Artillery in the A-stan.

We’ve talked a few times about the role of artillery in the Cold War-era AirLand Battle Doctrine.  But what about now, during the fighting in Afghanistan?

Instead of artillery being used to delay, atrit, channelize, and fix enemy armored forces prior to them coming into contact with US armored forces, artillery in Afghanistan is used almost exclusively to support infantry forces, either while they are patrolling or attacking enemy forces, or when our forces are attacked in their operating bases.

Here’s a quick video of a US Army 155mm howitzer firing in support of friendly forces.

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Just about anyone who has seen a war movie has watched a scene where the grunts are on the radio calling for artillery. And while that happens, and I don’t want to go into all the processes of calling for fire, I do want to talk a little about planning fires.

Let’s take the example of a forward operating base for a platoon of infantry in the mountains of Afghanistan. In addition to all the infantry specific stuff our platoon would do to prepare its defenses (digging fighting positions, filling sandbags{gazillions of them}, assigning troops to fighting positions, clearing brush for clear fields of fire, rehearsing plans, stockpiling ammo), our platoon will also develop a fire plan for the outpost’s defense. Our platoon will likely have an artillery forward observer assigned.  The platoon leader and the forward observer will put their heads together and decide the most likely approaches any enemy might take in an attack. Once they have identified those, they can determine on a map the best place to fire artillery at these approaches. Typically, these preplotted targets would be near easily identifiable terrain features, or even special markers set our by our platoon, so everyone knows where they are.  These targets are called “Target Reference Points” or TRPs.

A typical platoon may have 3 or 4 TRPs preplotted. Having the targets preplotted speeds up the artillery’s ability to provide on-call fire. The supporting artillery has already plotted the target and has rehearsed firing on it. Indeed, they have probably “registered” the target by actually firing on it to make sure the rounds go where all parties want them to.  By simply calling on the radio and telling the arty battery that you need half a dozen rounds of HE on TRP AB0003, the arty can start shooting immediately.

And even if the enemy isn’t cooperating by sitting on top of one of our platoon’s TRPs, we can still use them to speed up the process. Instead of having to plot on a map where the enemy is, convert that to coordinates (with a very good chance of making an error under pressure) and the artillery having to plot the whole misison, our forward observer can just shift from one of the TRPs. For instance, we can just tell the arty “from TRP NB001, add 200, left 300” and the arty guys know where we are talking about, and can quickly shoot it.

The Army plans everything it does. And there’s a standard planning format that everyone uses. It speeds up communications and lessens the chances for confusion and misinterpretation. Now, we all know that “no battle plan survives the first round”, but that doesn’t mean every part of the plan needs to be tossed. Indeed, one of the strengths of the Army’s planning is that at the tactical level, plans are very flexible, and can be adjusted, rather than scrapped, very quickly.

4 thoughts on “Artillery in the A-stan.”

  1. Arty has ALWAYS been the Army’s specialty. I think it was Hanson Baldwin who wrote that the German Army didn’t have all that much respect for the overall quality of US Inf. forces, but greatly feared our Arty. (Had an uncle WP ’43 who ret. as an 0-6 in Arty, btw) A good arty team is like a good offensive line in football. Once they get it cranked-up and up to speed on a fire-msn it’s a thing of beauty to watch the precision movements.

  2. Really, it wasn’t until just before WWII that our Army developed the organization and fire control that made our artillery so fearsome.

    If you go back and look at it in WWI, our artillery was pretty weak tea compared to any of the other major combatants.

    But once we developed a method of control that allowed for very fast response times, it became almost a maneuver force of it’s own.

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