Artillery: Where Have All The Gunners Gone


August 12, 2007: Iraq has been good news and bad news for American artillerymen. On the bright side, the cannoneers finally got "smart" (GPS guided) shells and rockets. No more firing dozens of shells per target, to make sure you took it out. Now, one or two smart shells or rockets, and the job it done. The smart shells are important in Iraq, because a lot of the action is in residential areas, where accuracy is critical. Before the smart shells and rockets showed up last year, the troops had to use smart bombs or missiles. The smart bombs were often too big (the smallest one was the 500 pounder), and you had to call in the air force (an air controller on the ground, was not always handy). The missiles were regularly carried by army attack helicopters, but the hundred pound Hellfire was often not large enough. The smart shells and rockets were just the right size, and they were under the control of the army.

The bad news is, that you don't need as many guns or rocket launchers to provide all the support the troops need. Oh, the artillery are still called on to fire illumination shells (which deliver flares that fall slowly to the ground via a parachute). This lights up the sky for a few minutes, the better to find, or scare, the enemy during a raid or search operation. But, basically, artillery units sent to Iraq don't have a lot to do. Many of the artillery crews spend some, or a lot, of their time manning checkpoints or conducting foot patrols. Artillerymen know how to do this sort of thing. Part of their training involves infantry tactics and techniques, so they can defend their big guns from ground attack on a fluid battlefield.

These new smart munitions are causing the brass to rethink how much artillery they need. Not only have a lot of non-divisional artillery units (those assigned to army and corps headquarters, not divisions) already been disbanded, but there is talk of shrinking the size of the battalions currently assigned to the new combat brigades.

Good news. Bad news. Different times because of radical new technology.


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