Korea is buying six Swedish mobile artillery-hunting radars, for $20 million
each. The system, called ARTHUR, was developed in the 1990s. It is carried in a
Bv206 tracked vehicle. The radar can detect shells or rockets fired from up to
40 kilometers away. Within the few seconds, the systems computer can calculate
the location of the firing artillery to within two meters. Given the
availability of GPS guided shells (Excalibur) and rockets (GMLRS), you can have
return (counterbattery) fire on the enemy artillery within a minute. South
Korea is particularly concerned about the massive numbers of North Korean
artillery weapons aimed at their capital, Seoul. ARTHUR, if linked
electronically with artillery units equipped with Excalibur or GMLRS, could
shut down a lot North Korean artillery very quickly. ARTHUR can track up to
eight shells a simultaneously, and can handle about a hundred a minute.
ARTHUR will be replacing
the American AN TPQ-36/37 radar FireFinder artillery and mortar finding radar,
which has gotten a bad reputation of late. That was often for failing to detect
incoming mortar fire. FireFinder was developed in the 1970s, based on Vietnam
experience with enemy mortar and rocket attacks.
FireFinder is a radar
system which, when it spots an incoming shell, calculates where it came from
and transmits the location to a nearby artillery unit, which then fires on
where the mortar is (or was). This process takes 3-4 minutes (or less, for
experienced troops.) FireFinder worked as advertised, but got little use until
U.S. troops entered Iraq. Since then, the FireFinder has been very effective,
and heavily used. Too heavily used. There were not a lot of spare parts
stockpiled for FireFinder, but now several hundred million dollars worth have
been ordered. The manufacturer has also introduced new components, that are
more reliable, and easier to maintain.
FireFinders are often failing to catch incoming fire, either because of
equipment failure, or because the enemy is using tactics that fool the radar.
For example, in Iraq, American bases are generally on higher ground than the
mortars firing at them. Putting bases on the high ground enables you to watch
more of the surrounding. But FireFinder needs a line-of-sight to get a good fix
on the firing weapons position. If the mortar is too far below the radar,
FireFinder cannot accurately spot where the fire is coming from.
Another problem is that if
the mortar is too close, FireFinder is much less likely to quickly determine
where the fire is coming from. So the enemy mortar teams get as close as they
can before they open up. This still makes the mortar teams vulnerable to counterattack
by coalition troops, but not the immediate (in a few minutes) artillery fire
that FireFinder can make happen under the right conditions.
At first, the army was
going to halt further upgrades on FireFinder, which, after all was developed
thirty years ago, and begin developing a new system, one that can better deal
with the kinds of problems encountered in Iraq. But FireFinder has been so
useful, that new upgrades were pursued anyway, while work continued on a
replacement system. The upgrades have also been made available to other users
of FireFinder (including, just in the Middle East, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi
Arabia and Turkey.)
Meanwhile, ARTHUR has been
selling to many NATO countries, as it is of more recent vintage than
FireFinder, and has gotten rave reviews from existing users. The U.S. Army has
been developing a new counterbattery radar, the AN/TPQ-47 FireFinder, but this
is not ready for service yet. The AN/TPQ-47 is actually a major upgrade of the
older FireFinder, with the capability of tracking rockets and missiles with a
range of up to 300 kilometers. But this new system is towed, not
self-propelled. Each AN/TPQ-47 is expected to cost about $22 million.