Friday, October 31, 2008

US Army RIP-2

"The U.S. Army appears determined to cripple itself. Cuts in field artillery strength promise to weaken the 'king of battle' to the point where the Army will have sacrificed its greatest historical advantage: the ability to put a storm of steel precisely on target faster than the enemy can react. ... Artillery skills are plummeting, while doctrine veers ever deeper into fantasies of precision strikes by airpower as the universal answer. ... The Army can't prepare only for asymmetrical warfare against terrorists and insurgents. It has to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time--to fight irregular wars today and be prepared for the big, hyper-conventional war that might come tomorrow. ... The stock answer these days is that the Air Force will be the Army's 'flying artillery,' hitting targets precisely with low-yield warheads and reducing collateral damages. That's not merely foolish, it's nuts. In a conflict between major powers, it may be the collateral damage that ultimately forces the enemy to surrender (remember Japan?). In a real war--a long slugging match--the new generation of Air Force fighter-bombers would be confined to bunkers for heavy maintenance within weeks. There won't be enough of these planes either. ... You can't just impress an enemy into surrendering. You have to defeat him. ... We can't send our troops into battle without deep reserves of robust killing power, and artillery has long been America's strong suit. ... We won't always we chasing snipers down Baghdad's alleys. When the next 'big one' comes, our Soldiers on the front lines had better be able to call for responsive, overwhelming fires--in all weather, in all terrain. If we're unwilling to pay the price in steel, we'll pay it in blood", my emphasis, Ralph Peters (RP) at Armchair General, November 2008.

Air power's replacing artillery was a World War II fantasy which still haunts the Pentagon. Most estimates are that artillery accounted for about 60% of the total damage the US military inflicted in WWII. Our artillery is mostly upgraded WWII stuff, 105 MM and 155 MM howitzers and the like. We still debate how many F-22s to build, 183 may be the number. We built 15,875 P-51s and 10,037 P-38s, among other planes, which we used in WWII and Korea. I realize the F-22 is a much more capable plane. So? I am fond of a Russian saying: "Quantity is its own quality". Amen! We used aircraft as artillery in Gulf Wars I and II. Would we have such a luxury fighting a real enemy? Book suggestion, Brute Force by John Ellis, 1999, about America's real way of war. RP is a retired Army Colonel.


dudly said...

There are a variety of new artillery weapon systems coming out soon. As you pointed out the systems in use are of WWII designed and the new systems will bring artillery up to 21 century standards. Advances in shell chemistry/composition and warheads, will allow one platform to replace a hole battery. The new technology will greatly improve mission results too. Less expenditure of Ammo/time to achieve desired results.

Old Bogus said...

I see this as an effort to transfer costs from the Army to the AF. But don't these generals remember VN? When the planes were grounded due to weather, the artillery bases could still provide support. And that was an insurgency, too.

Independent Accountant said...

Old Bogus:
I remember Vietnam. Your point is well taken. Planes are grounded for many reasons, maintenance included. Sorties are expensive; artillery shells are not. Modern air supremacy fighters can cost $100 million each. JDAMS and such are expensive. Why use this stuff in Iraq?
During WWI the Germans developed a "Paris Gun", frequently confused with "Big Bertha", a 420 MM howitzer. Paris Gun could throw a 264 pound, 210 MM shell 76 miles and land, Germany claimed, within 150 yards of point of aim 90% of the time. Have we anything comparable in our arsenal today? How much can it cost to produce a piece of self-propelled artilery? $2-4 million a copy, I estimate. Nothing our current SecDef says makes sense to me. Poor soldiers. Poor marines.

Anonymous said...

Our society has a cultural bias towards high tech exciting very complicated sexy gadgets and against simple cost effective dull and boring solutions. This bias is pervasive. Artillery is on the wrong side of this. So even the artillery you do get is going to be overdesigned and more expensive than it needs to be. This problem is bigger than just artillery or even the military. Why did NASA design a liquid hydrogen liquid oxygen engine for the Shuttle? Because it was cool, even the advocates for the better alternative called their kerosene oxygen design the "big dumb booster" I propose we teach our children that simple is beautifull

Independent Accountant said...

I largely agree with you. Simple is frequently beautiful. Sophisticated "stuff" breaks, particularly under the stress of war and needs lots of maintenance. Use with care.
Should the US replace the F-15, a 30-year old design with a current air superiority fighter with all the "doodads"? Yes in my opinion. Would we need it to fight an insurgency? Why? After destroying Iraq's radars and such, we could have taken B-29s out of mothballs, with ungraded avionics and dropped cheap 250-pound gravity bombs from 30,000 feet just like WWII! Hell, if any B-29 WWII pilots wanted to "reup", and were physically capable, let 'em. But they're in their 80s. So?
Did your ever read any books by David Hackworth, 1930-2005, Colonel, US Army like: "About Face" and "Hazardous Duty"? Hack decried the use of "gold-plated" weapons when simpler ones would do. Look at history's best-known assault rifle, the choice of guerillas everywhere, 60 million copies produced, the AK-47. Simple, rugged, how can you beat it?
I wouldn't teach the children, "simple is beautiful", but that the simplest workable solution is preferred and always to have your "Occam's razor" at the ready.

dudly said...

As a post Vietnam Ranger/SF Scuba grunt I understand the high tech low tech argument all to well. I would prefer to rely on low tech over high tech in a pinch but see worth in high tech systems too. I like both salt and pepper on my steaks and think both high and low tech systems can be integrated to archive better results in battlefield management. With Artillery shoot and scoot is the name of the game so any system that allows greater stand off, range, accuracy, rate of fire and can deploy and move quickly is a massive plus. NG units can use the old gear and Active the new, which would keep cost down on new battlefield assets. With the comments on aircraft there has been huge improvement in all weather capability's across the board since Vietnam in aircraft ability's and weapons reliability, thats not to say you can count out a stray shot or drop (first hand experience there lol). Sexy gadget syndrome is bad, just look at the advance fighter run off in which a military official was over heard to say the raptor looked sexy and more like a fighter plane than the Lockheed submission lol both had almost identical performance in testing.

Anonymous said...

The debate is not about high-tech vs. low-tech. It is about Army vs. Air Force, and on a deeper level, self-interest warfare vs. Just War Theory and humanitarian nation-building. Trust. A corollary to the latter thinking is the decades-old pipe dream that the Air Force in their narcissism, and their allied liberals in the Army, have allowed themselves to indulge in: The fantasy that it is possible to defeat an enemy without employment of ground forces. Oh, to dream the non-violent dream.

In saner days, the artillery pounded targets in advance of the infantry, who closed with and destroyed the softened enemy and occupied their real estate. Repeat cycle until you reach the objective and the enemy is no more. But in today's moist-eyed military, no one is supposed to die in wars. We'll deliver precision bombs from the air that intimidate the bad guys, and follow it up with infantry troops handing out soccer balls to the local kids; why would we ever need artillery again? See our commercial of the soldier and happy Iraqi kid with soccer ball, smiling at each other? That is the new permanent face of warfare. That's today's "compassionate" military.

The decimation of the Artillery branch would have been considered rank insanity in more rational times. But in today's do-gooding military, we just know that the laws of warfare, and the universe, don't apply to us anymore.

Independent Accountant said...

I see use for high and low tech weapons. However, as a matter of course I think we should use the simplest, cheapest weapon that will get the job done. Why put a $100 million fighter in harm's way if a few dozen 155 MM rounds or "sabot" shells from naval guns will do? Naval guns? Has anyone even thought of using naval guns? We have four old battleships that could be refitted for use in low-tech wars.
"Shoot and scoot" is useful. But to be effective, I think we need thousands of pieces of self-propelled artillery. Does today's US Army have it? I think not. Yes, today's aircraft have better all weather and "on-target" bombing capabilities than say, the F-105 which flew in Vietnam. Thanks for your service.

Your comment interests me. Why? I cited John Ellis' book, "Brute Force", 1999, to describe America's way of war: inelegant, lots of steel and destruction. You write, "to dream the non-violent dream". Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, one of Churchill's favorite generals used to admonish his troops, "when you have no other orders, your orders are to find the enemy and kill him". Would a US Army general say that today? In the 1940s "Big War" we usually "prepared" an area for invasion with artillery before the infantry moved in. In the Pacific theater, naval guns frequently provided pre-invasion artillery support. Your description of the "cycle" is what my father and uncles experienced in the 1940s. I think almost any of them, none of which went past master sergeant, could make a more effective "four star" than our current crew. It's terrible what's happened to our ground troops in Iraq. With all the house-to-house "policing" they do, they look like the Russians taking Berlin in 1945 at the cost of 400,000 casualties.
"The decimation of the Artillery branch would have been considered rank insanity in more rational times", you wrote. Amen.

cm202bc said...

Must respectfully disagree with most here.
The decline of the doctrine of massed artillery is indeed a side effect of growing airpower/precision weapons, but it has nothing to do with the desire to reduce collateral damage. Precision air and missile technology has rendered obsolete the massed formations of armor and infantry that Artillery was of such use against. The last attempt to employ Arty in such a manner was the Gulf War, and it simply proved superfluous, air and missile strikes had long since broken up its targets. As dudly said, it's all about shoot and scoot. Ground based, chemical propelled artillery lacks the range, maneuverability, and flexibility to strike the smaller and faster targets dictated by US air superiority. Were any peer competitor to arise, massed arty formations would simply prove a liability against the standoff capability of realtively cheap missile systems(in the same manner that massed naval formations would prove).

Since the Gulf War the Army's own Artillery branch has accepted and embraced this reality, assimilating it in new doctrine and putting it into reality through current acquisition policy. This dynamic is exemplified in the cancellation of the large Crusader system several years ago and the development of the Excalibur precision artillery round and the Mobile Gun System on Stryker platforms. Arty isn't dead, in both OIF and OEF it has demonstrated coninued utility, but massed batteries are a thing of the past.

Independent Accountant said...

We can agree to disagree.

Anonymous said...

Concure with your statments as do the profecinals on the battlefield.

How many soliders do you need to crew a 155mm peaice, now add transport/fuel and its crews, add the bulky/heavy ammo, total all those logistical elements up, well as you can see it starts to add up and with 40,000 peices there goes the hole Army to servise it. Look at the mess created by stauration tactics at Monte Casino and the like it acualy improved the defenders cover and concealment which cost the lives of many good infantry soliders which could have been used down the road or as they say better to lose a plane than skilled pilot. In fact there is only one case I know of where Artillary was use effecively in a built up area aka Faluja in a brilliant tatical move of using illumination rounds, altho the international out cry at loss of life to women and children almost changed the corse of the war via coaloliton memebers reciving pressure from their citisans.

In regared to refitting old battleships these are large capital assets that are confined to coastal engaments and are very vunrable to low cost attacks. At this point in time the real deficet in the armed forces is highly trained/equipted Infantry, espicaly in Afganistan. I must ask the question of your first had experiance regarding combat or battlefield managment. Although we sit here descusing varius means to fight on the battlefield we muct not lose sight of the lives involved. America has won most of its ivolvments by inflicting greater core assaet/personel damages to the opponet than we recive. McNamara was the king of deviloping these out comes. check out his works including his doco.