An article about artillery

Typical articles about artillery in professional journals look like

Artillery [blah] 21st century [blah] transformation [blah] lethality [blah] network [blah] leap ahead [blah] revolutionary [blah] effects [blah] efficiency [blah] joint [blah] system of systems [blah] excellence !

I stopped reading such articles years ago.

Their illustrations are often neat, but the content of truth or even actual information is 'moderate'. Moreover, often it's important what's not being written (for example that the shiny new gun is already out-ranged by foreign substitutes or that the bureaucracy plans to buy only a small supply of the new ammunition). Ongoing programs are usually being hyped - up to the day when they're being cancelled. Afterwards there's perfect silence about them and whatever is the next move of the bureaucracy is going to be hyped as super-wise.

In short: Most professional journal articles about artillery (or most other military topics) are pretty much an insult to the reader's intelligence.

Luckily, this blog is not professional journal, so I can dare to write an article about artillery without being ashamed.

Earlier blog posts about artillery looked at hardware examples, sub-sets or specific conditions for effectiveness or other specifics:

2011-08: The underrated genius gun


2011-01: A German artillery fire control computer in '45?


2010-08: "Who Says Dumb Artillery Rounds Can’t Kill Armor?"


2010-04: A little bit German artillery and anti-tank defence history


2009-11: The future of multiple rocket launchers


2009-09: On defensive firepower and much else...



2009-04: C-RAM


2008-11: Cluster munitions ban


2008-07: Mortars and howitzers

This time I'll try to write about the grand picture, of all artillery since the 20th century. It will also be somewhat applicable to other indirect fire arms (such as mortars).

The purpose of the artillery is to influence a land campaign advantageously by achieving effects through fires (and the threat thereof). These effects were exclusively destructive / lethal / repulsing a long time ago, but jobs such as illumination, smoke screening, disruption, radio jamming were added during the 20th century.

The effects are the centre of attention (or should be), for they are the justification for the effort.

Old photos about arty can be interesting, too...

It's thus interesting to create a list of what influences artillery effectiveness (in a somewhat abstract way). This is the area where public discussions of artillery are especially narrowed-down and dumbed-down. My attempt to create such a list follows:

Artillery hardware-dominated factors

(1) Ammunition quantity (including the availability of ammunition to the firing unit, not just in national depots!)

(2) Ammunition quality (type and quality of warhead/cargo, quantity of sub-munitions, including fuse type)

(3) Duration of munition flight (relevant against moving targets)

(4) Angle of descent (important for unitary fragmentation munitions and in hilly/mountainous terrain)

(5) Reliability of guidance / trajectory correction and fusing (inclusive ECCM)

(6) Vulnerability of ammunition to hard kill countermeasures (C-RAM)

(7) Fuse setting in use (timed, proximity, super quick, quick, delay, mine fuse?).

(8) Quality of ammunition storage (especially for certain white phosphorous rounds) and ammunition age / shelf life.

(9) Fires observability (radar cross section or smoke trail of munition in flight, flash, noise, smoke, trajectory height, manoeuvring munition?) 

(10) Resistance of artillery to non-fires influences (EMP, deep sub-zero temperatures, moisture, heat)

(11) Dispersion of impacts (usually an elliptical pattern, not a simple circle - thus a difference between longitudinal and lateral dispersion)

Other artillery factors

(12) Reliability of artillery personnel (morale, accidents and errors, willingness to fire when civilians are present)

(13) Close security (360°) concerns

(14) Survivability of artillery against dedicated anti-arty measures (camouflage, concealment, deception, hardening, redundancy, mobility, tactics)

(15) Readiness of artillery (On the march? Shoot and scoot? Double crews? In range? Fuelled? Supply times? In need of repairs? Suitable trajectory when mountains are present? Suitable direction (in light of different safety distance requirements for longitudinal and lateral dispersion)? Artillery in a self-defence fight? Authorised/actual strength?)

(16) Accuracy of impacts (or of projected impacts if rounds become effective prior to impact; correct calculation with correct input variables including ammunition characteristics, barrel wear, temperature, altitudes, coordinates, meteorological date and more)

Communication and command

(17) Delay (lag) between arrival of request/command and fires (calculation, checks, deconfliction, loading, aiming weapons, communication between calculating and firing small unit)
(18) Resource allocation (Centralised decision-making? Schwerpunkt?)

(19) Reliability of communication (line of sight, range, clarity, inter-lingua, ECCM)

(20) Delay (lag)  of communication (speed of transmission, queuing of messages, procedures)

(21) Timing of fires requests / commands (tactical timing, not = lag!)

Related to observation of the enemy

(22) Accuracy of observation (own and relative position)

(23) Reliability of observation (IFF, recognition of decoys, night and bad weather performance)

(24) Lag of observation (non-digital aerial reconnaissance, acoustic sensors)

Target (area)-related factors

(25) Susceptibility to soft-kill countermeasure reactions (timely warning, taking cover or evading, deploying smoke/chaff/dazzler/decoys against target-seeking munitions)

(26) Surprise factor

(27) Surface quality (Deep snow? High trees?)

and a big one:

(28) Nature of the target (dispersion, cover, hardening, morale, proximity to "blue" troops, size, movement, importance, vulnerability to secondary effects such as secondary fires or explosions, ability to make identification more difficult, exploitation of red cross or protected sites etc)

I suspect the primary utility of such mil porn pictures is to keep readers motivated.

Having thought about this for a while, I'd like to make three comments and leave all else to the reader and later blog posts:

(a) The challenges are much greater and much more diverse than the mere shopping of some fancy precision munitions or new guns. I hope none of my readers will be ever tricked by marketing hype about a supposed silver bullet (again)!

(b) The actual effect is much, much smaller than the potential effect because no force comes close to mastering the first 24 points. An incomplete understanding of these influences leads to a wrong estimation of artillery's actual effectiveness and the relative importance of specific influence factors.

(c) Wouldn't it be great if sometime in the near future we'd be able to read an article about artillery in a professional journal in which the officer-author writes about the artillery of his army and uses a list such as this one as a check list, commenting on every point briefly? I mean, instead of a buzzword mash-up?

S Ortmann

P.S.: Word count for buzzwords: 4 x "effects" and once "tactical" (in some contexts that would be a buzzword) in my 'article'. All uses seem justified to me, for they're being applied with the original meaning.

I do sometimes ask others to preview and comment/correct my texts. This time I'm thankful for preview comments by the SWC members "Xenophon" and "GMLRS".


  1. This is more like the artillery post i was expecting, plenty of food for thought. This is off topic but how many brigades do you think a corps should have if you cut the division out of the picture?

  2. That depends on many variables and I'm not familiar with the results of post-50's experiments on the span of command. I have a mere feeling that about 6 may be reasonable.

  3. thanks for the reply, have thinking about it for abit, do you think Counter Battery Radar Systems might be easy to detect and destroy? If air defenses have vulnerabilities like this then might also Counter Battery Radar Systems? Do you know if they have some sort of way to counter it or if they are very open to an attack of this kind?

  4. Such radars should be relatively easy to detect if the receiver is airborne. I am not sure about ground-ground ESM capability in this regard even though such radars typically scan the horizon instead of doing a full air search for moving object (using doppler effect).

    Modern counter-artillery radars are not very impressive anyway. Their ranges barely match artillery ranges. Almost all lack 360° capability. Shoot & scoot tactics and dispersion of batteries into individual gun positions are effective tactical counters.
    On top of that, Europeans have recently introduced new models and won't get radars with better concepts any time soon. Meanwhile, the Americans have begun to add air search responsibilities to their Firefinder radars.

    Today, counter-artillery radars seem to depend on the additional performance of aerial SAR/GMTI radars for full effect, and that's a very complicated and expensive combination.

  5. Thanks, while trying to look into division and corps more i came across this,

    "Does the U.S. Army Need Divisions? A Monograph by. MAJ Lester A. Layman"

    I only just started to read it though, but i thought you might be interested in it.

  6. What are the strong points of tube artillery? As I see it prolonged fire against more or less stationary targets. And if in range and with decent C3 tube artillery is still very fast to respond to fire requests. For other fires jobs rocket artillery (peak fire power, range) and fighterbomber (range, sheer booom) dominate.

    I also think today there is not enough artillery to be decisive, and on average it could be more mobile. Plus maybe from a psychological standpoint more simple WW1-style fuzes should be used instead of airbursts and cluster canisters ...

    P.S.: All the other jobs aside from blowing things up are nice to have but I see them dominantely as job-creation programmes for a branch that's a little in a limbo.

  7. Guns are more efficient warhead projectors than rockets. The need less propellant for the same warhead weight and range, thus less volume and weight (and usually also less fiscal cost) of ammunition supply.
    This is a biggie for mobile warfare.

  8. It's one of my pets, artillery could be even more energy efficient with higher transferable energy density through dedicated accelerators other than gunpowder tubes. The two main possible types in my opinion could use exploding gas mixtures such as heated diesel gases or electric energy in an electromagnetic elevator (the more difficult version).Their use would limit most explosives carried around by artillery to the warheads, reducing vulnerability and logistics. You can get the most powerful shot from a non-turret gun fixed to the vehicle. My idea is to make the fix specifically vertical and afterwards have a projectile gliding with foldable wings along a variable trajectory. Such a projectile would be similar to a cruise missile (Taurus/Storm Shadow) and I'm convinced it can achieve longer ranges than the current rotating(more friction) wingless(less lift) munitions. The downside is the more extensive required information transfer and programming for scoring specific hits. Very sure patterns would be ground hugging flight through the target and 90° dive bombing on it.

  9. Actually the first and most fundamental question is what tactical effects are achieved. The underinformed always jump to casualties and damage. In actuallity it is the threat of casualties and damage, achievement of them is a bonus. The threat achieves suppression (what used to be called neutralisation in some armies). Of course this effect has to be properly coordinated with combined arms activities. Smoke is merely a special case of suppression, it prevents observation. The concept of repulsion is also a special case of suppression.

    The realisation that suppression was the key emerged in the British Army in late 1915, it was the means of getting the infantry onto their objective by suppressing both direct and indirect fire defences. Suppression is still the key to combined arms manouevre. It's probably true to say that Bruckmuller also undertood it, but perhaps didn't trust it as much as he could have.

    1. The technical progress an reduces forces/theatre area ratio reduced the importance of suppression. It is still important, but I don't believe in it being #1 any more. It hasn't been in a while, since HE is more suitable (cheaper) for it than DPICM and DPICM replaced very much HE in stocks, becoming the most important munition type till the ban.

      Back in WWI suppression was so important because destruction was so very inefficient in face of field fortifications. Nowadays destruction is very efficient.


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