Glimpses of hi-tech artillery battle

The Artillery Journal | Aug 4, 1992

The solution includes the number and name of fire units, shell and fuze combination and the number of rounds to be fired, based on the Artillery Commander's laid down criteria regarding percentage of casualties, degree of neutralisation etc. Just before the guns fire their first salvo of pre H Hour fire, a 155 mm battery fires successive rounds of gun fire, the carrier shells bursting in the air at varying heights, to selectively cover the battle front.


“Artillery is an area weapon, designed with the primary aim of neutralising large areas of ground with its inherent dispersion of fire.” 100 hours of ground operations in the Jan-Feb 1991 Gulf War cast a permanent shadow of doubt over the wisdom of that hallowed statement. The precision revolution, pioneered by US technology, established artillery as an engine of destruction – with both single round hard target kill capability and the capacity to destroy dispersed hard targets with lethal volleys of Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM), such as the Cargo shell of 155 mm FH 77 B.
Artillery Task Forces of 203 mm M 110(SP) and 155 mm M 109 (SP) medium regiments and MLRS rocket regiments, using PADS and GPS for survey; with dedicated SATA resources such as AN TPQ 36 and 37 weapon locating radars, Pioneer III RPVs, air force and satellite surveillance; meteor data from the Bendix M 31 Met Data System and the Norden Battery Computer System for technical fire control, achieved first salvo effectiveness (FSE) at long ranges and decimated numerous targets with conventional “dumb” artillery projectiles. The surprise and concentrated delivery of large volumes of accurate fire invariably caused an immediate shutdown of the Iraqi artillery’s capability to return fire. Targets engaged en mass by these task forces were intimidated to the point of tactical incapacitation. These ‘artillery raids’ deep into Iraqi territory were, on many occasions, converted into prolonged preparations to systematically destroy the forward troops, artillery and their armour reserves. It is clear that the Hi-tech artillery battlefield is no longer in the realm of fancy -it is here and now.
Nearer home, while our supporting systems are several orders of magnitude away from those employed by the coalition forces in the Gulf War, our artillery is already capable of achieving near FSE with PADS for survey, Digicora for meteor data and MV measuring radars. The Pinaka MLRS will give us a reach deep inside enemy territory. The Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS), to be fielded in phases in the next few years, will add substantially to the optimisation of the tactical handling of our artillery firepower, leading to the provision of “seamless support”. SATA resources are also growing by matching leaps and bounds. In short, the Hi-tech artillery battlefield is now visible on the horizon.
It is imperative that we understand how the various components will mesh together on the future battlefield. The scenes which follow provide some glimpses of the modus operandi of future artillery in action. The timings in minutes and seconds, with each scene, serve to accentuate the impact of possible future engagements.


00:00. (Time in minutes and seconds). Thr Company Commander indicates an active enemy locality firing MMGs and LMGs effectively on his troops, to his OP Officer, and requests immediate neutralisation with 15 percent casualties.
00:05. The OP Officer and his OP assistant (OPA) identify and acquire the target using their integrated observation equipment (IOE), a laser range finder with a built-in theodolite.
00:10. The OP Officer determines the size, posture and degree of protection of the target, alongwith some other mandatory information. He punches the target data into his hand held Digital Message Device (connected to his VHF radio set) after selecting the relevant format for the type of shoot to be taken.
00:30. The OP Officer initiates a fire request to his Regimental FDC by transmitting the target data that he has Keyed in. (The entire packet is transmitted in a single burst lasting less than a millionth of a second).
The fire request is received by the fire control computer at the Regimental FDC, automatically acknowledged, checked for transmission errors and processed for further action according to it’s precedence/priority.
00:31. The display screen of the Adjutant’s control console lights up. Simultaneously, a blinker appears on the Adjutant’s electronic tactical map indicating location of the target and a dotted line joins the blinker with the OP from where the fire request was initiated. The fire request is also displayed on the screens with the CO and BC. The OP Officer’s fire request is displayed alongwith the computer suggested solution for the engagement of the target. The solution includes the number and name of fire units, shell and fuze combination and the number of rounds to be fired, based on the Artillery Commander’s laid down criteria regarding percentage of casualties, degree of neutralisation etc. (In this case the computer suggests the use of all three batteries firing four rounds per gun of impact detonating HE shells).
The Adjutant has four options. He may accept, reject or modify the computer suggested solution, or he may defer the engagement of the target. (In this case the Adjutant accepts the solution).
00:45. The Adjutant presses the transmit button. Fire orders are automatically flashed to the batteries and the OP Officer is informed.
In Battery Command Posts (CPs) the fire orders are instantaneously displayed to the Gun Position Officer (GPO) and the battery computer automatically carries out the necessary ballistic calculations to determine firing data for the guns, after making suitable allowances for all non-standard met and other conditions.
01:10. The battery computer displays individual gun data on the display screen. After carrying out a common sense check, the GPO presses the transmit button and the data is displayed simultaneously on each gun data terminal.
01:45. The guns are fired. The OP Officer may correct the fire when it is necessary, which is a rare case.
03:00. The target has been effectively neutralised. The psychological shock, of extremely accurate rapid-fire salvos from a large number of guns, will keep the target pulverised for quite some time. The Company Commander’s face lights up with a smile. The OP Officer initiates a shoot termination report.


00:00. Having confirmed a report of a surprise attack along an unexpected approach in the dead of the night, the Company Commander requests his OP Officer to do something quickly while his troops speedily move into their defences.
00:30. The OP Officer initiates a fire request to his Regimental FDC.
01:45. Six- field batteries deliver an airburst concentration of three rounds per gun at rate rapid. One medium battery of 155 mm guns delivers a burst of three rounds per gun each round raining down about 60 impact detonating anti-personnel grenades. Three field guns continuously illuminate the target. The intensity of illumination is so great that the MMGs can bring down accurate aimed fire on the enemy, running helter skelter for cover 800 metres away.
Another 155 mm medium battery litters the area in front of the attacking troops (250 by 250 metres) with anti-personnel mines, each round sending down a hail of about 30 anti-personnel mines, thus effectively sealing the approach with an instantaneous minefield.
04:00. The enemy retreats in shock and confusion, having suffered about 40 percent casualties. No one will be able to motivate this lot to go into another attack – not in this war at least. Once again, the artillery has beaten back an attack before it could close in with the main defence.


00:00. 15 minutes to H-Hour. An infantry battalion is to put in an attack with two companies up. 20 field, medium and mortar fire units pound the Phase 1 objectives, each in turn, at rate rapid for five minutes. Close to 5 tons of TNT delivered by the guns has physically shattered the defences, caused about 30 percent casualties and irreparably damaged the command and control system.
15:00. H-Hour. As the assaulting troops cross the SL, the dust has still not settled over the objectives. The air is heavy with the fumes and smell of cordite. The defender’s weapons are silent. The only sound is of covering fire shell burst and as it stops, the glorious war cry of the assaulting troops rings out. The attackers capture one more objective without much of a fight. The enemy has withdrawn.


00:00. 5 Minutes to H-Hour. All set for a divisional attack against a well-entrenched enemy. Troops and tank crews in the FUP instinctively turn their heads back, as the characteristic sound of burning rocket motors reaches their ears. Some flashes of fire are still visible near the horizon in the rear in the stillness of the night sky, as the leading rockets hurtle overhead in brief swishes.
00:30. The earth under their feet shakes ominously as the rocket warheads explode in deafening thunder over the main objective. Our troops stand transfixed with awe as, in a short space of less than 30 seconds, a massive salvo of over 700 rocket warheads from a rocket regiment plasters an area of about one square kilometre with tremendously powerful blast waves and terrifyingly lethal fragments. The pre-fragmented, steel-ball filled warheads are specially effective.
01:00. The defences have crumbled into rubble. The chances of there being any survivors are bleak. The salvo of rockets, equivalent in terms of weight of TNT to a salvo of gun fire from 40 medium regiments, has left the defences glowing a dull red in the darkness of the night. Flames from combustible defence material, cast eerie shadows as they dance in the putrid breeze. With an effort, the platoon and tank commanders break away from the awesome sight and get hold of their troops for an assault that seems pointless. The division’s break-in is off to a flying start.


00:00. The early warning elements have confirmed that the muffled roar audible for a few minutes is actually a massive enemy armour thrust. Seconds later, from his vantage OP, the OP Officer sees the leading tanks headed that way at 4000 metres through his powerful image intensifier.
00:30. The OP Officer reports the situation, orders a continuous illumination shoot and initiates a fire request for 155 mm guns to deliver anti-tank mines in the path of the tanks.
00:40. The Regimental fire control computer, automatically warns the Air OP section, the Attack Helicopter teams and OP Officers all along the front.
02:00. Continuous illumination becomes effective.
02:30. About 10 anti-tank mines per 155 mm shell start falling along the approach of the tanks creating an instantaneous minefield with a very high mine density.
03:30. Air OP and Attack Helicopter teams are airborne and on their way. 155 mm medium guns are switched to fire Cannon Launched Guided Projectiles (CLGPs) and Sense and Destroy Armour (SADARM) ammunition.
05:00. OP Officers in the FDLs, start engaging the leading tanks with CLGPs and SADARM ammunition and Air OP pilots start engaging tanks in the main body and the rear. In a typical CLGP engagement, the CLGP is fired from a 155 mm gun. Five to ten seconds before the expected time of impact, the fire control computer cues the OP Officer to designate. The OP officer points his Laser Target Designator at a tank, lighting up a spot with the laser beam. The sensor in the CLGP homes on to the laser lit spot. An on-board micro processor provides terminal guidance commands to the CLGP to correct its trajectory onto the target. Almost every round scores a top-attack direct hit, incapacitating the tank.
05:30. Attack Helicopter pilots launch their Fire-And-Forget tank seeking Nag anti-tank missiles at ranges of upto 3500 metres. Each missile scores a direct nit, blowing the tank into smithereens. The 9-helicopters return to their concealed forward bays to re-arm.
06:00. The first lot of SADARM 155 mm rounds arrive over the tank concentration, now hopelessly bogged down in the minefield, many of them stranded with damaged tracks. The SADARM rounds descending gradually with their parachutes, are a pretty sight to watch, in the brightly lit night sky, above a smouldering tank concentration. The shells burst high above the tank concentration, each ejecting three warheads. The sensor in each warhead seeks out a tank, locks on to it and issues commands to fire a self forging dense metal slug. The powerful projectile is fired, practically vertically downwards at very high velocity, aimed at the top of the tank which is generally always its weakest portion. The projectile announces its arrival by spraying the crew compartment with molten steel. For the crew, however, the end is swift and painless.
07:00. Ground based Nag anti-tank missiles and rocket launchers open up and our own tanks shoot with glee at the few enemy tanks which have relentlessly marched on through thick and thin. The thrust finally grinds to a halt at 2000 metres from our FDLs. The fields are littered with burning tanks, making it a smouldering graveyard. The large number of destroyed tanks will eventually find their way to town squares, perhaps a tourist sight for posterity.


00:00. Enemy guns open up on our defences. Even before the first shells reach their intended targets, our gun locating radars, cued by forward observers, latch on-to them and continue tracking their flight along their trajectories till the shells pass below the line of sight. Simultaneously, the sound ranging base is activated for independent corroboration of the location given by the radars.
01:00. Data of the hostile guns including the accuracy of location, are presented on the display screen of the Counter Bombardment Officer’s (CBO) computer console. The Commander’s CB policy being active, the CBO in concert with the BM of the Artillery Brigade initiates orders for retaliation to fire units placed at Priority Call to him and those allotted for this specific task.
01:30. Available medium batteries receive executive orders to fire.
02:30. The hostile guns are bombarded with a mixture of ground burst and air burst ammunition, subsequent salvos being fired at very short intervals. Since the accuracy of location of enemy guns is less than 50 metres and first salvo effectiveness is guaranteed, the enemy gun positions are lambasted with great accuracy and thrown into a state of panic and chaos. As such they stop firing on our defences and will take at least 20 to 30 minutes to recover and recoup. Meanwhile, our artillery is free to break up the attack even as the assaulting troops are forming up. The next RPV sortie in the area helps in damage assessment.


Preparations for an offensive operation are underway. Various means are being employed to locate enemy guns and independently corroborate the locations. Based on the CB Staff Officer’s appreciation of likely gun areas, Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) reconnaissance sorties are ordered. The pilotless aircraft flies low over the ground at sub-sonic speed. The downward looking TV camera in its fuselage displays a continuous picture of the ground features on the controller’s screen. The controller carefully searches the ground for tell-tale signs of guns. The sorties are repeated at night to obtain IR scans. Once enemy guns are located, fairly accurate grid coordinates can be obtained.
When a Commander wishes to have a good look at the enemy’s dispositions to aid him in making his tactical plan, he ‘reconnoitres’ the area by getting a bird’s eye-view through the TV camera of an artillery RPV.


A night attack is in the offing. Just before the guns fire their first salvo of pre H Hour fire, a 155 mm battery fires successive rounds of gun fire, the carrier shells bursting in the air at varying heights, to selectively cover the battle front. The contents of the shells consist entirely of wafer thin strips of aluminium foil of various shapes and sizes. The aim is to deceive the enemy’s surveillance, gun and mortar locating radars. The dose is periodically repeated and the desired effect is almost wholly achieved.
Shortly before H Hour, illumination and IR smoke shells from guns of various calibers are fired in front of the enemy FDLs. Set to percussion, these shells burst on the ground. The intensity and duration of the illumination and IR smoke is adequate to blind the enemy’s image intensifiers and other passive night vision devices.
The result is that a large number of the enemy’s battlefield surveillance devices are effectively neutralised at a crucial time — during the attack.


The above scenes are not figments of imagination nor are they a valiant attempt at science fiction a la Asimov. They are glimpses of artillery in action on a future battlefield. In fact, most of the new equipment and ammunition developments discussed above, are already in service, or in advanced stages of trials, with various Western artilleries. The recent Gulf War provided unimpeachable evidence of what modern artillery can achieve and indicated the shape of things to come.
In the coming decade the Regiment of Artillery will undergo perhaps the most extensive modernisation since Independence. Sophisticated guns, revolutionary changes in ammunition, automated fire control systems and reliable digital communications will be introduced into service and will lead to the most profound rethinking of artillery tactics since World War Il. Absorbing and adapting to these unprecedented changes will pose a major psychological challenge to the Gunners and the supported arms as the formulator and executors of tactical and technical doctrine.
It is a challenge neither can possibly meet alone. The uncanny feeling that our enemies will doubtlessly acquire corresponding artillery capabilities, perhaps before we do, should spur us to start exercising our minds while there is still time.