Artillery: The Mortar War in Iraq

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October 11, 2005: The war against terrorist mortar teams in Iraq continues, despite two years of strenuous efforts to stop terrorist mortar attacks. U.S. and Coalition troops have been very successful in using technologies that net radars, computers, and weapons to permit rapid concentration of artillery fire on the site from which incoming mortar rounds originated. When attackers fire a round, the radars quickly detect it, feed the incoming data to a computer that quickly calculates the trajectory and point of origin, which is then used as an aim point by friendly troops. As a result, within seconds of firing a mortar shell, the location of the mortar gets hit by artillery fire. For a while, these tactics reduced the rate of mortar attacks, since they placed the attackers at considerable risk. There are, however, some terrorists who have come up with new tactics to counter the Coalition capabilities.

The most common technique is to "shoot and scoot." That is, after setting up their weapon, most of the insurgent mortar crew depart, leaving just one man behind. When they are clear, that man drops the round down the barrel and runs like hell. As it takes a few second for the radar-computer-gunner loop to close, the mortarman has a fair chance of escaping. Even if he doesn't escape, the loss of one "martyr" is better than the loss of the entire mortar team (particularly since dropping the round down the tube is the least skillful part of operating a mortar, and so a low value volunteer can be used for the task). In fact, the loss of the mortar is perhaps more serious.

A second technique is to coordinate two mortar attacks. Several Coalition soldiers have been killed or injured as a result of such coordinated attacks. Basically, the terrorists set up two more mortars to fire at the same target. When the first one is fired - presumably by the "shoot and scoot" technique - Coalition response is prompt, and the weapon is obliterated. The other mortar holds fire. As Coalition respond to aid the injured and clear the rubble, the second mortar is brought into play. Although the use of only two mortars in this fashion has been reported, it would seem reasonable that some really ambitious terrorists could try to coordinate three or even more, though as the number of personnel involved grows, the chance of their being detected by Coalition troops presumably increases considerably.

A third terrorist technique seems improbable, but its use has been rumored. This is probably an urban legend, but it does contain a grain of reality. Reportedly, the terrorists place the mortar round in a mold of the appropriate caliber. The round is then frozen, presumably in such as way that the base and arming pin are exposed. The round can be transported in an ice chest. When needed, the base of the round can be fitted into the muzzle of the mortar tube. The arming pin can then be pulled. With its "jacket" of ice, the round will not slide down the tube immediately. This allows the mortar team to get away. Naturally, in Iraq's heat, the ice will soon melt. This allows the round to drop down the tube, and it will fire. Coalition response will destroy the mortar, but none of the Insurgents will be hurt.

There seem to be several problems with this reported technique. Perhaps the most serious is that the ice will not melt uniformly, so rather than sliding down the tube with force sufficient to fire the round, it will just slip down so slowly that it may not go off. The story persists, as such fanciful tales tend to do during war time.

The Mortar War in Iraq

October 11, 2005: The war against terrorist mortar teams in Iraq continues. U.S. and Coalition troops have been very successful in using technologies that net radars, computers, and weapons to permit rapid concentration of artillery fire on the site from which incoming mortar rounds originated. When attackers fire a round, the radars quickly detect it, feed the incoming data to a computer that quickly calculates the trajectory and point of origin, which is then used as an aim point by friendly troops. As a result, within seconds of firing a mortar shell, the location of the mortar gets hit by artillery fire. For a while, these tactics reduced the rate of mortar attacks, since they placed the attackers at considerable risk. There are, however, some terrorists who have come up with new tactics to counter the Coalition capabilities.

The most common technique is to "shoot and scoot." That is, after setting up their weapon, most of the insurgent mortar crew depart, leaving just one man behind. When they are clear, that man drops the round down the barrel and runs like hell. As it takes a few second for the radar-computer-gunner loop to close, the mortarman has a fair chance of escaping. Even if he doesn't escape, the loss of one "martyr" is better than the loss of the entire mortar team (particularly since dropping the round down the tube is the least skillful part of operating a mortar, and so a low value volunteer can be used for the task). In fact, the loss of the mortar is perhaps more serious.

A second technique is to coordinate two mortar attacks. Several Coalition soldiers have been killed or injured as a result of such coordinated attacks. Basically, the terrorists set up two more mortars to fire at the same target. When the first one is fired - presumably by the "shoot and scoot" technique - Coalition response is prompt, and the weapon is obliterated. The other mortar holds fire. As Coalition respond to aid the injured and clear the rubble, the second mortar is brought into play. Although the use of only two mortars in this fashion has been reported, it would seem reasonable that some really ambitious terrorists could try to coordinate three or even more, though as the number of personnel involved grows, the chance of their being detected by Coalition troops presumably increases considerably.

A third terrorist technique seems improbable, but its use has been rumored. This is probably an urban legend, but it does contain a grain of reality. Reportedly, the terrorists place the mortar round in a mold of the appropriate caliber. The round is then frozen, presumably in such as way that the base and arming pin are exposed. The round can be transported in an ice chest. When needed, the base of the round can be fitted into the muzzle of the mortar tube. The arming pin can then be pulled. With its "jacket" of ice, the round will not slide down the tube immediately. This allows the mortar team to get away. Naturally, in Iraq's heat, the ice will soon melt. This allows the round to drop down the tube, and it will fire. Coalition response will destroy the mortar, but none of the Insurgents will be hurt.

There seem to be several problems with this reported technique. Perhaps the most serious is that the ice will not melt uniformly, so rather than sliding down the tube with force sufficient to fire the round, it will just slip down so slowly that it may not go off. The story persists, as such fanciful tales tend to do during war time.

 


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