved to be about as accurate as the paperless office; the ability to hit previously not worthwhile targets increased the quantity of promising targets by orders of magnitude, and thus PGMs should be considered quantity production items just as are the 'dumb' munitions. PGMs are nevertheless rather rare because of their higher cost, which points at the most obvious challenge for future artillery rockets: Affordable PGMs. A simple guidance kit could be reduced in price to less than a thousand Euros, and the arrival of such affordable PGMs may turn into a greater revolution than the introduction of the original few PGMs.

There were more than three decades of experiments with hypersonic rockets (Mach 5 and above, even at low altitudes). This may eventually create some useful products. Hypersonic artillery rockets could deal with time-critical ground targets very well, maybe even quicker than a bomb dropped from 15,000 ft and certainly quicker than a full calibre howitzer shell. The great expense of the rocket fuel would only be justified if the hypersonic missile has a high probability of hit and a 'good' effect on the target.

The organization and training

Old delineations may disappear. A single multiple rocket launcher may be capable of launching area fires rockets, pinpoint accuracy rockets, scatterable AT mines, coastal defence anti-ship missiles, anti-air missiles, anti-radar missiles, heavy thermobaric short range rockets, rockets with sensor drones and bomb strike-replacing bridge and bunker buster missiles.
Such a range of roles would require a different training and a different organizational (and radio net) integration. This in turn may provoke bureaucratic resistance and reveal lock-ins that prevent any such versatility.
The firing rocket artillery may stay in a mere service supplier role or it may re-integrate the targeting and reconnaissance function as once expected by Gudmundssson (possibly through drones, though).

The separation of tube and rocket artillery may become less purposeful in the future, as they become more alike: Rocket artillery may adopt semi-fixed rockets akin to howitzer ammunition, both rocket and gun artillery are capable of area and precision fires and have overlapping effective ranges. Rocket artillery may have a wider choice of payloads (because of the gentler acceleration which makes it easier to use electronics), but this is not for sure. Both SPGs and MRLs will likely shoot & scoot with individual vehicles, be in the same radio (datalink) nets, work with the same forward observers and even use the same basic vehicles.
A "battery" could very well be a mixed one, particularly if it supports a small force.
An extreme possibility is to screw shells as noses onto solid fuel rockets, but the Israelis thought along these lines when they developed LAR-160 and gave it up early on. Shells have unnecessarily strong walls to resist the greater acceleration during a howitzer shot.

The dependency of rocket artillery (other than TOS-1-like systems) on radio communication is extreme, and this is an Achilles heel shared with much else of modern land forces. Yet artillery has at least at times the privilege of staying 'behind', where possibly fibre optic cables can be used to hide and harden data transfers. This could lead to very node-centric behaviour, with artillery components staying close to fibreoptic nodes to maintain reliable short range radio connections with longer-range fibre-optic connections. This could lead to clustering, possibly in proximity to other support units such as workshops, HQs, supply trains, field hospitals, area air defence batteries et cetera. This could also shift the emphasis from supportive fires for manoeuvre elements (unable to maintain fibre optic connection) to corps-level fires on electronically detected targets - which means that manoeuvre element-accompanying rocket artillery should not be allowed to stick to fibre-optic nodes at all.

Some countries like Germany have created joint forward observers who are responsible for mortar, howitzer, rocket artillery, rotary and fixed wing combat aviation fire support and for situation reports to some HQ (or directly into a software). Such observers are a far cry from an artillery battery's captain going forward to direct his and other batteries' fires himself. It shows how artillery has increasingly lost the forward observer role and become a firepower servant. Radars and other sensors of the reconnoitring artillery (Aufklärende Artillerie, organizational solutions differ among countries) may become increasingly detached from the artillery as well, since their results are relevant for the other arms, too. Radars are relevant for C-RAM efforts and battlefield air defences, for example.
The rich variety of the Cold War artillery may actually degenerate into 100% munitions launchers - it depends on the organizational choices to be made by the different army bureaucracies. History shows that there's usually a lot of variation between countries in such matters.

Future training of infantrymen should incorporate very much survivability training, and this includes not only countermeasures to sensors and counterfires, but also security efforts 360° and 24/7, on the move, in bivouac and in firing or reloading positions. It's a common sight in military history documents that veteran officers complain about the lack of infantry combat and security training of rear area troops, including artillerymen. It's safe to expect shortcomings in this area whenever an army hasn't been thoroughly challenged for a while. The Americans received their lessons in Korea and less so in Vietnam, for example - and have lost them long ago. Checkpoint duties in Iraq don't substitute for training against a surprise attack by an armoured reconnaissance platoon. The German army didn't get any such wake-up calls in decades.

- - - - -

I suppose there are many delayed reforms in the waiting. Reforms whose promise is easy to see, but which weren't done due to bureaucratic inertia, long equipment life cycles, limited budgets, moderate interest in 'conventional warfare' weapon systems (especially in Germany, where MAS/MLRS almost disappeared for want of available munitions after the cluster munitions ban).
The army bureaucracies are particularly slow to react to the cluster munitions ban, sticking to now-suboptimal calibres. The potential of PGMs hasn't been exploited either, in part because development programs led to many hardly optimal solutions and many existing stocks of rockets weren't upgradeable for want of a modular approach.


very much later Part IV: What I forgot so far

S O
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2015/03/18

Battlefield missile artillery from the blackpowder age to the 21st century - Part III

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Rocket artillery was primarily an arm of destruction and killing during the Cold War. Signalling and illumination, even smoke-laying, had largely fallen out of favour. Mine scattering had been added, but this shared an important characteristic with the lethal warheads such as HE, VX, Sarin and DPICM: The dispersion of the individual rocket wasn't of much concern as long as the rocket salvo produced a nice cluster of impact points. Multiple rocket launchers were area effect weapons. Their area effect was often exaggerated, but small and low value point targets certainly had the wrong target profile during the Cold War.



The rise of the PGMs

The Gulf War of 1991 that liberated Kuwait* was one of the events that ended the Cold War (by signalling that the West dared to withdraw forces from Germany to fight a war in the Middle East). It saw an unprecedented use of precision guided munitions (PGM) that actually mostly had their roots in the Vietnam War era (and of MLRS). The idea of 'smart' munitions as war-winning wonder weapons had grown during the 1980's ("assault breaker") during belated desperate attempts to find a counter to Warsaw Pact numerical strengths, and this idea grew very much after the demonstration of such munitions' capabilities under the mostly very generous geographical and meteorological conditions of the Mid East.
There were dozens (mostly not loudly marketed) development programs for guided mortar munitions by the late 1990's, and likely even more for rocket artillery. Gun artillery on the other hand had a hard time since the typical 155 or 152 mm howitzer shell is spinning very quickly and thus difficult to steer.

Some of the cheaper concepts for rocket artillery PGMs did not employ a full steering, but merely a correction of the range error, comparable to the AZON guided bomb of 1944. Such schemes require no fins; it's enough to simply deploy some kind of air brake at the correct time - and the calculation of the correct timing is possible with radar or optical tracking of the rocket in flight (or with INS, SatNav). This works well for spin-stabilized projectiles, too.

A typical howitzer shell dispersion pattern; similar for MRL fires
It's also possible to remote-control rockets in flight based on radar tracking.

Multiple rocket launchers often have a horrible dispersion
beyond 2/3 of their maximum range.


More ambitious 'smart' rocket artillery tends to employ satellite navigation (with INS backup) and fin steering. Both satellite navigation and inertial navigation systems have been miniaturized to chip size and less than 100 grams mass, and hardened against the accelerations even of howitzer shots.
Precision guided submunitions such as Bazalt Motiv-3M (for 300 mm BM30) or 9M55K1 (for 122 mm BM-21) are rare, expensive and specialized munitions for anti-tank tasks.
Anti-radar artillery rockets are even more rare.

To be honest, rocket PGMs are a rather uninteresting topic by now since the principle is well-known and actually quite simple.There was so much attention on guided artillery rocket programs in the past that it's a thoroughly worn-out topic.

The reduction of dispersion to enable rocket artillery against point targets was matched by an improvement of the launcher system's positioning. Satellite navigation, digital northfinding and digital maps reduced the battery from a tactical to an administrate unit.. The launchers of a modern MRL battery could be employed separately since the all can determine their position and orientation quickly and reliably. This was previously a battery-level effort. 1980's-style counterfire to such dispersed MRLs would be very inefficient since multiple MRLs would shoot for the chance to disable but one instead of six MRLs. Dispersion of launchers coupled with "shoot & scoot" tactics (leaving the site of the last salvo within less than 2 minutes and driving to another site to be ready for the next salvo as soon as possible) created huge area management troubles in face of the lingering counterfire threat: A single artillery regiment could fire from hundreds of different locations during a day, and these locations would be under risk of counterfires for extended periods thereafter. Furthermore, the artillery coordinator needs to avoid patterns in the choice of firing locations to prevent predictability.

Modern surveillance technologies add to the troubles: The Cold War vintage artillery radars could calculate the origin of rocket in the air (unless they manoeuvred much, another advantage of PGMs). Radar surveillance systems such as E-8, ASTOR or the decommissioned French Orchidée can conduct a spot search at these places and possibly even identify and track the MRL on its move until it comes to a halt. Finally, artillery counterfire might hit that new location instead of the old firing location. A resupply truck might be caught as well. The MRL would still be a point target even in company of a resupply truck, so a guided rocket might be the best choice to engage it. Howitzer artillery would rarely be available since it can barely exceed 40 km range, which even 122 mm rocket can exceed nowadays.

The lingering threat of counterfire and the inherent dispensability of great launcher accuracy if GPS-guided rockets raises a question about the nature of the MRL: Why not go back to launching from cheap trailers or even the transport package rested on the ground in a ~45° angle, as did German rocket artillery during the Second World War? An extreme example of this approach was "Netfires", essentially standing containers which launched PGM rockets vertically and turned out to be prohibitively expensive (because the U.S.Army 'managed' their development).

Gudmundsson's book "On Artillery" appeared in 1993 and had an outlook into the future as its closing chapter. Gudmundsson was very much under impression of the fibre-optic guidance principle, which enables to user to 'see' the target with the missile's 'eye'. The Polyphem missile project embodied this and the project started in the following year, but was cancelled after a decade. Actually, all fibre-optic guidance projects for mortars and artillery were cancelled or didn't reach operational capability yet as far as I know. The technology succeeded in anti-tank missiles only. Gudmundsson's vision of artillery overcoming the separation between itself and its targets by firing artillerymen being able to see their targets again did not come true so far. The division between the observing artillery and the firing artillery persists.

The cluster munitions ban

The cluster munitions ban of 2008 (previously discussed here, Russia and the USA did not join it) bans most DPICM munitions, and for a good reason: Dud rates of at times 10% added a secondary "anti-personnel" (anti-humans, anti-livestock etc.) minefield function to every DPICM shot. This had been true with very early cluster munitions such as cluster bombs of early WW2 already. It is possible to minimize the dud rate or make duds harmless (such as with charged capacitor-dependent fuzes), but efforts to develop and introduce such came too late.

The challenge was thus to develop alternatives to the extremely large area fragmentation effect of individual DPICM rounds - something better than mere HE, even HE with air burst.
One approach was the cannister/flechette principle of many, many tiny steel arrows packaged into the warhead and released in time so they would impact with an optimum mean distance between each other. I'm serious, some arms companies are actively marketing this. This was not introduced apparently. It wouldn't help much anyway, since flechettes have a horrible and exaggerated reputation as well.

Another approach was practised by the Russians even before the ban: HE submunitions were ejected from the rocket and sank on individual parachutes to the ground for an air burst with an optimum pattern of fragmentation. This makes sense because a HE rocket impacting at a very shallow angle would send most of its fragments either into the ground or up in the air, hardly any forward and none backwards. Left and right side would be pierced by a tiny fraction of the overall fragments only. A HE submunition descending vertically and exploding at optimum height over ground would affect the ground below by blast and all of its fragments would go left, right, forward, backward - hardly any would be wasted. The cluster munitions ban allows for bomblets of more than 4 kg mass:
It does not mean the following: (...)Each explosive submunition weighs more than four kilograms;

9M53F rocket principle: separable, parachute-retarded HE warheads

Interestingly, the ban also knows these as exceptions:
(iv) Each explosive submunition is equipped with an electronic self-destruction mechanism;
(v) Each explosive submunition is equipped with an electronic self-deactivating feature;
It is rather unlikely that this will make much of a difference in countries like Germany, were even cluster munitions covered by these exceptions would be decried as inhumane(!) and banned cluster munitions by NGOs and politicians, legal details be damned. Even capacitator-dependent, self-defusing bomblets with a partially biodegradable shell would still be unacceptable in many countries unless the political sky darkens considerably.

Another possible future for rocket artillery is a return to unitary (HE) warheads, especially if coupled with PGM characteristics. The GUMLRS missile is a prominent example. The physics that led to the employment of ICMs do still apply, though: The fragmentation effect per kg of mass is higher with smaller warheads than larger ones. The 122 mm calibre looked obsolete during the 1980's, but it's better suited for HE warheads than 227 mm rockets as used by MLRS. You'll be able to cover a larger area with HE fragmentation per truckload of munition. Guided missiles don't need the large HE warhead of a GUMLRS either, which is why many of the recent MRL guided rocket developments used much smaller calibres. MLRS can be adapted to such smaller calibre rockets, of course; even the original mine scattering rockets deviated from the 227 mm calibre of the M26 already. A 122 mm launcher pod that fits into MLRS systems can hold 28 122 mm rockets.

later: Part IV - Options for the (near) future of rocket artillery

S O

*: By handing it over to absolutist monarch whose clan was and is the embodiment of a kleptocracy.
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2015/03/15

Battlefield missile artillery from the blackpowder age to the 21st century - Part II

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LARS with original,
protected cabin vehicle
Interest in multiple rocket launchers dwindled in the West after the Second World War.Their nature as short-ranged area effect weapons seemed obsolete during the 1950's when nuclear warheads of 0.1 to 10 kt TNT equivalent strength launched by single shot V2-like missiles, very heavy howitzers and ultimately heavy howitzers of 155 mm calibre became the new battlefield artillery munition for area effect.



It's likely not by pure chance that the West Germans - who had good reason to expect to call the target area of such munitions  their home -created and used one of the few major MRLs of the West from the 1960's.
They stuck to the spin stabilization and the LARS (Leichtes Artillerieraketensystem - light artillery rocket system) was similar to the Soviet post-WW2 BM-21 MRL.

Technical advances in fire control became available during the Cold War: Now you could launch a rocket, track its trajectory by radar and self-destruct it in flight. The deviation of the trajectory from the intended one could be used to compute an improved firing solution for the full salvo. This preserved the element of surprise against the targeted troops which did not notice the tracking rocket and would usually receive no timely warning by friendly artillery radar operators.

Drag rings* were applied to increase the rocket's drag and to thus decrease its minimum range. This largely solved a relevant problem for MRL crews because they could not add the propellant in increments to the warhead as do mortar and howitzer crews.

The 1970's were an era of revival for MRLs in the West: The unrestricted use of nuclear artillery had become understood to be undesirable, even improbable. Nuclear artillery was no reliable area effect artillery any more, and MRLs were available to meet the demands. Jane's Weapon Systems editions from the 1970's present a great many rocket artillery projects, often times with photos of prototype launches instead of finished products. Fin-stabilized short range MRLs were proliferating and became quite popular as simple development projects in Third World Military forces such as Brazil's or Egypt's.
There were late in the Cold War also projects to make meaningful use of aerial rockets such as 70 mm Hydra as short range artillery rockets. The results were impressive (the RD-MRWS trailer holds 114 70 mm rockets), but didn't become popular owing to the short range.
 
- - - - -
RS-80 prototype
The Western MRL project which announced the late Cold War face of MRLs was an (over)ambitious one by comparison:
The tri-national (FRG/UK/ITA) RS-80 MRL was supposed to launch heavy and long 280 mm rockets out to well beyond 40 km. The calibre was wasteful for unitary high explosive warheads because little area could be covered with fragments, but the MRL was meant to employ DPICM (shaped charge + fragmentation bomblet) warheads anyway. This and the long range approach were later used in the successful MLRS program's concept (227 mm, range greater than 155 mm L/39 howitzers'). RS-80 became too elaborate and was given up, and MLRS became the de facto NATO standard MRL (and increasingly multi-national) in the 1980's.
Nowadays many people mistake "MLRS" as the "MRL" category name just as they say "AWACS" when they think of "AEW&C". MLRS was successful enough to become a synonym, just as the Soviet MRLs never really shed the "Katyusha" title fully.

Some long-range MRL such as MLRS had rather expensive launcher vehicles, the weapon or its upgrades were often rather expensive and the ammunition was always expensive. A rocket of this kind needs to be produced with tight tolerances to keep dispersion** under control and the large amount of solid rocket fuel is expensive in itself. DPICM warheads are furthermore more expensive than HE. Another popular warhead category for such MRL is capable of scattering anti-tank mines, which could be used to fix a tank company in place or to stall its advance. It's curious that NATO countries used this approach so much since it was the Warsaw Pact that lead in mineclearing equipment for tanks.

MLRS reloading
MLRS uses an unusual ammunition concept: "sixpack" containers with six rockets (or a single large ATACMS missile) can be lifted  up, loaded and disposed of by the launcher itself. The transport packaging includes the launch tubes, which burdens the production of ammunition with tight tolerances for accuracy**.
Nobody has to push individual rockets into the tubes, but on the other hand it's (AFAIK) not possible to add drag rings for reduced minimum firing range since the containers are sealed.
The M26 rocket thus had a range of 10-32.5 km and the later extended range version of 13-45 km (figures from field manual XST 6-60).
A 10 km minimum range (probably more in mountainous terrain) disqualifies MLRS as standard artillery system. It was merely able to complement the 155 mm heavy field howitzers and self-propelled guns. Its core competencies were the scattering of mines and the delivery of much DPICM over long ranges on short notice - particularly for artillery counterfire on artillery batteries found by artillery radars.
The inability to reload individual rockets (except subcalibre practice rockets) reduced the versatility further; one couldn't (even if it was developed) load a single radio jammer rocket into a launcher. The choice of the calibre made rocket too heavy for reloading even only individual rockets with manpower only anyway.

- - - - -

BM-21
The Warsaw Pact's Cold War MRL developments centred a lot on the ubiquitous BM-21: 122 mm calibre, launch tubes, spin stabilized, range initially 20 km growing into MLRS range territory. Czechoslovakia even produced a derivative (RM-70) based on a bigger truck with a full set of quick reload rockets in place - capable of two salvoes for a total of 80 rockets or six hectares devastation per shoot & scoot cycle (2-3 minutes quick reload, BM-21: almost 10 minutes).


Russian BM-21- 'bringing freedom' to Ukrainians

The Soviets developed some interesting munitions for their multiple rocket launchers, including radio jammer rockets which - stuck in the ground - jammed radio communications on about one square kilometre.***

Later, the Soviet Union introduced contemporaries to MLRS; particularly the BM-27 Uragan. They sensibly used trucks instead of more expensive and more maintenance-intensive tracked carriers for these vehicles.

The Operational Manoeuvre Group (OMG, no really: "OMG") concept became the terror of NATO war defence planners during the Cold War; it was essentially a rebranded Panzerkorps, meant to push through the thinly manned defensive line of NATO and to exploit the breakthrough in brazen dashes forward. It's interesting that the Soviets equipped the divisions of such OMGs with MRL artillery: The bulk and weight of rocket ammunition is much greater than with howitzer artillery of comparable firepower. The propellant is used less efficiently because the rocket is recoilless: The propellant gasses cannot push against some solid object to propel the warhead forward and thus much more propellant is required. It's similar to the difference between swimming in water with legs working only and being able to push off the pool wall with the legs.

An interesting Soviet development from the early 1980's was TOS-1: A short range, heavy rocket MRL meant to deliver thermobaric or incendiary warheads that defeat entrenched troops or troops in settlements. The launcher vehicle was a tank hull owing to the risks associated with going within a few kilometres of the target area. This was a revival of a German concept from the Second World War and is lacking a Western equivalent.

later Part III: the early Post-Cold War era, the Cluster munitions ban and the rise of PGMs for MRL

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: A drag ring (or spoiler ring, nose ring) can be mounted on the narrow rocket nose. Its additional drag reduces a 127 mm Valkiri rocket's minimum range from 15 to 8 km, for example (maximum range without is 22 km).
**: "accuracy": Difference between aim point and centre of the group of impacts
"dispersion": Differences between centre of the group of impacts and the impacts. Dispersion in length is usually larger than to the sides.
Accuracy is a fire control and launcher quality challenge, dispersion is a rocket/shell/mortar bomb design challenge.
***: I'm not sure whether this was a Cold War or post-Cold War development.
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2015/03/13

Battlefield missile artillery from the blackpowder age to the 21st century - Part I

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Rockets became feasible with the invention of blackpowder or similar mixtures hundreds of years ago. They are about as old as guns, but weren't able to rival guns successfully until the 20th century.

The propulsion energy comes from the rocket fuel (solid or liquid) and the nozzle shape, but the stabilization is what makes them useful and predictable. Two methods of stabilisation are now dominant (fin stabilisation and different kinds of spin stabilisation), but others such as a centre of gravity behind the nozzle (as with modern consumer fireworks) were actually more relevant among the recurring attempts to produce competitive battlefield rockets till the early 20th century.

Fin stabilisation is the most interesting one, as it is of more simple and lighter design than typical spins stabilisation for rockets and it's dissimilar to the (now rifled) guns' spin stabilised shells. The differences includes some advantages:
(1) Fin stabilisation is easily adaptable to guidance, as steering can be done with simple rudders.
(2) Fin stabilisation begins to work well at a length:diameter ratio of 7:1, while a 100% spin stabilisation becomes rather impractical with such lengths. As a result, fin stabilised rockets can be very long and thus have a very large volume.
It is possible to combine fin and spin stabilization, often with a slow spin used to stabilize during the early acceleration phase when the velocity-dependent fin stabilization isn't very effective yet. Such combined stabilisation uses angled nozzles, angled fins or a rifled launcher tube.

Rockets have in general several advantages over guns as well:
(a) Very low cost of launcher for a rapid fire capability (the simple BM-21 multiple rocket launcher (MRL) launches 122 mm rockets at 0.5 second intervals while the largest gun with such a rate of fire is a heavy and elaborate 76 mm naval gun)
(b) Very low cost of launcher for a very long range (as evidenced by the lack of a gun equivalent for intercontinental missiles)
(c) Low cost of launchers in general (unless you mess up a procurement project and end up paying military prices for standard hydraulics).
(d) Submunition dispersion is more controllable than with most tube artillery. Fin-stabilised rockets can still spin slowly at the angular speed required for the desired dispersion of submunitions. Spin-stabilised warheads need to spin quickly at all times.

There are important disadvantages as well, though:
(I) Rockets have unlike howitzers and mortars no variable propellant power. You can thus not reduce the charge for short-range shots. Some multiple rocket launcher (MRL) rockets are available with air brake attachments to be added to the nose for this reason; the air brake reduces their range and thus their otherwise often too long minimum firing distance). High-end rockets have actually variable propulsion (liquid fuelled ones and restartable solid fuel rockets), but these are too elaborate for quantity-produced battlefield artillery rockets.
(II) Highly visible firing signatures, especially if no low-smoke propellant was used.
(III) Most MRL types are unsuitable for very limited, unpredictable firing missions. You cannot expect a MRLS system which gets its rocket ammunition in sealed pods to help out with a single illumination rocket, while a mortar could (within its range).
(IV) Propulsion is less efficient than with guns; you need more chemical energy for the same projectile kinetic energy at the muzzle. This disadvantage is shared with recoilless guns, which are technically in between rockets and guns.

The earliest war rockets were devised in China and used mostly to spread confusion and fear with their unknown visual and audio appearance. The Koreans devised multiple rocket launchers using centre of gravity-stabilised rockets, called Hwacha, in the 15th century.

Hwacha reconstruction, (c) draq
The practical battlefield rockets of the 19th century were mostly the illumination rockets, which already used an early kind of parachute. Iron-cased rockets were developed in India during the 18th century and used to good effect, which led to some use of rockets during the Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleonic-era Congreve rockets

The practical First World War rocket was either a small one for illumination, signalling or incendiary purposes or a rather big one with great explosive power. Advantages (2) and (c) enabled these.

The inter-War Years saw advances towards rockets as we know them today, albeit with very poor dispersion. The Soviet Union focused on fin-stabilised rockets and Germany focused on spin-stabilised ones.*
Eventually, the smaller calibre and lower weight of most Soviet rockets led to their employment as an area weapon with great morale effect.

Soviet BM-13 (132 mm) Katyusha (c) ChrisO
The German path led to very large warheads with great explosive power or a rather large incendiary (oil) payload. Their effect on morale was great as well. Both Soviet and German battlefield rocketry was very short ranged, shorter in range than even early First World War howitzers indeed. The short range combined with the very high visibility (smoke) led to a preference for relatively expensive self-propelled (motorized) launchers. It was simply too dangerous to stay at the battery site for long after it had fired its salvo.

German 15 cm Nebelwerfer rocket - no simple design at all
Interestingly, the revolutionary R4/m rocket in use with the Luftwaffe in late WW2 pioneered folding fins for rockets. The German army stuck with complicated spin-stabilized rockets with angled spin-inducing nozzles between warhead (actually, tail) and solid rocket fuel.

The high dispersion due to insufficient stabilization of the Soviet fin-stabilised RS and BM series of WW2 rockets was caused by the insufficient stabilization during the launch phase and due to fin stabilization not being well-understood; engineers at that time basically guessed the needed fin size and shape and observed the resulting dispersion. Other fin-stabilized rockets of the WW2 era had a satisfactory dispersion of less than 1% of range.

The battlefield artillery rockets of WW2 - fired by multiple rocket launchers - were thus short-ranged, high dispersion, inaccurate salvo weapons with a high morale effect against not-yet hardened troops. The typical warhead was a high explosive warhead, with some incendiary and large blast warheads used with the larger calibres.

later Part II: Cold War battlefield rocket artillery


S O

(unavoidable picture for fun)

*: The non-battlefield rockets such as the A-4 are outside the scope of this text. They had a combined thrust vectoring (launch control) and fin stabilisation with gyroscope and rudders for trajectory control.
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2015/03/12

NRF

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I wrote on my German mirror blog "Verteidigung und Freiheit" about the NRF, or rather the German contribution to it: A reinforced Panzergrenadier (~mechanized infantry) battalion.
It turned into something of a rant.


Much has been written about equipment shortages and cannibalization of units to scrounge up equipment for prioritized units, but that's not my main concern. This is how the Bundeswehr has always worked, and it's quite normal for military forces world-wide if they have prioritised units at all. The Bundeswehr was founded in the mid-50's and experienced an extreme shortage of spare parts and ammunition well into the 1960's because of poor planning and an inept if not corrupt minister of defence. Even during the 1990's there were still easily avoidable shortages and supply delays, even for simple things such as boots in large sizes.

My exasperation was and is more about the non-material side: The low readiness is rooted in a lack of ambition among the higher ranks of the officer corps and the lack of stern and competent (if not cleansing) civilian control than by the budget or its allocation. The contribution to the NRF is considered a quick reaction force for this:

By the time of the Alliance's next summit in Istanbul in June 2004, NATO had agreed upon greater specificity in the Prague blueprint: the NRF was to number some 24,000 troops at full operational capability, be able to start to deploy after five days' notice and sustain itself for operations lasting 30 days

Sorry, but my expectations for a rapid reaction capability are different. Acceptable are seven days including political decision-making lag till several brigades are combat-ready anywhere in the continental EU!
Back during the Cold War a dozen divisions had to be combat-ready in the field with a day's warning at most. The idea of requiring a month for war-readiness of an entire army was utterly idiotic back then, and it should be so today just as much. Today's alliance defence scenarios do not require more forces than the EU countries have they require a quick reaction to deter a coup de main attempt

A NATO response force is typical bureaucratic-political nonsense. Geography dictates that Poland and Germany need to be able to mount effective defences on the frontier within the first days. Everyone else's main forces are relevant more as a political mass to get an status quo ante armistice than relevant during the decisive initial phase of a potential aggression.

Germany is paying about EUR 30 billion per year on its military, so German taxpayers are entitled to a ready force. Its size is of secondary importance in comparison to its readiness. Anything short of a useful and ready force a failure of the bureaucracy, and this means one should exert suffering on the bureaucracy* to punish the bureaucracy into delivering a good deal.

S O

*: Bureaucracies hate to lose respect, to lose prestige, to be disparaged, to lose titles, to lose budget, to lose amenities for top management, to lose top management positions, to lose personnel in general, to lose prestige projects, to lose traditional subdivisions, to have foreign experts injected into its staffs. There are many ways to punish a bureaucracy into delivering a worthy output.
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2015/03/11

Rifle Drill

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A while ago I looked over a document detailing old German drill, particularly with the rifle. I wondered what this drill could have been good for in the first place.
Its roots were in those drills which enabled musketeers and other users of blackpowder muzzleloaders to load and shoot at equal intervals for a maximized rate of salvo fire of a line - 17th century drills.

Its (now extinct) manual of arms remnants in the Wehrmacht were certainly no good for combat, though maybe for instilling discipline initially. This again was likely superfluous after the paramilitary training the recruits had gone through before already.

I did remember an old gem, though: Sometime in the early Federal Republic of Germany, a German bureaucrat was sent to East Africa to finally pay out the auxiliary troops of the First World War there, the "Askaris". The problem was how to identify the actual veterans?
As Wikipedia puts it (with source given):
"Only a few claimants could produce the certificates given to them in 1918; others provided pieces of their old uniforms as proof of service. The banker who had brought the money came up with an idea: as each claimant stepped forward he was handed a broom and ordered in German to perform the manual of arms. Not one of them failed the test."
Askari monument in Tanzania
The interesting thing about the German Askaris in East Africa was their performance in combat and their resilience (both while led by Germans). They continued a guerilla war from 1914 till 1918 against superior forces, including their own version of a Long March. Other African auxiliary forces and especially foreign-trained indigenous forces of modern times were not known for such performance and resilience.

There's no leadership solution to be found in drill, but maybe seemingly senseless manual of arms drills are exactly what's needed to form disciplined, orderly infantry in Africa and Central Asia, particularly if foreign trainers are involved?

There were some leaps in here, not a conclusive chain of evidence or even only arguments. Yet one might consider to use old and successful recipes the next time one attempts to help a semi-broken government to raise effective security forces. 
The leadership problem is going to be the tougher one, of course.


S O
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2015/03/10

U.S.-Iran again

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Compare the maturity of these texts:

an open letter


The politics behind this are in part domestic American (Republican Congress sabotaging Democratic president's policies at every opportunity) and in part a desire to bully Iran.

And by "bully" I mean "bomb".

It's noteworthy that Iran has been the victim of a string of U.S. aggressions since 1953 (when a democratically elected government was replaced by an absolutist monarchy with support of the U.S.), with great intensity during the 1980's.
The U.S.S. Vincennes which shot down an Iranian airliner didn't just happen to do a mishap:
The intent to shoot down an Iranian F-14 was nothing short of double murder intent, for a F-14 would have been no threat to a warship - particularly not while flying at high altitude. Moreover, the U.S.S. Vincennes actually violated Iranian territorial waters and shot at Iranian boats; both would be considered a 100% act of war if done by an Iranian vessel along the coast of New Jersey. Yet this was but one episode of the repeated bullying.
The U.S. support for Saddam Hussein's war of aggression against Iran including the breaking of Iran's legitimate naval blockade against Iraqi oil exports weighed even heavier.
The hostage crisis during the Iranian revolution pales by comparison and never was a valid excuse, particularly not after it was resolved.

It's extremely regrettable that Europeans were pushed by propaganda to work along and exert pressure on Iran as well. Now we're looking like bullies as well.

Iran - a country that's a member of the NNPT (Israel isn't) and didn't violate its NNPT obligations so far, whereas the U.S. did. And even if it did violate its obligations, the treaty has actually no enforcement provisions.

Moreover, I looked up the military history of Iran, and it turns out the last war of aggression by Iran (Persia) ended 1746 when Nader Shah won his war against the Ottoman Empire. Ever since, they attacked no country, ever. 269 years of non-aggression. Imagine the United States had never, ever attacked any other country (the actual count is in the dozens); it could still not match this record.
Switzerland has the moral authority to speak of Iran as a dangerous country; the United States don't.


About the letters; it's megalomaniac to think that "future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time". That works in dictates only. The Iranian foreign minister criticized this correctly. The U.S. government could withdraw from such an agreement, but this would Iran free from all obligations therein.*
The Senate used to be the foreign policy central of Congress, now about half of its members pretend the basics of international law don't exist. THAT is a threat to international peace. Then again, this is no news - we knew this since 2003 at the latest.


It doesn't matter whether this text will be called "anti-American". That would be just as meaningless as being called "Communist!" during the 70's. "Anti-American" a thought-terminating cliché, not a meaningful statement.
 
What matters are the facts and Europe's foreign policy should be based on facts. Iran isn't the troublemaker. Its tiny support for the Hezbollah militia is marginal compared to how many militias, terror organisations, military coups and oppressive regimes the United States supported and supports. This Western hypocrisy isn't without parallels, and it's undermining an international order devised and enjoyed by the Western World itself. We're not going to sustain a hypocritical corruption of the international order for much longer in a world in which the West's share of demographic, political and economic power is diminishing. As Putin shows, others can play this game as well.
We would be better off to not confront imaginary threats and to not corrupt an international order that plays greatly into our hands even without abuse.


related:
2012-03 Top ten media failures in the Iran war debate

S O
defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

*: Assuming the Iranians aren't stupid enough to accept a treaty layout in which their very same obligations would persist towards a 3rd party until they withdraw themselves. An agreement without ratification branch is a weaker one than a ratified treaty, of course.
About the weight carried by executive agreements: link and another link and yet another from the Congressional Research Service.

P.S.: The letter was factually wrong. It purported to educate about their constitution, but got it wrong itself.
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