2009/11/27

The concept of a PGM Company

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Thinking about the disbanding of dedicated tank hunter (Panzerjäger) units, the emergence of non-line of sight anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and the introduction of precision guided missiles (PGMs) into rocket artillery, I came to a new way of connecting these threads.

Comments about the recent MRL article showed the difficulty of drawing a line between multiple rocket launcher 'artillery' and missile launchers (even multiple missile launchers) more related to ATGMs.

It would likely overburden a battalion to meet all rocket artillery and missile tasks of an army in one; ranging from anti-tank missiles up to 300 km operational-level missiles. Dedicated AT units are on the other hand out of fashion - for a reason. They're specialized on defeating tanks with some additional utility against above-ground fortifications. Such a specialization on conventional war targets makes it tough to justify their operating costs and manpower requirements since the end of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, it would be useful to split the missile business into an artillery-like and a PGM business. The artillery-like capability could be included as MRL battery (Company) into general artillery Battalions (Brigade support element) and as MRL Battalion into an artillery Regiment (Corps support element).
The PGM element could be equally sized, but primarily as a separate PGM Coy at (combined arms) Brigade or Infantry Regiment level.


The demands on both are very different; fire control and standing operating procedures should be different, the useful allocation of support availability to supported units is different, ... pretty much everything is different. It makes sense to split these capabilities into different units.

The missile artillery units would keep all the classic MRL jobs and munitions plus the MRL-compatible guided munitions, which are typically long-range munitions (40+ km).It would typically get area fire missions and almost never execute fire missions against moving targets.

The PGM units would instead use missiles more akin to ATGMs - especially non-line of sight missiles. Their job would exclusively be the destruction of point targets, especially mobile targets. The lower end of that range could be covered by missiles as C-KEM and Spike MR (the latter with fibre-optic guidance for a rudimentary indirect fire capability).
The warheads would need to be both capable against main battle tanks and against soft targets (at least for the CE missiles). The Russians had an interesting trend in the last about ten years; they offered new ATGMs types with a range of warheads, typically tandem shaped charge and thermobaric (~fuel air explosive & "enhanced blast") ones.

The upper end of the PGM Coy's munitions could be missiles like Netfires, EFOGM, FOG-MPM and Polyphem. The latter three depend(ed) on long fibre-optical links that seemed to have caused reliability troubles. It would also be possible to assign killer drones with moving target capability into these units.
The actual equipment of such a company should be limited to two different systems, of course. I would probably compromise an EFOGM equivalent plus a C-KEM equivalent.


Investment into the new PGM types has been rather modest (especially in regard to actual introduction as standard hardware), in part due to the need to iron out the problems of novel concepts.
The technical PGM innovation has rarely been met with proper organizational innovation; some armies have lost their dedicated AT units and simply integrate MRL-compatible PGMs into their rocket artillery and modern ATGMs into the infantry and mechanized infantry.

Few armies have really set up PGMs as a third arm for non-line of sight support fires, as an equal to mortars and artillery.

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In the end, the PGM Coy would be a very different unit that all previous AT units, albeit slightly in their lineage and taking over their AT mission. It would substitute rapid reaction to calls and indirect fires with several kilometres range for rapid deployment into positions for line-of-sight ambushes.

An important value of the PGM Coy would be that it allows for relatively clean, unconfused MRL artillery units that cover a clearly defined and acceptably large range of tasks because the PGM Coy took over the moving target/short range fire missions.
The PGM Coy could also harbour the AT experts of the formation, its Coy Ldr might develop a Brigade's anti-tank plan, for example. A classic artillery battalion would not nourish such expertise.
The PGM Coy could furthermore be included in the brigade's air defence plan; missiles like EFOGM are a credible threat to helicopters.


The confusion about the place of artillery-untypical PGMs in army structures should end, and the solution should define clear separating lines. Fire support units should not be forced to employ extremely different systems with completely different SOPs. A third fire support arm (PGM troops), equal to mortars and artillery, could be a solution.

Sven Ortmann
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4 comments:

  1. Sven, you said:

    "The upper end of the PGM Coy's munitions could be missiles like Netfires ..."

    Netfire's and IAI Jumper's rockets can fly very (very, very) far if we talk about usual company's area of responsibility. I suspect that Netfire and Jumper should be operated by another company that acts just like shooter platform. Sensor unit is the same that has Spikes. This is like multilayered AT defence, where longerange systems help other tier units with mobility of fire. Does this sound logical?

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  2. That PGM Coy would be a support unit in a Bde, so it would be for a Bde's area of responsibility.

    This blog shows only snippets of what I'm working on; so let me try to give some context to the idea:

    My theory has both classic (high force density) units as for example heavy brigades and low force density units more akin to recce Bns.
    The Bde would need to 'radiate an aura of support' in a radius of about 30-40 km if not more - to lend its support assets (fire support, aerial recce, electronic warfare) to the much smaller and less 'complete' units that cover the otherwise rather empty areas.

    Such a PGM Coy doesn't need to contribute to that aura, but any PGM of longer range than about 10-15 km would easily be integrated into that support aura.

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    Your idea is basically about a Bde level AT force that moves its munitions instead of itself to provide AT firepower, right?

    It fits easily into typical patterns (local ATGM~mortar + centralized main effort asset Netfires~artillery).

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  3. My idea is that those PGM companys (maybe even platoons) are acting more like column stopping force with limited number of rockets in their disposal. They "borrow" additional firepower from units that are further away (for exaple 20 plus kms). PGM companys (platoons) act like French artillery observers in 1940. Today the artillery ordnance is just different :)

    http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=54&t=140163

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  4. The forward observer function has been separated from the artillery and even mortar units, and that trend will likely not reverse. Infantry and armour officers need basic FO skills and JFST (joint fire support teams) are the fire support nodes at the main effort.

    A missile company would be a firepower provider for those who call for fire just as rocket artillery, gun artillery and mortar forces.
    Their role in fire control should be limited to denying impossible fire missions.
    The coordination of FS should be done by Bn and Bde staffs, JFST and Bn/Bde leaders.

    The old concept of artillery battery leaders playing a role as FO was nice, but the FS repertoire has since grown way too diverse.

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