Artillery Organization

When the Marines defend their huge investment in Close Air Support, it’s largely because they need it. They simply don’t have a lot of tube artillery available for support. Why? Because they will never have enough amphibious shipping to move it.

The Army, on the other hand, has since the middle of the 19th Century had a long tradition of excellence in artillery, and accordingly places a lot of faith in a lot of guns.

Let’s compare some of the fire support available to a division. Organic to the Marine division is an artillery regiment. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this regiment had three battalions of light artillery, 105mm tubes, and one battalion of 155mm artillery. All four battalions had towed pieces.

At first glance, Army artillery seems quite comparable.  A light division had “Division Artillery”~ effectively a brigade, with three battalions of 105mm guns, and one battalion of 155mm guns, all towed.   Seems pretty comparable.

But if we leave the light divisions, and look at the Army’s heavy divisions, we see a somewhat more robust organization. Each mechanized or armored division had a similar organization, but different armament.

Heavy divisional DivArty had three battalions of self-propelled 155mm guns (each with a self-propelled ammo carrier). It also had a battalion of self-propelled 203mm (8”) guns. Eventually, the 8” battalion would be replaced by a single battery of MLRS 270mm rocket launchers.

But the story doesn’t end there. Army divisions in Europe were intended to fight as a part of a corps, and indeed, as a part of a field army. And a great deal of the combat power of a corps or field army is located in units outside of the divisions. Each heavy corps typically had two separate artillery brigades, each with four battalions, usually three of 155mm and one battalion of MLRS, as they phased out the 8” tubes.

One of the key precepts behind US Army artillery doctrine has always been concentration. If it’s worth shooting at, it’s worth shooting at a lot. So it would be typical for the main effort of a corps operation to receive the support of both corps artillery brigades. And within that main effort  division, it would be typical for the maneuver brigade forming the main effort to receive the support of all the guns of both the division and the corps artillery, or at least a priority claim to their fires.* Conceivably, one maneuver brigade of three battalions would have the support of 12, or even more, battalions of artillery. That’s a level of fire support a Marine regiment commander could only dream of. And that doesn’t count the attack helicopter and Air Force tac air support our notional Army brigade might receive.  And because all these heavy artillery brigades were self-propelled, they could rapidly shift support from one area to another.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Army no longer faces the spectre of a single division having to stem the onslaught of an entire Russian tank army. And the past decade of limited warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan has seen a much smaller need for massed artillery fires.

Instead, today’s artillery has shifted emphasis from massing fires to longer ranges and greater precision, via such tools as rocket assisted projectiles, guided unitary warhead MLRS rockets, and guidance kits for conventional 155mm artillery that permits a limited “boost/glide” profile.  The battlefield a single maneuver brigade occupies is much larger than in years past, even as little as 20 years ago. And simply to cover that area, the supporting artillery either needs a longer range, or the greater lethality of guided rounds (that way, smaller units of artillery, such as a battery or even just a platoon can disperse over a wider area to support more units and cover more battlespace).

*I’ll leave it to URR or Esli to explain the doctrinal niceties of attached, OPCON, Direct Support, General Support, or General Support Reinforcing.

6 thoughts on “Artillery Organization”

  1. Command relationships:
    *Assigned = I own you and am responsible for everything you need and do.
    *Attached = I don’t own you but I am responsible for employing you, feeding you, and fixing you.
    *OPCON (Operational Control) = I am not responsible for feeding or fixing, but I plan your tactical employment.
    *TACON (Tactical Control) = I have been given control of you for a very specific purpose and can’t do anything else with you. I cannot change your task organization, though I can in the other relations above

    Support Relationships:
    *Direct Support = you work for me; I plan your priorities even though someone else owns you (creates “mommy/daddy” syndrome)
    *General Support = you provide coverage to me and my adjacent units equally, subject to a priority of fires set by our higher headquarters
    *General Support Reinforcing = you usually work for someone else, but I need more fire support than my normal unit can provide, so they bring in extra units.

    USMC and USA have, i believe, slightly different definitions of both command and support relationships, but at the dumbest level, these will do.

    My experience with FA is that we tend to dilute the potential effects of massed fires because, unlike the old Soviet model where the main effort gets everything, we want to give a little bit to everybody. Since all units invariably want fires at about the same time, what should be a quick mission gets put in the queue and is eventually fired, sometimes long after you gave up on getting it. By the way, changing priorities by a higher might mean pulling smoke and reloading DPICM as well as changing targets, and the firing unit was in the middle of displacing so as to avoid counterbattery, etc, so the wait grows longer and longer. Eventually, all supported units are complaining that they are not getting fires. Picture 15 missions being requested, and no traffic cop prioritizing them and sequencing them because it is hard to adjust the order once they are in. It is a job where both art and science are both equally critical, yet our younger fire supporters frequently don’t know either, and neither do the maneuver guys. Planning fires such that effects arrive on the battlefield synchronized with ongoing maneuever is hard, but a thing of beauty when it all works out. When in doubt and you want it quick, go mortars!!!

    1. John Donovan at Castle Arrrggh has long worried that during the GWOT our ability to mass fires in a maneuver fight have badly atrophied.

    2. Hugely so. Simply put, we don’t do it anymore. In three trips to Iraq, I personally employed a 155 volley one time and it did not do anything much. GMLR, Excal, and fixed-wing ordnance, we got that down pat. In maneuver training, I have watched my CO CDRs and FSOs struggle with developing meaningful tactical and technical triggers for fires, as well as timing maneuver to take full advantage of said fires, and they are just now starting to get it. It is a lost art that, unfortunately, is compounded by over-promising effects. Not to mention that, as we have gone to management techniques such as “hot guns” vice section, platoon and battery missions, the simple fact is that we don’t use it in theater as a massed system.

Comments are closed.