Field Artillery at the Crossroads of Transformation

By Tracy, Tommy James | Military Review, January-February 2004 | Go to article overview

Field Artillery at the Crossroads of Transformation


Tracy, Tommy James, Military Review


AFTER A DEBATE that lasted through the summer of 2002 about the future of the Crusader cannon artillery acquisition project, military planners cancelled the system. (1) They based their decision on arguments that the heavily armored howitzer was not versatile enough to support future operational capabilities needed to fulfill the country's security objectives. The howitzer's many drawbacks included--

* Being too heavy for rapid deployment.

* Being too much of an area fire weapon and lacking precision engagement.

* Not being innovative enough to replace or augment America's current military arsenal.

The cancellation lends credence to a growing trend that sees a mechanized army equipped with heavy weaponry as not having a significant role in countering future conflicts, at least for the U.S. military. Many analysts claim that the United States has such a worldwide military dominance that future defense budgets (currently unmatched by any country or even blocks of countries) should be reassessed and, perhaps, reduced, not just in spending but also in force structure. (2)

Those who advocate progressive increases in defense expenditures point toward the costs associated with military Transformation and achieving overwhelming military dominance, a need exacerbated by the war on terrorism. As President George W. Bush stated in September 2002, "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." (3)

Even within U.S. Armed Forces there is ongoing debate. The discussions, especially between the Air Force and the Army, relate to determining the proper role of ground-based fires in light of continuing advances in surgical precision bombing; changing and evolving strategy and doctrine; and the extraordinary successes of recent operations like the sea and air campaigns in Kosovo and Operation Desert Storm. (4)

An issue requiring further debate relates to whether the Army should continue to place importance on heavy tanks and cannons. The Crusader's cancellation brought to light the ongoing revolutionary Transformation debate within the Department of Defense (DOD). Army leaders consider ground-based, nonline-of-sight, indirect-fires systems as being needed to execute the Army's core competencies, the most central of which is "land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict." (5)

On 22 October 2002, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki highlighted three future fighting systems paramount to the Army's ability to maintain continued success:

* The Comanche helicopter.

* The Stryker wheeled combat vehicle.

* The nonline-of-sight, indirect-fires artillery system. (6)

The military budget situation also brings a significant problem to the forefront. While the Army tries to recapitalize on and maintain its current force, it must fund deployments and operations as well as the Future Force. The Army will continually face uphill funding battles similar to the one leading up to the fiscal year (FY) 2004 budget, whereby the Army faced a projected $6.2-billion shortfall. (7)

Importance of Today's Field Artillery

Military leaders should not dismiss lethal and non-lethal artillery when exercising instruments of military power. Arguably, the best way to destroy artillery is with artillery. Bush's stated Axis of Evil initially included Iran, Iraq, and Korea. Field artillery systems--platforms for rockets, missiles, or other projectiles--are or were part of those rogue states' military resources. Syria, Libya, China, and Pakistan also have questionable motives and instability as well as sizeable ground-based capabilities. (8) Pragmatic military leaders who recognize such threats will update warfighting tactics to face these challenges.

According to Army interpretations of North Korean offensive doctrine, attacking Korean forces could count on 150 to 180 artillery tubes per 1-kilometer (km) frontage and an inventory totaling 10,400 artillery pieces, which is the highest artillery-to-supported-troops ratio in the world. …

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