Amid Russian air and cruise missile strikes, civilian casualties, proposed no-fly zones, air-to-air shoot-downs, and new surface-to-air missiles in Syria, relatively few news stories have discussed the introduction of Russian artillery into the theater. Though the introduction of artillery may seem less significant than aerial attacks, remember that Napoleon observed: “With artillery, war is made.” By reintroducing artillery to Syria to support combined arms operations, the Russians may have revealed something about the war they and the Syrians envision. Together with increased air attacks, the Syrians and their Russian advisors seek to revitalize combined arms forces, and artillery is critical to their vision of such forces. Artillery is particularly important for offensive operations, providing a continuous presence that current Russian air deployments cannot sustain. The Syrian ground forces are now taking and holding ground, fighting urban and village battles where they must, but posing a threat of encirclement and maneuver where they can.
James Quinlivan’s piece is long, but quite interesting regarding the devolution of the Syrian Arab Army from its past Soviet style formation, and trying to reintegrate combined arms today.
Artillery is obviously useful for killing the enemy. Let’s talk a bit about the Russian historical use of artillery. Artillery properly used (and the Russians are past masters at the art) imposes a heavy penalty on the enemy whenever he masses his forces. Whenever a force concentrates, it becomes an attractive target. When it disperses, it is harder to kill with artillery.
But dispersal means that force cannot bring the totality of its combat power to bear on an objective. That means that artillery can provide your own maneuver forces the opportunity to mass at a time and place of your choosing to be decisive at the objective.
Whether Russian artillery support for the Syrian Arab Army can achieve this in Syria remains to be seen. But they’ve certainly made some progress already.