Academic journal article Military Review

Precision Launch Rocket System: A Proposal for the Future of the Field Artillery

Academic journal article Military Review

Precision Launch Rocket System: A Proposal for the Future of the Field Artillery

Article excerpt

Since the advent of indirect fire on the battlefield, the U.S. Field Artillery (FA) has used cannon-based weapons systems as primary delivery platforms. The past several decades has witnessed an explosion of various technologies that lend themselves to improving field artillery weaponry, so it is now appropriate to examine current capabilities and needs for the future and to suggest how field artillery should change as the Army enters the 21st century.

Where We Stand

The Army's field artillery weapons are not unlike those used during World War II. The M119 105-millimeter (mm) howitzer, the M198 155-mm howitzer, and the M109A6 Paladin 155-mm howitzer have characteristics remarkably similar to their forerunners. They use either semi-fixed or separate loading ammunition and are best suited for area fire. The towed M119's and M198's telescopic sight systems use fixed aiming references that were invented before World War II. The M109A6 Paladin uses state-of-the-art onboard position-locating devices and computers to aim the howitzer at its target, but its ammunition remains almost exclusively area fire. In sum, field artillery systems were built for an organization developed decades earlier.

While U.S. weapons have made modest technological advances since World War II, they are fast becoming antiquated. The Army has witnessed improvements in range, lethality, and accuracy, but this is not enough, given the furious pace of advance by other systems. Army systems, however, weigh more now than did similar World War II systems, but Army cannons are rapidly falling behind the capabilities of foreign-produced guns, such as Britain's AS-90, South Africa's G-5/6, and the North Korean Koksan gun. That the Army is falling behind should provide adequate incentive to press for a change that will place it head and shoulders above all other nations' armies in ground-based fire support.

Future Battlefields

In light of technological advances, the Army's FA arsenal is losing relevance at an increasing pace. Today's battlefield is far more lethal than the battlefields of either World War II or the Persian Gulf war because precision munitions are becoming the preeminent weapons of choice. In the Persian Gulf war, less than 9 percent of munitions the U.S. Air Force (USAF) used were precision weapons. Eight years later, in Kosovo, the figure had risen to 29 percent. During the war in Afghanistan, the number of munitions expended soared to an astounding 70 percent.1 Precision munitions have allowed the USAF to greatly reduce the number of sorties and bombs required to adequately service a target. For example, in World War II, one thousand sorties of B-17s with nine thousand bombs were required to destroy one target. Today, the USAF can fly one B-2 sortie delivering 16 global positioning system (GPS) bombs to 16 targets. The circular-error probable for bombs from the 1940s was 3,300 feet compared to the current 20 feet.2 The Army's field artillery must use a similar concept to gain this capability with an all-weather, ground-based fire support system.

The battlefield is likely to be far from the United States in a landlocked country. Because of limited USAF lift assets and the heavy weight of Army cannons, field artillery, except towed howitzers, has little strategic mobility. Therefore, it is imperative to develop a lighter weight precision-launch rocket system (PLRS) that lends itself to strategic airmobility.

The military is reducing the long logistical tail traditionally associated with operations. Rather than maintaining large stockpiles of ammunition and other logistic items, the military is reducing stockpiles and replenishing just-in-time service. Cannon-based systems using area fire munitions belie the just-in-time concept. The Army's mode of operation-massed fires from multiple guns-requires enormous stocks of ammunition and a heavy lift capability. Logisticians report that the need to haul artillery ammunition generates approximately 70 percent of a division's logistical requirements. …

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