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Artillery in the Cold War

With the fall of Khruschev, the Soviet Army began to re-think the possibility of an East-West conflict's having a protracted, non-nuclear phase. Simultaneously, the overall size of the Army began to grow rapidly. In 1965, the Soviet Army had 147 divisions. By 1974, they had 167 and by 1987, more than 200 divisions. As part of this increase, there was an unprecedented growth in conventional artillery strength.

By the early 1960s, as in World War II, approximately one-third of the Soviet combat forces wore the artillery insignia. Since World War II, Soviet artillery experienced a rate of growth and development unequaled by any power in modern times. It was, modestly speaking, the very backbone of defense and the striking force of the attack. The Soviets, true to their unswerving belief in the tactic of MASS, attach at least as great a significance to massed artillery as they do to massed infantry or massed armor. The very fact that Russian artillerymen have substituted the term "artillery attack" for the traditional "artillery preparation" manifests the emphasis placed on artillery.

In Great Patriotic War, when large numbers of cheap, unrefined and relatively simple cannon and multiple rocket launchers, were often employed "hub-to-hub," the Soviets were able to place effective massed fires on their enemies. By the 1960s, the weapons were not so unrefined, inaccurate, and cumbersome. Indeed, they were sophisticated and highly mobile weapons.

By the early 1960s the division artillery consisted of two artillery regiments, each with two howitzer battalions of twelve 122-mm howitzers each. One regiment had a mortar battalion of twelve 160-mm mortars; the other, a gun battalion of twelve 85-mm towed guns. Most howitzer battalions are equipped with the 122-mm howitzer M1938 (fig 28). The 160-mm mortar M1953 has a long tube which breaks near the base plate for loading. The round is then inserted through the open breech, and the weapon is fired by a trigger.

The antiaircraft artillery regiment of 1960 had two light batteries of six twin 57-mm SP AA guns each and two medium batteries of six towed 85-mm AA guns. By 1980 the Tank Division might have a Surface to Air Missile regiment equipped with SA-8 SAM or an AAA regiment equipped with S-60 AA Guns instead of the SA-6 SAM regiment.

The Soviets employ rockets on a larger scale than any other army. The rocket battalion has twelve 150-mm BM-14 multiple launchers. These may be replaced by a six-round launcher, which first appeared in a Moscow parade in 1957. These 17-foot rockets were estimated to be 240-mm in caliber. Apparently, the Soviets intend to expand the use of these mobile area fire weapons, which have served them so well in the past.

With the realization that the battlefield might not be nuclear, it was obvious that an increase in field artillery was the best solution. The latter half of the 1970s saw many Soviet moves in this direction.

  • The artillery battery in motorized rifle regiments became a battalion.
  • Many army-level artillery regiments began converting to four-battalion brigades.
  • The 2S1(122-mm) and 2S3(152-mm) self-propelled weapons were introduced into maneuver divisions.
  • Specialized artillery support and reconnaissance vehicles based on MT-LB (armored personnel carrier) and BMP chassis were introduced.
In the fifteen years up to 1980 Soviet ground forces dramatically increased their conventional military power to the point where they have become the most heavily armed force in the world. The United States Army has responded to these increases in many respects, but significant gaps still remain. As in so many categories of conventional military power, the Soviet Army possesses a dramatic numerical superiority in artillery.

As the 1980s began, further steps were taken to improve the quantity and quality of Soviet artillery. Many non-divisional units increased their guns from six to eight per battery. New munitions were introduced, such as high performance flechette rounds for suppressive fires and incendiary rounds for multiple rocket launchers. Much equipment was added:

  • BM-27 rocket launcher (MRL).
  • The 2S1 self-propelled, amphibious howitzer, fielded in 1974, was used by the Soviets in Afghanistan.
  • The Soviet 2S3, 152-mm howitzer, basically a copy of the American M109, 155-mm howitzer, was used at the division level.
  • 2S5, long-range, self-propelled 152-mm gun.
  • 2S7 self-propelled 203-mm gun.
  • 82-mm automatic mortar.
  • Computerized fire control equipment.
  • Some divisional battalions increased to 24 weapons per battalion.

With the realization of the possibility (indeed the increasing probability) of a conventional phase to any future war, the Soviets conducted exhaustive studies of their own and others military historical experience to determine solutions to the problems such a battlefield might present. A major aspect of this analysis was the realization that artillery will have to accomplish many of the missions previously allocated to nuclear weapons, particularly during the initial period of war. As a result, significant emphasis has been placed on developing the artillery force structure and concepts of employment in the last decade. This was apparent from the increased deployment of artillery systems in general and self- propelled systems in particular as well as the substantial attention artillery tactics receives in the Soviet military press. The allocation of gun tubes in the Motorized Rifle Divisions increased from 168 to 228. The Army Artillery Regiments had likewise grown from 54 to 96 tubes. Development of new systems like the M1975 240 mm mortar and 120 mm airborne howitzer-mortar also pointed to continued interest in new designs.

By the late 1980s the Soviets probably had flooded the division with as much organic artillery as it can reasonably control: seven battalions of cannons, an MRL battalion, a free rocket over ground (FROG) battalion and an antitank battalion. Now the Soviets have more artillery battalions organic to a motorized rifle division than infantry battalions (nine). The introduction of six-weapon "Vasilek" automatic mortar batteries as replacements for the 120-mm mortar at battalion level substantially increased the suppressive firepower available to motorized rifle units.

The Rocket Troops and Artillery have been an important combat arm of the Ground Forces because of the belief that firepower has tremendous destructive and psychological effect on the enemy. A single Soviet artillery battalion firing 18 BM-21 rocket launchers can place 35 tons of explosive rockets on a target 17 miles away in just 30 seconds. In 1989 the Ground Forces had eighteen artillery divisions, in addition to the artillery and missile units organic to armies and divisions. Artillery and surface-to-surface missile brigades were attached to each combined arms or tank army. An artillery regiment and a surface-to-surface missile battalion were parts of each Soviet motorized rifle and tank division. In 1989 the Rocket Troops and Artillery manned 1,400 "operational-tactical" surface-to-surface missile launchers.

The December 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union called for the elimination of all short-range ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 1,000 kilometers. The treaty required elimination of more than 900 Soviet SS-12 and SS-23 missile launchers. As of mid-1989, all SS-12 missiles had been eliminated. All SS-23 missiles had to be eliminated before the end of 1989, according to the terms of the treaty. After the reductions mandated in the treaty, the Soviet battlefield missile inventory still contained over 800 modern SS-21 missile launchers with a range of 100 kilometers, as well as older SS-1 launchers and unguided free rocket over ground (FROG) missiles that were fielded in the 1950s. These tactical missiles can deliver nuclear or chemical weapons as well as conventional munitions.

In 1989 the Rocket Troops and Artillery had approximately 30,000 artillery pieces; of these, 10,000 were capable of firing conventional high-explosive, nuclear, or chemical rounds. Since the 1970s, this powerful combat arm has fielded more than 5,000 selfpropelled 122mm and 152mm howitzers, 152mm and 203mm guns, and 240mm mortars. These artillery pieces, which are mounted on tank chassis, have replaced some towed artillery pieces. The Rocket Troops and Artillery also had truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers, each with forty tubes, to provide massive fire support for the Ground Forces.

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