2012/08/27

Arty ammunition basic load '91

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I looked up something that I wanted to use for a footnote in my book (found it) and stumbled on this:
 
[...] one artillery battalion [1] that served in the Gulf War [2] had a basic load of 5,690 shells. Of them only 599 were standard high explosive (HE) [3], with another 307 rocket-assisted HE (intended for long-range missions)[4]. In other words, less than 16 percent of the basic load was usable in close supporting fires. Almost 60 percent was DPICM, while another 21 percent was scatterable mines, most often used by brigades and higher-level organizations. The remaining were white phosphorus (3 percent), illumination (less than 1 percent) and Copperhead laser-guided antitank rounds (less than 1 percent). With so few high-explosive and smoke rounds, the artillery clearly has a different focus from small-unit fire support [5].
"The Art of Maneuver", Robert R. Leonhard, 1991, p.287

[1]: M109A5 self-propelled howitzers, calibre 155 mm
[2]: of 1991
[3]: about 24 km range
[4]: about 30 km range, increased dispersion
[5]: This is why.; add some dispersion to the graph to imagine the actual minimum safe distance. It's about 300 m with HE if the army is not obsessive about avoiding accidents.

Some mil porn to keep readers awake and from closing the tab

The figures are a bit uncommon, for this kind of stuff is rarely published, and I think it's thus worthy of repetition. The ratios are certainly obsolete, and totally off for those armies which are subject to the cluster munitions ban. Consider it a bit of info about the U.S.Army of 20 years ago.

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Leonhard's stance back in that '91 book (in which he was a 3GW guy, as opposed to being a RMA guy in his later book - a very confusing career) was to complain about counter-artillery focus and about lacking support of manoeuvre units.

He overshoots the target a bit by writing "small-unit fire support" (my emphasis) at the end*, for as a maneuvrist he should have understood that arty is not meant to support small units in general. That's what mortars are for. Arty is meant to be the formation commander's ultra-quick Schwerpunkt weapon. Arty can move its effect around on a map much quicker than tanks can move, and it can do so without signalling the location of its focus in advance. Arty can first support a deception move ad then switch all its firepower to support the main effort.

Leonhard wrote this inaccuracy into his book before small wars became all the rage and individual platoons once again began to receive fire support greater than what almost all WW2 infantry regiments could have expected.

I remember a complaint in some 80s or 90s literature about a Vietnam-era tactical vignette, in which an infantry captain was meant to practice how to allocate multiple mortars, artillery fire missions and even strike aircraft support for his company's fight. Back then, small forces received disproportionate fire support and many people's idea of what skilled company leadership looks like became warped into the image of a super-forward observer.

I suppose we're partially back to that point, as many veterans from Afghanistan have become accustomed to a degree of attention by higher level support that would simply not be available in a war against a real threat (a "peer vs peer conflict") or any other kind of conflict with many forces engaged in fighting simultaneously (the infantry captain from the Vietnam War scenario would almost certainly not have had such support during the simultaneous engagements of the Tet offensive).


I wrote this because the idea that close air support and artillery support ought to be always available for infantry or mechanised forces in combat is on a high tide, and it's simply not a good idea. Sure, it's a nice to have, but it will very often simply not be available, and this means infantry and mechanised forces need to be effective without.It would often times be outright wrong to distribute higher level support that much, it's higher level commander's responsibility to prioritise and assign his assets accordingly.

This is in part the case for 120 mm mortar support organic to manoeuvre groups**, something that has atrophied in Germany a lot. Even the new army structure adds only token 120 mm mortar support to entire manoeuvre brigades (in the added infantry battalions).



link: slightly related article of mine about arty

*: squad, platoon
**: Battalion-sized battlegroup to small brigade.

edit: I forgot to mention that there's an exception. Troops (hardly small units other than forward observer teams) far away from a Schwerpunkt might be extra reinforced by artillery fires in order to save line-of-sight combat troops (economy of force).
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5 comments:

  1. I was under the impression that this is just how the U.S. did fight WW2, particularly once they got to Germany, and it was increasingly difficult to get troops to risk exposing themselves when it was clear that the Germans were going to lose- nobody wanted to be one of the last casualties before wars end.

    The Germans called Anzio "Artillery Hell" and that was not a particularly strong effort by the allies.

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  2. They used a lot of arty for sure, and were quite skilled at time on target fire missions.
    No army of WW2 had the means and skill to actually support individual small units with artillery except in very limited and deliberate attacks (usually minor actions to snatch some prisoners and similar), though.
    Even in such cases it was more about smoke and suppressive fires often more than 400 m way than about responding to whatever position opened fire unexpectedly.

    A battalion battlegroup that's in a fight while others are not or that's in a simultaneous fight deemed to be the most important one can expect a lot of support.
    A platoon or company on an isolated mission would rarely receive artillery or air support unless there are no simultaneous engagements going on.

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  3. Or perhaps we need more guns?

    Air support is fair enough, but why shouldnt a company have a designated gun, and an organic 120mm mortar?

    Its not 1960 anymore, a company captain doesnt need to ask a general for fire support anymore, he can talk directly to the battery captain.

    Lets face it, without fire support, an infantry attack is basically bayonets charging machine guns.

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  4. Hardly, even infantry squads have now a grenade-lobbing capability out to hundreds of metres. Infantry shouldn't attack without microterrain concealment for most of the distance anyway.

    Units and even small units could have mortar fire support, but that's not arty, and it would be largely be wasted without proper horizontal cooperation.

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  5. I caution from making to broad assumption on the example of ONE artillery battalion. Ammunition supply is mission dependent and a battalion in direct support of a infantry brigade could have shown a different composition. In this context DPICM also represents a certain type of expected targets and can savely be used in the context of larger engagement ranges of armored combat in open desert terrain.

    Even with primacy to battlefield shapeing missions, artillery, even in WW-style engagements, has its role in support of smaller formations because it is much easier supplied than a mortar battery. Later should, if at all possible, focus on small, close and/or fleeting targets.

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