Udari Range CALFEX 2012

Elements of 1/15IN, part of the 3rd ID were deployed to Kuwait in 2012. In addition to showing the flag, they took advantage of the large Udari range complex to hold a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX) simulating a breaching operation. Breaching operations always make good CALFEX’s both because they’re a high payoff mission, which are very complex and very hard to train to do well, and because they naturally involve almost all the assets organically available to the ground forces.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UThH3nzoUE]

Op-For: “Where is the Case for Co – Ed Ground Combat?”

Indiana Guard Fires Historic Artillery Mission Adds M777 Digital Artillery Piece to Arsenal

Alte kamerad LTCOL P, Marine artilleryman extraordinaire, has a great piece about a great piece.   He points out some pretty sobering stats from the continuing effort to make ground combat a co-ed sport.

In the 155 mm Artillery Lift and Carry, a test simulating ordnance stowing, volunteers had to pick up a 95 lb. artillery round and carry it 50 meters in under 2 minutes. Noted the report, “Less than 1% of men, compared to 28.2% of women, could not complete the 155 mm artillery round lift and carry in the allotted time.” If trainees had to “shoulder the round and/or carry multiple rounds, the 28.2% failure rate would increase.”

As LTCOL P points out, such a test is in no way, shape, or form anywhere near realistic.  The HE M107 projectile is 95 pounds, a tad heavier with lifting eyebolt.  I would posit that making the test the moving of ten or twenty of those projectiles over, say, 100 meters, BEGINS to get to what kind of heavy manual labor is involved in being a field artilleryman.  I would doubt severely that any female tested could get anywhere close to passing that particular test.  And that is simply a beginning test.  Try it after several days of 3 hours’ sleep in the snow or in yesterday’s rainwater, or in the 115 degree heat, after displacing twice in four hours and digging in spades each time.

You can be guaranteed the feminists and their spineless apologists in uniform will continue to find ways to obfuscate and slant results such as these and continue to scream for she-warriors who are the physical equivalent of men, when they are not being helpless victims, of course.   Our present and future enemies must be awfully impressed.

120mm for Air Defense

When you mention a 120mm gun today, virtually everyone thinks of the main gun of the M1 Abrams family of tanks. And rightly so. It’s an impressive weapon. But did you know that from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s there were more than a few 120mm guns guarding the US?

The US Army began World War II with the M3 3” gun as its primary heavy antiaircraft gun. The M3 was itself a slightly improved version of the M1918 fielded for World War II, and was clearly facing obsolescence. It lacked the ability to reach the high altitudes routinely used by enemy bombers, and didn’t throw a very powerful shell.

Soon the excellent M1 90mm anti-aircraft gun replaced it.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjD7DAGR3Do]

But as good as the M1 90mm gun was, it still lacked the range and altitude needed. Toward the end of the war, the Army finally fielded the massive M1 120mm heavy anti-aircraft gun. While a few batteries were sent to the Pacific before the war ended, it doesn’t appear any actually engaged Japanese aircraft.


The beginning of the Cold War raised the spectre of Soviet bombers laying waste to American cities with nuclear weapons. Accordingly, a very high priority was given to air defense of the continental US. The Air Force fielded many squadrons of fighters. And pending the development of guided missiles, the Army placed batteries of 90mm and 12omm guns to protect our cities.

A typical 120mm battery had four guns. The guns were automatically directed by the M10 director system, which in turn used information from the SCR-584 radar, or a similar gun laying radar and the M4 gun computer.


Batteries also protected sensitive sites such as the Panama Canal.


By the mid-1950s, the M1’s ability to destroy high speed bomber targets was marginal. As rapidly as possible, gun batteries were replaced by Nike Ajax guided missile batteries.  Today, the M1 is but a faint memory.

Mortar Monday (I meant to post this yesterday)

So, 5/20IN hosted the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force to a mortar live fire at Yakima Firing Center recently. Lots of 120mm goodness going on.

Here’s the short PAO take.


And here’s the extended version. I love that piiiiiing! that 120mm mortars make when firing. Gives me a warm fuzzy.


And while I tend to think of the 120mm as a big mortar, the Soviets and the Israelis have used 160mm mortars. And then… there’s this:


Battle for Berlin, 1945

This week marks VE Day, commemorating the Victory in Europe over Hitler’s Third Reich.  The last and perhaps the most savage battle was for the German capital of Berlin.   This from the Battlefield series, which was aired weekly on Far East Network (“Forced Entertainment Network”) when I had an artillery battery in Okinawa in 1996.   The entire series is superb, and if you look, you can find most of them on line.  They are also available on DVD.   They contain a pretty good description of the higher tactical through the strategic picture, and have enough detail and technical stuff, but not too much.


Since the series was made, Russian archives have been explored more completely, and the number of Soviet casualties have been scaled up more than two-fold, from the 305,000 quoted in this episode, to nearly 700,000.   Note the ever-present use of artillery and mortars, rockets, and field guns, even in an urban environment.   The episode is 116 minutes, roughly the time one spends clicking on all of Mav’s aviation links and cool pictures and videos and stuff.   So get your Eastern Front geek on, and watch it.  You know you wanna.

BIG! Mortars

We’ve written before about mortars being the infantry commander’s “hip pocket artillery.”* And in our Army, mortars are infantry weapons, separate from the Field Artillery.  Currently, our Army fields 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t larger mortars.  Israel and several other countries use 160mm mortars. And the current largest mortar in service is the Russian 240mm mortar.


That’s a pretty hefty tube.

It’s odd to see a weapon that has a rotary magazine and power loading and yet the each round has to have its primary and booster charges hand applied. I mean, really? Tying the “cheeses” on with string?

Looks like some guided and rocket assisted shells in there too.

*well, Infantry, Armor and Cavalry- basically each ground maneuver battalion has its own mortars.

The Care and Feeding of Co-authors.

Normally, I like to make fun of Marines. And I like to make fun of
Artillerymen. I especially like making fun of Marine Artillerymen.

But if I pick on URR too much, he pouts and doesn’t post much. Which means, I would have to, and what’s the point of having co-authors, but to pick up my slack?

And Roamy, bless her, likes some splodey/shooty. It’s not like I pay them for content, so once in a while, I have to be nice to URR and Roamy. Here, I’mma kill two birds with one stone.


The Marines will never have anything approaching the numbers of guns Army artillery has. Yes, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for tube artillery has been fairly sparse. But in a near-peer conflict, a war of maneuver, artillery will be as key as it always has been. One of the linchpins of a strategy of maneuver is denying that very maneuver to your enemy. And artillery fire is a key component of that. The old definition of maneuver was “fire and movement” and artillery provides the “fire” while infantry/armor provides the movement.

It’s not so much that the Marines are dim and not smart enough to buy a lot of artillery. They are. But they face two important constraints on the amount of artillery they can field. First, all their artillery pretty much has to be air transportable by helicopter. And given the very limited number of CH-53E’s available, if at all possible, they want systems that can be lifted by the smaller, more numerous MV-22B. Second, the Marines are an amphibious force, which means they have to travel on the amphibious shipping provided to them by the Navy. As big as those ships are, there aren’t a lot of them, and further, there is a fixed, finite space available for equipment. Finding a balance between tanks, artillery, amphibious assault vehicles, logistical trucks, Humvees and all the other stuff a Marine Expeditionary Unit needs to take along is one of the headaches Marine planners face on a regular basis. So finding an artillery system that uses less space, and weighs less and, in a perfect world, takes a smaller crew, is a key priority. So the Marines are buying the EFSS 120mm mortar system, in lieu of the traditional 105mm gun howitzer.

In the Army, all mortars, even the 120mm, are Infantry weapons, organic to Infantry and Armor/Cav organizations. But for the Marines, if you’re going to use a mortar as your primary direct support system, having the artillery man it makes sense.

One Very Dangerous Gerbil

When DPRK dictator Kim Jong-Il died in December of last year, his 27-year old (we think) son, Kim Jong-Un succeeded to the seat of power.  Believed to be a soft and callow youth unfamiliar with the dangerous intrigues of the power elite in North Korea, Kim Jong-Un was described by a Western intelligence analyst this way:   “In a pit of snakes, KJU is a gerbil”.     His long-term prospects were uncertain, to say the least.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there was significant underestimation of the Dear Boy who is now Dear Leader.  It would appear that some thirty senior DPRK officials, including a substantial number in Army leadership, have been “removed”.   We are looking at a full-fledged purge.   The latest, the Guardian tells us, is the execution of Kim Choi, former Deputy Minister of the Army.  His means of execution?  Mortar round.  No trace to be left.  (In all likelihood, if the 82mm pictured in the Guardian article was the ordnance used, there would be plenty of traces.  So maybe it was a 120 or 160?)  Reason?  Carousing during the official mourning period of his father.  (So much for lifting a Guinness, “for strength”!)

The West (and South Korea) had hoped that the young dictator would be more inclined to be a reformer who could reach out to the West and attempt to alleviate the miserable privations of DPRK’s populace, and lessen the pariah status of his country in the region and world.    Kim Jong-Un’s actions don’t necessarily rule out such an inclination, but they do show that he certainly was a fast learner in the game of power consolidation, and has no trouble employing the traditional tactics of political purge, prison, and execution of military and political rivals on flimsy charges.

My guess is that the snakes are considerably more nervous than they were ten months ago.   Young Kim has a semi-hot wife, apparently, and even if the family photo has a slight hint of mortal terror (whose don’t?), he seems to be getting comfortable with the trappings of his office as Brutal Dictator Dear Leader.

The USMC Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS)

In February of 2011, the USMC Expeditionary Fire Support System was employed in combat in support of Battalion Landing Team 3/8 (26th MEU) in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.   The combat deployment was more than a decade in the making, the culmination of development which began in the late 1990s.  The requirement EFSS was intended to fill goes back at least another decade, to the final retirement of the venerable M101A1 105mm Light Howitzer from the USMC inventory, a cannon that had first entered service before World War II.

Concept of Employment

EFSS, along with the HIMARS rocket system and the M777A1 155mm Towed Howitzer, is intended to be part of the “triad” of ground fire support systems for the United States Marine Corps.   EFSS is conceived to be a part of the assault echelon of ship-to-shore movement, and provide maneuver forces with close ground fires until tube artillery comes ashore in the on-call waves, perhaps as much as 24-48 hours after H-hour.

The EFSS is being fielded in the Artillery Regiment of the Marine Division, which is a bit of a paradigm shift from more recent previous heavy mortar efforts by the USMC, but not unprecedented, as will be discussed below.

System Components

The EFSS is built around the RT120/M327 rifled 120mm mortar.    The mortar, carriage, and baseplate weigh 1,780 pounds, and has a crew of four.  Range with standard munitions is 8.5km.  GPS-guided Precision Extended Range Munitions (PERM) are capable of ranges of 17km, with a reported circular error probable (CEP) of 20m.  Projectiles vary in weight from approximately 36 to 42 lbs.

The prime mover for the RT120 is the Growler Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV), based on a modified M151 Jeep concept, but with a sophisticated variable suspension system and dimensions tailored for internal transport, as the name implies, in the V-22 Osprey.  The Growler has a four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that generates 180 horsepower, is equipped with four-wheel drive (with a selection for rear-wheel drive only), and is capable of towing 2,000 pounds cross country.

The EFSS consists of the above-mentioned mortar, two ITVs, with each respectively towing the mortar tube, and an ammunition trailer which has a bustle rack for 36 ready rounds.  Tactical and vertical mobility have been emphasized, in order to ensure equal mobility to the maneuver force being supported.


The EFSS has not been without controversy.  Much of it surrounds the Growler prime mover, which has been specifically designed to fit into the very restricted internal cargo area of the V-22 Osprey.    The cost per unit is estimated to be over $200,000.   With a narrow wheelbase and limited ground clearance, true cross country capability is in question.   The vehicle is prone to rolling in turns, and may have trouble navigating the rugged terrain in undeveloped areas in which employment is possible.   Additionally, the Growler offers no ballistic protection for its crew.  Open on three sides, it is vulnerable to small arms, fragmentation, and the IED threats that have become so familiar in the last decade.   All valid criticisms, and requiring of the assumption of significant risk in employment.

For my part, the EFSS is at best a hybrid and therefore suboptimal solution.  This is not the first foray for the Marine Corps into the idea that a heavy mortar might replace a light howitzer capability.  In the early 1960s, the M30 4.2-in (107mm) chemical mortar was mounted on a surplus 75mm pack howitzer carriage, and mated with a recoil system to ease emplacement and increase range.

The M98 Howtar*** was the result, and was briefly fielded in Vietnam with Marine Artillery units.  However, with its still limited range when compared to the howitzer, and with similar mobility requirements, the M98 proved significantly less suitable than the 105mm howitzers already in service, and not a substantial upgrade from the standard “four-deuce” in service with Marine Infantry units.

The EFSS has similar limitations.

First, the weapon is a mortar, and incapable of low-angle fire or direct fire.   High angle fire is a significant challenge in fire support coordination with fixed and rotary wing air assets that comprise fully half  of the USMC combined-arms team and will be of critical importance in supporting operations ashore before tube artillery and HIMARS can be landed.

Second, unless the preponderance of ammunition is of the PERM variety, which is a doubtful proposition due to costs, EFSS has limitations in range (8.5km)  that require it to be well inside the range fans of a host of threat weapons systems in order to successfully prosecute targets.

Third, the rate of fire of the RT120/M327 is around 6 to 8 rounds per minute, relatively low for a mortar system, which limits the volume and weight of fire that EFSS can provide.

A more appropriate solution to light and mobile fire support would seem to be that of a lightweight 105mm howitzer, using similar weight-saving materials (titanium) and designs that allowed the M777A1 155mm towed howitzer to weigh slightly over half (8,800 lbs) what the M198 155mm (15,780 lbs) system tipped the scales at.    A 105mm howitzer weighing 3,000-3,500 pounds, capable of firing more lethal and extended range modern munitions, equipped with course-correcting fuses, would be a great enhancement to the Landing Force Commander, providing a much more robust and capable fire support system for minimal additional logistic and mobility requirements.

That said, the EFSS is infinitely better as a fire support system than what existed for that niche previously, which was nothing.   It is a recognition that, despite our recent low-intensity conflict/COIN experience, the modern battlefield will see an increased emphasis on ground fires.  This  is already true of those areas in the littoral where our adversaries are building Anti-Access/Access Denial (A2AD) capabilities with an eye towards thwarting US power projection options.

(***Note, the above photo of the M98 Howtar was taken on the quarterdeck of 10th Marines HQ at Camp Lejeune.   The Notre Dame Leprechaun is undoubtedly the work of Col Chris Mayette USMC, who commanded the regiment at the time the picture was taken.   There is no substantiation to the rumor that the Howtar disappeared when he turned over command, or that a similar one now adorns his living room in his current location…)


Esli writes:

Out of extreme boredom, I recently read through some of XBrad’s archived material. (Yeah, I know.) This post , combined with this one got me thinking about my own early experiences with the GPS. We have all wondered why some people are seemingly so stupid that they follow their Garmin right into a river, down a boat ramp, or even off a cliff. At first it is incomprehensible, but I know better because I have seen it in action.

First, a little background. The army has always extolled the virtues of land navigation. Pretty much all NCO schools, officer commissioning sources, and certainly combat arms schools teach land navigation. Even though often someone else actually does the navigation, if a leader can’t navigate, he has a hard time leading (either figuratively or literally!). It is all about credibility.

Basically, you navigate in one of two ways. The first method is dead reckoning. In this technique, you know where you are, and if you walk a given distance and direction, you know where you will arrive.

The other technique, called terrain association, simply says to follow the terrain. For example, I walk up this trail to the fork, turn right 90 degrees, and head downhill to the creek, and then up the far side to the right-hand of two hilltops that I can see. Plot your new location and repeat. Skilled navigators combine the two techniques.

Mounted navigation adds a whole extra layer of complexity due to speeds and distances. After all, a dismounted infantryman may have been lost for an hour, but he is still only at most 2 km away! Tank navigation, pre-GPS, included neat tricks like pointing the main gun in a given direction and stabilizing it so that it would always point that direction. Then the driver could turn as necessary. As long as he turned back to get the main gun over his head, he was driving the right direction. Now, just watch the odometer. But, since compasses don’t work while on the tank, someone had to get down and walk out a way to get an azimuth. Pretty slow work.

Terrain association requires an understanding of the terrain, called “micro-terrain” that is all around you. This extends to vehicle crewman. For example, I should be able to tell my driver, “See that big hilltop on the horizon? Get us there.” From that point, his own form of land-navigation, called “terrain driving” takes over, and he follows the terrain, both to navigate, and to drive in the most survivable terrain (i.e. keeping in low ground, but not soggy ground with cattails growing in it), leaving me free to “lead the unit.”


Mortar Platoon Leader. Working on the Battalion Command Net, the Mortar Platoon Net, and the Fire Support net is on the third radio that you can’t see at my feet. It is easy to get distracted, and a good driver can save you!

The GPS changed all of that. Appearing just in time for the Gulf War, the SLGR (Small Lightweight GPS Receiver and pronounced Slugger) revolutionized navigation. A more capable and widely-fielded variant, called the PLGR (or Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver or Plugger) was fielded in the mid -90s. The PLGR has been largely supplanted by the DAGR (the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver, or Dagger). But these items were not fielded without a learning curve by the force. The primary lesson of which is that a GPS does not replace a map!

So, how do they result in tanks driving into the river, down the boat ramp or off the cliff? A couple quick stories illustrate.

There I was…. It was 1994. I had just deployed to Kuwait and met with my first tank platoon, which was already there (Vigilant Warrior, Craig). I brought with me a box of 58 PLGRs as initial issue for the battalion. A couple of the “Geek-smart” platoon leaders quickly learned how to use them, but I was a bit slower. One day, we conducted a training lane consisting of a company attack. I followed in the right rear of a company wedge for about 20 Km. During the movement, I had limited success with my GPS, but had been so fixed on it that I had not used the map much. After the end of the mission, we went back to the assembly area to re-run it, at which time my CDR designated my platoon to lead the next run. I was pretty sure that I knew where I was, but had no idea how to get back to the objective for the next run, so I did what any quick-thinking tanker would do. When I rolled into the assembly area, I did a tight enough 180 degree turn that I got back on my own tracks in the sand. When we were ordered to move out for the next run, I unerringly led the company straight to the objective of the company attack. Score one for credibility.


You tell me how to navigate through this “trackless” desert without GPS! (XBrad: LORAN-C?)

A few months later, there I was…again. This time, I was at Fort Irwin, the National Training Center. It was about midnight. The commander of the infantry company I was attached to drove up to my tank, threw me a six-digit map grid, and told me to establish a screen line “now.” I alerted the platoon, we got fired up, and moved out promptly, heading directly for the grid I was given. This turned into one of the most torturous night movements I have ever been on, taking about 3 hours to move 3 Km to the east and including a near-rollover into a wadi and the blowing away of something into the night sky that I saw but never figured out what I lost. This was across what NTC insiders call “the washboard” which is a nightmare of up and down, washes, cuts, wadis, etc. In the morning, when I was called to collapse the screen and link up with the unit, it took me all of 15 minutes to look at my map, drive south into the open maneuver corridor, and link back up with the company. Score one for the GPS, but credibility took a big hit here! Never move without looking at the stupid map first….

Fast forward a year to my next NTC rotation where I was now the mortar platoon leader. While driving to the Tactical Operations Center to receive an order from the battalion, I called the platoon and gave them a six digit grid and told them to move there and establish the next firing position. I would link up with them at the firing point after the order. I drove to them and discovered the whole platoon sitting in the wide open, within 100 meters of a perfect defilade firing position (that is, below ground level due to the terrain). They had, I was told, just moved to the grid I gave them, following the GPS to the end…. Amid much grumbling, I directed them to shift to the new position and passed on a lesson -learned about not just following the GPS. Score one for credibility.

The very next mission, I again moved them to a new position while I was gone, this time on “Crash Hill” and in the dark. I drove up to the hill, straight to the grid I had given them. They were not there. I drove around that hillside for 60 minutes, searching that location, getting progressively more and more angry. For some reason, I ripped the wooden roof from my HMMWV and flung it into the dark and the wind whipped it away. Finally, sitting right on the grid that they were supposed to be at, I noticed radio antennas coming from a defilade position (pretty hard to see with night vision goggles on). Because I insisted on complete blackout, the mortar tracks were not flying the traditional chemlight Christmas tree from every vehicle, and they were literally invisible, even after I finally saw them.


Sundown at NTC. When it gets dark, with zero percent illumination (i.e. no moonlight), even 8 tracks will be really hard to find in a ten foot deep hole!!

The GPS got me where I needed to be; I just couldn’t find them. Because I refused to tell them I couldn’t find them, it appeared that I had driven right up on them it was a win for my credibility (and GPS technology…). Because they had used the GPS to get to the right area and then used the terrain to appropriately conceal themselves, it was a win for old-school map-reading skills. This lesson was firmly driven home, for me anyway.

Now, as for people that follow a GPS down a boat ramp, or off a cliff, that is just plain stupid, and we all know that.


GPS technology can give us precise locations and is one of the elements critical to get steel on target.

XBrad here- I too had an “early adopter/steep learning curve” experience with SLGR. The system gave your location via an alphanumeric display. That is, your coordinates were displayed as numbers. Not a graphic map representation like you might see in your cars modern GPS system. I had never used one before. Now, just having the ability to determine your location with great confidence was pretty nifty. But you could also program the system to navigate from one waypoint to another. It would give bearing and distance to the next waypoint. Simple, right?


Well, as Esli mentions above, looking at the map first is ALWAYS a good idea. I had to drop off a fire team for a recon mission. Again, only a few clicks away, but finding your way by night without doing a map recon of the route was a bad, bad idea. But on a simple mission like this… heck, we’ll even let the gunner have the night off, and just take the Bradley out with only me and the driver as the crew.


Finding my way home was every bit as challenging. And SLGRs had an antennae that meant the device had to be held outside the turret of the Bradley. And mine had a loose battery case. I had to take off my night vision goggles, hold the SLGR just right, stand way the heck out of the turret, and try to give my driver, Chuck,  directions left and right to head us back to our unit.


While I was focused on reading the little numbers, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else. So I didn’t even notice the giant tree branch the driver headed under. Not until it hit me smack in the face, and dragged me out of the Bradley’s turret, and had me rolling off the back of Bradley’s hull. And my commo helmet got knocked off. And I was badly stunned. And my driver had no idea that I wasn’t just quietly enjoying the night. He kept driving along, and I was in terror that I would fall off and be crushed under the tracks, or at best left stranded in the middle of nowhere.


I finally found my CVC helmet rolling around on the back deck with me and screamed a while till Chuck stopped the track. Apart from some cuts and bruises, I survived. But I never again used GPS to navigate. Only to confirm where I really was.