Fire support reaction times

Some infantry-related posts at D&F had a working assumption: Modern infantry would suffer most from indirect fires lethality (80...90% of KIA and WIA), and the only reasonable approach to survival is thus to be elsewhere when the lethal fires arrive. Even tanks cannot cope with artillery hits, so individual armour is unsuitable as a #1 approach for survivability. This will stay true even if and when powered exoskeletons with full body armour arrive.

What I never wrote much about is the extreme range of actual delays between friendly troops being identified and lethal munitions arriving at their spotted position. I used a rule of thumb that NATO infantry should expect to enjoy a time window of no more than 2...4 minutes. That was derived from the performance of modern (1990's and later) artillery fire control networks as they are in use in some of the better-equipped land forces in NATO (and the associated doctrines and times of flight of munitions). There's actually a much wider range possible, and the difference between the extremes leads to entirely different visions of modern great power land warfare. Assuming self-propelled howitzers (360° traverse turret) at about 18 km distance there are the following archetypical delays:

up to 20 minutes delay for land forces stupid enough to insist on complete centralised deconfliction and not centralised approval (~U.S.Army in small wars mode)

10...15 minutes delay for poorly equipped and poorly trained forces*

about 2...4 minutes for well-established modern artillery fire control**

1 minute or less for state of the art fire control networks with fully automated software decisionmaking and check for no-fire zones and fratricide prevention (a decisionmaking lag of milliseconds)

Delays of 10+ minutes require no particular doctrinal response. Combat troops leaders aware of this can handle this if they have the means to maintain or regain enough freedom of movement.

Delays of 2...4 minutes require hit&run tactics (raids, ambushes, fires from alternating small units) as I have proposed them over and over again.

Delays of 1 minute or less cannot be coped with, period. You need to increase that delay or avoid that the hostile fires can take effect at all. 
This can be done by various approaches:
  1. 'cyber' sabotage of the fire control network
  2. radio jamming
  3. destruction of relay radios
  4. low visibility battlefield (unsustainable amounts of smoke munitions if it's daytime)
  5. the well-known "hugging" tactics (staying too close to substantial hostile forces for most support fires to take effect - such as being  in the same building)
  6. delay of identification (camouflage, concealment, deception including mimicry) till the hostile observer is defeated
  7. destruction of hostile fire support assets
  8. hard kill defences ("C-RAM", AFV with APS)
  9. deprive hostiles of the organisational order and logistical support necessary for the identification-to-destruction event chain
  10. aggressive exploitation of blue force tracker-ish radio emissions to make that mode too hazardous, depriving the opposing forces of a quick fratricide-avoidance check
  11. decisively undermine the opposing forces' trust in their fire control network
  12. Best approach of all: Keep the peace.
Again, armour won't help. The hostile fire control network would simply allocate fires that can  overwhelm the armour.

The timing of exposure of friendly forces (synchronisation of exposure and anti-fire control network support measures) could become the central element of combat. There is likely no persistent and affordable counter to hostile support fires.

- - - - -

Maybe you doubt the one minute scenario, or that anyone would give a computer software such a high authority over lethal fires. Nobody would set up and authorise a fire control network that allows an infantry small unit leader to mark & classify a target and then without any further human interaction some missile launcher or howitzer crew gets an order for lethal fires on that position, right?

Well, there's Fire Weaver, a Rafael land forces fire control system.

It encompasses weapons such a ATGMs, artillery systems, mortars, attack helicopters, combat aircraft. It's a software and an electronics board that gets connected to the weapon and locator hardware. The levels of authority can be set from fully automatic to ordinary doctrines of full human decisionmaking and checks. City maps get updated to account for battle damage changing the face of the city. Positionfinding is not dependent on satellite navigation; especially in urban terrain terrain referencing can be used (such as building, side, floor count, window #). No fire zones can be marked and managed, friendly forces can be avoided as well by a Blue Force Tracker-like function (with much more frequent situational updates, I suppose).***

The decisionmaking time in fully automatic mode is down to milliseconds, and the time from target ID to arrival of lethal munitions may very well be well below one minute, especially if the detected target is a tank and the allocated weapon an ATGM launcher.

(c) Rafael, taken from Rafael press kit - same as 2 next pictures

Is it wholly dependent on radios? I think so. Could opponents of a Fire Weaver user trust on their ability to disrupt the radio comms? Well, sure - at their own peril.

- - - - -

At less than one minute lag between ID and lethal effects there's no point in making our forces more agile any more - that applies to the 2...4 minute time frame instead. At one minute lag or less all you can do is to kill them quicker than they kill you (triumph of offence over defence) or to disrupt that fire control network decisively.

I've seen gazillions of infantry tactics discussions about section sizes, rifle calibres, whether your grenade launcher is bigger than someone else's and so on. All of these discussion had a very low quality.

The real tactical doctrine development parting of the ways is all about how long the reconnaissance-strike lags really are.****

At 5+ minutes the infantry should have great firepower, at 2...4 minutes it should be very agile with high short-time firepower and at less than 2 minutes it depends on support for survival and should probably have an intermediate design between agility focus and firepower focus.


P.S.: One word of caution:  Things are never as bad as they seem. Rarely has a technology kept its promises, especially not soon after its first introduction.

*: Honestly, this is probably the normal range for the Russian army, but outliers could be in the 2...4 minute range. 
**: About two minutes are possible if everything works as advertised, about four minutes are a reasonable assumption for many battle conditions.
***: I extracted this (and more) from Rafael's Fire Weaver program manager in a detailed interview, you won't find all this in the short press release.
****: Tip of the hat to those who emphasised the centrality of reconnaissance-strike complex designs to land warfare doctrines decades ago already. I wasn't among them. I learned of ADLER (here some info on ADLER III) and believed that nobody would give up control to cut the process much shorter.


  1. Even the old school way can be surprisingly fast:


    1. The only really quick indirect fires of the old school way were pre-planned fires. The problem with pre-planned fires is that the opponents are too rarely in the pre-planned kill boxes.

      This German teaching film shows the old school way:

  2. This arguably makes it even worse for the side which has given up DPICM, FASCAM for ethical reasons.

    This system would appear to potentially integrate well with its fAC/JTAC equivalents and will presumably merge with them in due course.


  3. I suspect you are not getting comments on this post because the logic therein is inescapable.

  4. I do not much of the credibility of the source (speaking at west point, seem to have been on the Ukrainian front, so outside everyone bias toward their own idea, sound pretty okey). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14LMmBsDw-g

    He seems to say Russian train in 10-10-10 : 10 minutes target aquisition, 10 minutes fire, 10 minute escape (with a 1/3 of artillery reading for immediate CRAM fire). So your estimation of Russian artillery speed seem pretty spot on.

    What lesson learned do you take from the use of EW/UAV for artillery in Ukraine (jammer against electronic fuse of artillery, use of EW for targeting, constant surveillance of the airspace creating a similar interdiction as in ww2 daylight) : is it just Ukraine inadequacy or an army well prepared would be "fine" tactically? (faster artillery would counter it?).

    1. Frankly, almost nothing in the Ukraine is surprising considering the state of equipment, training, military history experiences, art and science.
      The one thing that I did not expect was the Russian restraint. They could have won that war long ago, but Putin prefers to maintain a fiction of rebellion instead of invasion, even though few people would believe this fiction.
      It's very Clausewitzian; warfare is a political action.