I suspect technological change will drive huge changes in artillery and battlefield air defence in the future. Artillery, battlefield air defence and hard kill defences against air-dropped munitions, rockets, artillery shells and mortar bombs (short: C-RAM) are overlapping already. We will find new forms of arranging and organising these capabilities, and new development programs will increasingly transcend the borders between air defence and artillery.
The following table shows examples (and generic representatives) which demonstrate such overlaps ("aircraft" includes cruise missiles):
|overlap of generic and actual systems (some of the "weapons" are "munitions" actually)|
"RAM" = rocket, artillery (shell), mortar (bomb)
"C-RAM" = counter-RAM
"Polyphem": 60 km range fibre-optic guided missile project, potentially of use against helicopters. Similar: ALAS.
"kamikaze drones" (example TARES/Taifun) recognize, identify and engage targets autonomously
vertical missile launchers (a famous example was Netfires)
"MRL": "multiple rocket launchers", example MLRS
"Common launcher": An experiment with different misisles launched from MLRS-compatible launcher, including AIM-120 AMRAAM
"SeaWolf": British short range ship defence missile, intercepted a 114 mm cannon shell (simulating a Soviet supersonic anti-ship missiles) in the 80's
"AGM": Fully automated 155 mm turret, based on PzH 2000 SPG turret
"Centurion": 20 mm gatling used as C-RAM
"DRACO": Italian naval 75 mm gun mounted on land vehicle, 2nd attempt
"Iron Dome": Radar-based C-RAM system with cheap radio command guided missiles
"COBRA": representative modern (counter-)artillery radar
"AN/TPQ-36A": modified (counter-)artillery radar in use with NASAMS
"HAWK21": (or "Hawk XXI") similar in concept to NASAMS
We may ignore artillery radars and thus the whole C-RAM business and many of the overlaps if we don't trust the survivability or generally practicality of (counter-)artillery radars. A reason could be the risk of triangulation by opposing forces, followed by destructive artillery fires.
A for some reason(s) survivable and practical battlefield radar might combine a great many functions in one, though:
- detecting and tracking incoming munitions
- extrapolating their origin
- measuring the trajectory of friendly munitions, allowing for accuracy- and even dispersion-improving corrections
- measuring wind conditions by tracking weather balloons
- detecting, tracking and possibly even identifying (non-cooperatively) aircraft
- guiding radio command controlled or even semi-active radar homing surface-to-air missiles
- delivering target data for anti-air and C-RAM guns
- detecting shell impact dust clouds and thus measuring the location of impacts
This would combine classic artillery radars, classic battlefield air defence (air search and fire control, even target illuminator) radars and C-RAM radars in one. Which branch would operate these? Artillery? Air defence? Maybe electronic warfare troops as a compromise?
Would it make sense to launch extremely expensive surface-to-air missiles (2+ million € a missile) from MRLs? A MRL cannot a easily swap between munition types as a howitzer can, after all.
The difference between C-RAM (anti-munitions) and modern VShoRAD (anti-aircraft) missiles is that the latter need to cope with the evasive manoeuvres and technical countermeasures of combat aircraft, whereas the former need to be cheap since most of their targets are cheap. A perfect merger is thus unlikely, but both could be linked to the same sensor (battlefield radar).
This may point at the possibility that C-RAM missiles may be handled by the same unit and carried by the same vehicles as will be vertical launch artillery rocket, and the latter may also serve as anti-helicopter and anti-drone missiles when the former cannot be used for want of a line of sight. The very expensive missiles on the other hand would probably justify dedicated launcher systems. Then again, this wasn't the path chosen for the expensive ATACMS rockets; they were launched from MLRS like the smaller typical MLRS rockets.
Will field artillery (155 mm SPGs, maybe 105 mm SPGs) serve in a dual role against ground and air targets, as was previously attempted during the Interwar Years and alter successfully done by the rather elaborate heavy anti-air artillery??
Let's compare today's 155 mm L/52 self-propelled guns with some of the most powerful WW2 heavy anti-air artillery (prototypes):
PzH 2000 and 15 cm Flak Gerät 55
calibre: 155 and 149.1 mm
muzzle velocity: 875 and 890 m/s
shell weight: 43.5 and 40 kg
barrel length: 8050 and 7753 mm
maximum elevation: 65 and 90°
traverse: 360 and 360°
A modern SPG largely is the equivalent of super-sized WW2 Flak, and vastly more powerful than any common WW2 Flak. It would potentially be able to defeat even aircraft at greater ranges than most common battlefield air defence missiles if it employed a guided projectile such as of DART's concept.
On the other end of the gun spectrum, DRACO with its 76 mm gun actually is capable of employing DART; a single of its 76 mm shells is not very impressive in indirect fire against most ground targets, though.
DRACO is rather representative of a gun turret that would accompany line-of-sight combat troops (such as a tank battalion), whereas AGM is rather representative of brigade- or division-level indirect fire artillery (but could be allocated to a battalion battlegroup as well). A modern Abbot SPG equivalent with a gun such as Denel's G7 (a high muzzle velocity 105 mm howitzer) would be somewhere in between.
The introduction of C-RAM to actual warfare during the Iraq Occupation was and is but one challenge for modern artillery branches:
The inclusion of more general air defence tasks is possible technically. Artillery radars may turn into general battlefield airspace radars soon, serving SPGs, MRLs, C-RAM and battlefield air defence. It'll take many years till this will be developed and replace the current inventories - especially in armies that purchased modern artillery radars not long ago.
The merging of tasks may require organisational changes and a merging of (radio) communication. It will also create a leadership challenge, since versatile systems need to follow a regime of priorities in order to ensure that the currently most important requirements are met instead of favouring less critical ones only. The prioritisation may need to change many times during the course of a day on the battlefield.
The very idea of "artillery" may soon change more than recently by PGMs, and for the second time ever (1st being introduction of missiles) the idea of battlefield air defences may radically change as well.