Artillery: September 4, 2003


The last time the U.S. Army got to use their artillery heavily in combat was in 1991. The 2003 Iraq campaign was an even more thorough workout than 1991 and one of the better performing new items was BFIST (Bradley Fire Support Vehicle.) This is a standard M-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), with the infantry in the back replaced with an artillery and air support control team and their equipment (computers and communications). Since BFIST was developed in the early 1990s, the first ones had a computer with a 25 MHz 486 CPU, 32 megabytes of RAM and a 640x480 display. But it got the job done. However, the more advanced M7 model BFIST was used in Iraq, which had a satellite link, a graphical interface on the computer and a night vision system to spot and locate targets. The 3rd Infantry Division had 30 M7 BFIST vehicles, and these called in 93 percent of the artillery fire missions for front line troops. The current BFIST has a AFATDS (Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System) on board. This is basically a computer workstation, and many computer savvy users complained that the AFATDS software (which cost $270 million to develop) could just as easily run on a high end laptop (fast CPU, lots of RAM) and save lots of space. Another complaint was the lack of laser designator on the BFIST vehicle. There was one in the back of the vehicle, but it had to be taken outside and set up before use. These were never used in Iraq, as the 3rd Infantry division was always moving.

Despite the bulkiness of the computer, the AFATDS software worked well. AFATDS works off a database of all artillery, gunship and bomber aircraft available, and figures out the best weapon to use for a designated target. In Iraq, most of the firepower called in was 13,923 155mm shells and 794 227mm MLRS rockets. Each AFATDS is part of a fire control network that includes U.S. Marine artillery units and commanders higher up in the food chain. There were 600 AFATDS computers used in Iraq. 

The BFIST vehicles got to use their 25mm cannon and machine-guns a lot as they fought their way to Baghdad. The BFIST crews came back with a long list of minor improvements (where to place equipment in the back of the Bradley, new designs for cabling and stuff like that.) The air force and the navy have bought into the AFATDS concept, and it looks likely to become a standard in all of the services. This makes the BFIST vehicles even more valuable, as they are right up there at the front (one was usually assigned to each company of combat troops) and will be tied in with all available firepower in the area.


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