The Third Revolution Of Artillery
SUBJECT AREA Artillery
Title: THE THIRD REVOLUTION OF ARTILLERY
Author: Major S. A. Bucher, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: New technologies introduced in the past twenty years
indicate we are about to experience another such transformation of
artillery. Viewed in a historical context, future artillery
employment will undergo a dramatic change and significantly alter
the future battlefield.
Background: Artillery has undergone two revolutionary changes in
its history. The first change lifted artillery from the static
role of a siege machine and gave it the mobility needed for the
battlefield. The second change, brought about as a result of the
devastating effects of infantry fire, enabled artillery to perform
its mission using indirect fire. The "third revolution" of
artillery has just begun. It is a revolution of technology-driven
improvements to its capabilities. The artillery of the future will
no more resemble today's than Napoleonic artillery resembled the
artillery of WWI. Tactics and employment will change to conform
with greater ranges, rates of fire, and lethality. Survivability
will be enhanced by constant displacement, without interrupting
THE THIRD REVOLUTION OF ARTILLERY
Thesis: New technologies introduced in the past twenty years
indicate we are about to experience another such transformation
of artillery. Viewed in a historical context, future artillery employment will undergo a dramatic change and significantly
alter the future battlefield.
I. The first revolutionary change of artillery
C. Offensive usage
II. The second revolutionary change to artillery
A. Indirect fire
B. Recoil systems
C. Greater battlefield density
III. The evolution of artillery since the First World War
A. Self-propelled artillery
B. C 2
D. The firebase tactics of Vietnam
IV. The third revolution of artillery
A. Weapon system technology
B. Munitions technology
V. The tactical result of the future artillery on the battlefield
A. Employment changes
B. Tactical changes
C. The deep battle
THE THIRD REVOLUTION OF ARTILLERY
"It is with artillery that war is made."
After the Battle of Lobau, May 1809
"Artillery conquers and infantry occupies" was a common quote
during the First World War. In truth, nothing was ever "conquered"
by artillery and the First World War became an aberration due to
the tactic of reliance on firepower at the expense of maneuver.
Historically, artillery has complemented maneuver. While the
technological and tactical relationship between artillery and other
combat arms has waxed and waned since its inception, artillery has
consistently remained the principal casualty-producing weapon on
the battlefield. Each time the relative effects of artillery
waned, new technological changes arrived that brought it back to
the forefront on the battlefield.
There have been two revolutionary changes to artillery since
it first appeared in the 14th century. The first revolution gave
artillery mobility, the second revolution enabled artillery to
conduct accurate indirect fire. Both of these fundamental changes
resulted from a series of technological improvements that combined
to alter greatly artillery and the battlefield. New technologies
introduced in the past twenty years indicate we are about to
experience another such transformation of artillery. Viewed in a
historical context, future artillery employment will undergo a
dramatic change and significantly alter the future battlefield.
Artillery was designed initially as a siege machine and
relegated to siege and counter-siege operations. The greatest
limitation on the use of early artillery was the lack of mobility
due to their tremendous size of these early monoliths. It was not
until the Thirty Years War and the fielding in 1630 of a mobile
cannon, called the "leather cannon" in the army of Sweden's King
Gustavs II Adolfus 1 that field artillery came into being. The
introduction of a truly mobile artillery piece for the battlefield
gave the Swedes a strategic advantage. Until copied by others, the
"leather cannon" made Sweden the only nation capable of projecting
firepower hundreds of yards and maneuver their artillery to counter
the movements of the enemy, giving them an undisputed advantage on
the battlefield. Thus, the first great change that occurred with
artillery was mobility. Mobility transformed artillery from a
static role, to a mobile one and thus was born the first "field"
artillery. Commanders were now able to shift firepower by quickly
maneuvering artillery units in response to the tactical actions on
Ultima Ratio Regum
(The Final Argument of Kings)
Motto inscribed on French cannon by order of Louis XIV, 1638-1715
Evolutionary changes occurred as a result of the introduction
of mobile field artillery. Frederick the Great integrated
artillery into all his operations. During the Napoleonic Era, the
French did much to standardize artillery, making logistics
simplifier. During this same time, the number of artillery pieces
grew proportionally on the battlefield. Artillery's range was
still short, only about 1000 meters, and it was used chiefly to
break up enemy attacks or would emplace in range of the enemy's
defenses to support infantry and calvary attacks. 2 By emplacing
artillery to support infantry attacks, artillery became an
offensive combat arm. From the middle of the eighteenth century
to the middle of the nineteenth century, artillery accounted for
50% of battlefield casualties.
The mid-nineteenth century brought great improvements to
infantry weapons. Infantry weapons such as breechloading rifles,
gattling guns, and early machine guns, reduced the effects of
artillery to 10% 3 of casualties from the mid-nineteenth century
until the First World War. Infantry developments increased the
range of organic weapons until they rivaled direct-fire artillery.
Artillery technology had failed to keep up with the infantry.
Artillery usage, rightfully so, fell. This period of infantry
dominance came to be characterized as the heyday of the infantry.
With rifles achieving ranges approaching that of artillery, the
defense flourished over the offense 4 and led such notables as
Clausewitz to declare the defense the stronger of the two forms of
combat. Despite a standstill in the capabilities of artillery, the
battlefield density of artillery per kilometer rose from about 40
during the Napoleonic Era, to several hundred in the European Wars
of the 1870's-1880's 5. One would suppose that the idiom later to
be voiced by Lenin ". . . quantity has a quality all it's own" played
true with the artillery of the second half of the nineteenth
Nineteenth century artillery, unable to stand toe-to-toe on
the battlefield against infantry fire, metamorphized into an
indirect weapon system. This became the second revolutionary
change to artillery, beginning in the latter years of the 1880's
with the development of recoil systems. Indirect fire was a
capability of artillery before the advent of recoil systems but it
was not accurate enough for serious consideration. This was
because the guns had to be repositioned and relaid after each
firing, due to the considerable rearward movement of the gun after
it fired each round. With a recoil system, it was now possible to
fire artillery repeatedly at targets beyond visual range, possible
adjusted by forward observers via semaphore or telegraph. This was
the begining of what one could call "modern artillery."
"Fire has become the decisive argument."
Principles of War, 1920
World War One was the genesis of modern artillery. Indirect
fire, improved communications, and heavier weapons with longer
ranges played havoc with the linear formations of the infantry.
The idiom "artillery conquers and infantry occupies" came into
being and was the de facto method of waging war. Artillery
concentrations grew to several hundred guns per kilometer of
defended terrain. The logistics burden that this concentration
created was enormous. At the battle of Verdun alone, twenty-four
million rounds of artillery were expended over a sixteen week
period 6. This equates to six thousand rounds per gun or roughly one
hundred and five tons of ammunition per gun. 7 This logistically
burden caught military planners by surprise and unable to react.
Ammunition thus became a force multiplier. For example, a French
battery with four guns normally had a total of 1,248 rounds
immediately available. A German battery of six guns normally
possessed only 780 rounds. Due to a higher rate of fire and more
readily-available ammunition, the French artillery enjoyed initial
advantages in the First World War. 8
The period between World Wars saw little in the way of
significant changes to artillery. Technological improvements, most
notably radio communications and self-propelled artillery, were
evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes. Artillery doctrine
concentrated on organizational changes to conform with an evolving
interaction with mechanized forces but, by the outbreak of World
War Two, had once again become the neglected arm of combat. This
neglect can be attributed largely to the horrors of the First World
War and the desire of the world's militaries to seek an alternative
to the infantry linear tactics of that war. The solutions to the
static defenses of WWI seemed the application armor and airpower
onto the battlefield.
This marriage of armor and airpower culminated with the German
rearmament in the 1930's. The Germans believed that
armored/mechanized forces would be better supported on the
battlefield by Sturzkampfflugzeuge or "Stuka" aircraft rather than
by the slower artillery. 9 The speed and firepower of aircraft,
combined with that of armor, was seen as the future.
"It is of great value to an army, whether in defense
or offense, to have at its disposal a mass of heavy
The Gathering Storm, 1948
When the Second World War broke out, the British and the
French immediately established a pattern of area, or position,
defenses that were quickly overcome by the German Blitzkrieg of the
Wehrmacht. It would be in North Africa where the concept of fire
and maneuver would be validated. Despite the numerous followers
of J.F.C. Fuller's concept of a fluid battlefield dominated by
armor, the British Army would become almost completely reliant on
static defenses, similar to WWI. By 1942, the British relied
completely on attacks supported by artillery, an outgrowth of their
ability to project mass as a function of industrial output. This
reversion in tactics was responsible for every British success in
the Second World War until 1945 10. While the wily "Desert Fox,"
Rommel, continued to employ maneuver as his chief tactic, British
massed firepower and infantry eventually proved superior.
In North Africa, some of the problems of the First World War
regarding artillery logistics reappeared. When the British
attacked Tobruk in January 1941, they had to delay their assault
for sixteen days to allow for sufficient stocks of ammunition to
be brought forward, thus losing the element of surprise. As with
the First World War, the logistic trains required to supply
artillery fell short of demand 11, a situation that would continue
until late in the war.
Massed artillery, although it never reached the proportions
of World War I, quickly came back into vogue in the Second World
War. Aerial observation and improved Command and Control (C 2) made
targeting more precise and flexible, thus avoiding the need to
saturate areas with artillery to insure effectiveness.
The Allies also sought to use their artillery to suppress
enemy artillery, an operation called an "artillery duel" in WWII
but now referred to as counter-battery fire. There were some
stunning successes with counter-battery fires in WWII. At the
Battle of El Alamein in May, 1942; the British artillery opened up
against the German artillery fifteen minutes before H-Hour and
severely mauled the 250 German Guns. This gave the 1,000 British
guns a 20:1 numerical advantage at a critical point of the battle.
One year later, at the Battle of Kurst, the Russians detected 104
German battery positions and destroyed 90 of them. The tremendous
German armored assault into the Kurst Salient was defeated for many
reasons, an almost absence of artillery support was one of them.
It was once again made clear to commanders on both sides that fire
and maneuver was required for modern war.
From the end of the Second World War through the Vietnam
artillery experienced few changes. The changes that did occur
were, again, evolutionary. Self-propelled artillery was developed
in the 1920's as a natural solution to a mechanized environment.
Radar, first used in WWII, was refined for artillery applications
to locate enemy artillery. Tactically, the system of "fire bases"
used in the Vietnam War may seem to be a change from the
traditional massing of artillery. However, by positioning
batteries so that they could provide a fire support umbrella for
maneuver units, artillery was providing an adequate level of
support for friendly forces engaged in an action against an enemy
who rarely employed mass. This application of artillery firepower
was thus generally consistent with both friendly and enemy tactics.
The introduction of new technologies since Vietnam may provide
artillery with another revolutionary change. Automation and
improved munitions promise to transform artillery into an indirect
fire means remarkably more lethal than present and with ranges
comparable to tactical aircraft.
With little fanfare in the early 1980's, artillery was
revolutionized by the fielding of the Multiple Rocket Launcher
System (MRLS.) While rockets and multiple rocket launchers have
existed for hundreds of years, the introduction of the MRLS-type
systems may change forever artillery and the combined arms
interaction on the future battlefield. The MRLS vehicle possesses
all the necessary fire direction onboard. Additionally, it can
electronically determine its position and direction. This allows
it to orient itself very quickly without outside support, determine
its own firing data, and shoot. Within a single MRLS vehicle there
now resides the technical fire control functions of a battery. The
MRLS carries twelve rockets in two protected packages ready to
fire, and it can fire all twelve rockets in a matter of seconds.
Its range of thirty kilometers is essentially the same as
conventional artillery but the warhead of each rocket contains
improved sub-munitions which can blanket a large area in a very
short amount of time with telling effect.
What makes the MRLS, and its Soviet copy, truly revolutionary
is its potential. We have developed a weapon system that can
independently move, position, and fire. It possess good range and
excellent target coverage with greater lethality.
Immediately after development of the MRLS, the Army began to
develop an improved missile for use with the MRLS launcher, the
Army Tactical Missile System or ATACMS. ATACMS is loaded into the
same package as six MRLS rockets and can be fired from the MRLS.
Its range is over one hundred and fifty kilometers and it possesses
a powerful warhead of improved sub-munitions. Army artillery now
has the ability to join the fight for the deep battle.
Still under development are two additional rockets for the
MRLS. One will be essentially unguided but have an extended range
of 45 kilometers. Another is a guided rocket with a 70 kilometer
range. It is guided with the existing technology found in the
Global Positioning System (GPS.) These missiles will enable MRLS
to fire out to ranges of 45, 70 12, or 150 kilometers, depending on
the rocket employed. MRLS rockets will greatly increase the range
and firepower with which the ground commander can shape the
While artillery rockets and missiles may be the first to
systems to extend the range of artillery into the deep battle, the
development of new gun systems is equally promising. Recent
research into railgun technologies is impressive but the fielding
of such a gun does not loom on the foreseeable horizon.
Theoretically, with sufficient portable power source, a railgun can
propel a projectile many times the range of current conventional
More feasible, in the short-to-medium time, are automated
liquid propellent and unicharge guns. Already in the advanced
stages of development, liquid propellant will give artillery
greater flexibility because of its ability to fire rapidly and at
greater ranges. Successful firings from one gun completed recently
achieved ranges in excess of 40 kilometers13. Additionally, one-
gun Time on Targets (TOTs) of four rounds per gun have been
accomplished with the highly-automated Human Factors Howitzer Test
Bed (HFHTB) by varying the propellant charge and the elevation.
This effectively quadruples the firepower of every HFHTB-type gun
over our current artillery, giving a single HFHTB gun the
capabilities of four conventional guns.
Unicharge guns employ propellants that do not need to be
adjusted, the entire charge is fired regardless of the range to the
target. The benefit being that a propellant that is fixed will
lend itself better to automated loading and firing. The high rates
of fire from both of these types of guns are astronomical. The
HFHTB has demonstrated a capability to fire one round every five
seconds, twice as fast as the best rate of fire for the
conventional M-198 howitzer.
The ammunition for future artillery systems will be more
capable than a current load of artillery ammunition. ICM shells
distributed the effects of high explosive over a wider area and
give it an enhanced capability against armor with the shaped
charges of the bomblets. Projectiles such as Copperhead engage
individual targets with great precision and improved lethality.
Future rounds of artillery ammunition will combine greater area
coverage, precision, and lethality. The SADARM family of munitions
will disperse sub-munitions that use sensors to seek out and
destroy individual targets. Terminal Guidance Warhead (TWG)
technologies loom on the horizon with even greater capabilities.
One such sub-munition, BAT, will be utilized in MRLS-based
artillery rocket warheads. It will not only seek out and destroy
armor, but will coordinate the attack so that one target within a
group of targets is engaged by not more than one sub-munitions 14.
While the artillery currently under development can shoot
farther, faster, and with more deadly and efficient munitions; the
most startling change in the field artillery will be in how it will
The current technique requesting artillery fire support has
the Forward Observer (FO) sending his request for fire to the Fire
Direction Center (FDC). The FDC computes the data and transmits
this data to the guns, who shoot it. Future field artillery will
have, with each gun, the ability compute the gun's own firing data,
as well as position determining devices to determine its precise
location. With improved rates of fire and munitions with greater
capabilities, one or two future guns can provide the support that
a current battery can deliver. What will this mean? The FO will
transmit his request for fire directly to one or two guns. These
guns will fire in support of the FO while the artillery
battery/battalion monitors and augments these fires with additional
if required. Thus the FO will be directly tied into the guns.
Artilleryman s Maxim
Tactical employment of artillery will be altered. Future gun
systems will be much more capable and therefore, more lucrative
targets. Artillery that is capable of firing many times faster,
at greater ranges, and with much greater accuracy, will have a
logarithmic increase in importance to friend and foe. The enemy
will attempt to locate and destroy these systems. The friendly
forces will attempt to hide and displace the guns quickly so as to
deny the enemy to chance to destroy them. The tactic of firing and
then quickly displacing artillery quickly is not a new one. During
the Cold War, when the Soviet hordes were our greatest threat, it
was the only method we believed we could employ to allow our
artillery to survive. The problem with this tactic is that the
artillery is not able to fire while on the move. Additionally, it
took time to displace from the old position and emplace in the new
This "shoot and scoot" tactic can result in a substantial
portion of the force's artillery unable to fire because it is
moving, an undesirable situation in a high threat environment.
Technology may have given us a solution. The MRLS has been fielded
for several years now. An interesting aspect of the MRLS is that
everything MRLS needs to fire is located on the vehicle and is
automated. This allows the vehicle to be moving down the road and
still be able to respond to requests for fire. If a request
arrived while moving, the vehicle would halt. The computer
determines its position, orients the launcher and computes the
firing data. The crew then drop the blast shields over the
windows, and fires the mission. Response time will become
measured, even in a traveling mode, in seconds instead of minutes.
This same technology can be applied to gun systems and is a
requirement for systems under development such as the HFHTB.
Once such technology is resident throughout artillery,
artillery tactics will change. The enemy will increase his efforts
to locate and destroy artillery assets because of its potency.
Friendly artillery will have to compensate by immediately moving
once fired. However, artillery support to the maneuver unit will
not be adversely effected. Even when moving, it will be able to
respond quickly and accurately if called upon.
Our traditional artillery-infantry support in the Marine Corps
has one artillery battalion supporting one infantry regiment.
Given the increased capabilities of future artillery systems, it
is conceivable that this arrangement will change. Future batteries
will possess the firepower of older artillery battalions. With
extended ranges, general support artillery may become the norm.
By dedicating only the minimum number of guns necessary to direct
support missions, the ground combat commander can use the remaining
to respond to a changing battlefield, or prosecute deeper battles.
In any scenario, the functions currently resident in the
artillery battalion would have to be performed routinely by the
artillery battery. Many of the battery functions will be performed
by individual guns. The digitized request for fire from the FO
would be sent to the battery who would simply retransmit it in a
matter of seconds to the guns that would fire it. The actual fire
direction would be resident on the guns themselves. The battery
would thus be the de facto manager of artillery firing units within
their assigned sector. The artillery battalion would be freed to
manage the battlefield interdiction operations with their remaining
units and augment the fires of the batteries when required. The
artillery regiment could, with corps-level assets, manage the deep
The deep battle is fought by the Marine Air-Ground Task Force
(MAGTF) commander. His only significant resource to fight this
battle, currently, is the Air Component Element (ACE), usually a
force of a few Harriers to an entire Marine Air Wing. Thus, the
deep battle has become an air battle monitored by the Fire Support
Coordinator (FSC) at the Fire Support Coordination Center (FSCC)
or the Force Fires Coordination Center (FFCC.)
MRLS and future artillery will allow the GCE to become an
active participant in the deep battle. While surface fires cannot
supplant aviation, it can augment it. Areas that pose too high a
threat to air can be covered by MRLS-based systems or soften-up by
such systems so that the threat to air is reduced. Suppression of
Enemy Air Defenses, or SEAD, fires will become commonplace not only
in the close and interdiction fight, but in the deep battle as
well. In order to accomplish this, coordination will have to be
extensive. The FSO will have to plan for, and coordinate, the deep
battlefield as well as the close fight for the air and ground side
of the MAGTF.
The inclusion of artillery in the deep battle gives the MAGTF
commander a wider variety of tools to shape the battlefield. Being
able to bring to bear multiple types of weapon systems, he won't
have to rely solely on one asset type. By combining surface and
air fires, he will develop a synergistic effect on the enemy, keep
him off balance, and be better able to maintain the initiative
throughout the battlefield.
While operationally more potent, future artillery systems are
designed with logistics in mind as well. Propellants such as the
liquid or unicharge propellant are smaller and reduce waste. The
propellant drum carried on the HFHTB will replace the current
propellant that requires a five-ton truck to transport. Simply
stated, whereas now one truck is required to transport the daily
powder requirements of one battery, in the future, that same truck
will be able to transport the liquid propellant required daily for
Another impact on logistics may be the actual number of
projectiles required. The logistical burden artillery placed on
battlefield forces has been greatly reduced due to the increased
effectiveness of modern munitions. It has been calculated that
3,000 rounds of High Explosive (HE) ammunition is required to
destroy an enemy battery. That same enemy battery can now be
statistically destroyed with 300 rounds of Dual Purpose Improved
Conventional Munitions (DPICM). It only takes three five-ton
trucks to carry that amount of DPICM ammunition compared to thirty
five-ton trucks for the HE that would be required to fire the same
mission to the same result. With the development of Sense and
Destroy Armor (SADARM) munitions, the number of rounds to engage
successfully a notional enemy battery reduces to thirty rounds,
about one-third of a truck load of ammunition 15.
The future of artillery is bright with change. Increased
rates of fire, ranges, and effectiveness while reducing logistical
requirements will make artillery a tremendously valuable as set on
the battlefield. Fires will be able to be placed much deeper than
before into the enemy's rear, thus adding tremendous depth. Ground
forces will have to increase dispersion and therefore increase
surveillance to cover the gaps in their sectors. Artillery will
become mobile instead of static in order to survive. Yet this
mobility will not effect its ability to deliver timely and accurate
fires when needed. All of these developments combine to create the
third revolutionary change to artillery, the application of
technology to dramatically increase artillery capabilities.
"Leave the artillerymen alone. They are an obstinate lot.
1. Scott, Franklin D. Sweden, the Nation's History. Dexter, MN:
University of Minnesota Press, 1977.
2. Keegan, John. The Mask of Command. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.
3. Bailey, J.B.A. Field Artillery and Firepower. Oxford: The Military
4. English, John A. A Perspective on Infantry. New York: Praeger
5. Bailey, J.B.A. Appendix A.
6. Bailey, J.B.A., Appendix A.
7. Bailey, J.B.A. pp. 46.
8. Bailey, J.B.A. p. 26.
9. English, John A. p. 98.
10. Bailey, J.B.A. p.176.
11. Bailey, J.B.A. p. 182.
12. Simmons, Cliff, Major, USMC at the Artillery Section of the
Warfighting Center. Quantico, VA, 2 February 1992.
13. Pengelley, Rupert; Hammick, Murray; and Hewish, Mark. "New SP Artillery Developments." International Defense Review, Vol. 24
9/1991, pp. 929-937.
14. Roberts, Kenneth M. "Falling Prey to a BAT Out of Hell." Field
Artillery. February 1992.
15. Wroth, Mark B. "Legal Mix VII - Directions for the Field
Artillery." Field Artillery, December 1991. pp. 42-46.
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