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Thread: Retooling the Artilleryman

  1. #81
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    Default "Dead branch walking?"

    Can Army artillery units hit the side of a barn? Maybe not, according to a troubling internal memo sent this month to Army Chief of Staff George Casey by three former brigade commanders.

    “The once-mighty ‘King of Battle’ ” is a “dead branch walking,” write the active-duty colonels in the five-page document obtained by National Journal. With “growing alarm,” they describe “deterioration” in artillery readiness to perform its most basic missions. In training, “firing incidents [occur] during every rotation”; “crew drills are very slow, and any type of [disorder] halts operations”; and, absent instructor intervention, “most” cannon platoons would have fired in unsafe conditions, the memo says.

    The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn experienced artillery troops into other jobs—like infantry and transportation—where soldiers are badly needed, the authors write. Ninety percent of fire-support personnel have been reassigned, leaving behind fewer than 10 percent certified for the mission.

    “General Casey seeks out and appreciates receiving feedback [from] commanders and soldiers in the field,” said an Army spokesman, who declined to comment on the memo’s specifics.—Elaine Grossman
    http://www.nationaljournal.com/njmag...65&story3=null

    Anyone heard anything about the memo in question?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granite_State View Post
    http://www.nationaljournal.com/njmag...65&story3=null

    Anyone heard anything about the memo in question?
    I've got it but can't forward it outside of DoD. Send me a PM if you have a .mil account and are current DoD.

    It pretty much laments that the FA has done everything but arty since 2003, and the branch has problems. For example, LTC Yingling's FA BN is deploying - to do detainee ops at Bucca. Other FA units are doing infantry BN work, perimeter guard (particularly MLRS units), or convoy escort. It worked as a short fix in 2003-2004, but after 5 years is now beginning to threaten long term ability of the FA to do their assigned mission. I also think it was written by non-FA because if it came from FA branch it could/would be seen as whining - instead it's maneuver commanders bringing up the issue.

    Other branches (tankers, engineers) are in a similar box, but both do most of their core skillsets downrange on a regular basis. Also slight miscalculations with 155mm have worse effects.
    Last edited by Cavguy; 04-29-2008 at 07:47 PM. Reason: OPSEC
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    Default artillery escort

    I have been in an airborne 155mm FA battalion for over 3 years now, and went from putting rounds down-range, to training and executing convoy security, to SECFOR training, to cancel SECFOR and relearn rounds down range.

    Our BN is finally back into shooting and getting good, but it took a long time and a lot of hard work from every member of the battalion. It is serious business, and takes a lot longer than most people assume, since a lot of FA is perishable skills. Also, with fast promotions, we have Officers and NCOs that have little to no gun time. The constant switch to non-standard missions is having a serious impact on FA as a branch. From the officer side, most LTs and junior CPTs have little if any FA experience. Not necessarily all bad for leadership sake, but definately puts them at disadvantage as battery commander, who needs to know safety, gunnery, and crew drill. The high number of FA on MTT assignments is also hurting the branch, since a lot of CPTs are not staying in or attending the Captains Course. Guys who joined to shoot howitzers may not see one in their first 4-5 years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    I've got it but can't forward it outside of DoD. Send me a PM if you have a .mil account and are current DoD.

    It pretty much laments that the FA has done everything but arty since 2003, and the branch has problems. For example, LTC Yingling's FA BN is deploying - to do detainee ops at Bucca. Other FA units are doing infantry BN work, perimeter guard (particularly MLRS units), or convoy escort. It worked as a short fix in 2003-2004, but after 5 years is now beginning to threaten long term ability of the FA to do their assigned mission. I also think it was written by non-FA because if it came from FA branch it could/would be seen as whining - instead it's maneuver commanders bringing up the issue.

    Other branches (tankers, engineers) are in a similar box, but both do most of their core skillsets downrange on a regular basis. Also slight miscalculations with 155mm have worse effects.
    No .mil, but thanks for the reply. Interesting that it's from maneuver commanders, I'd assumed it was artillery officers that wrote it.

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    PATMC,

    You mention it takes a long time to re-train artilley. Can you give a rough estimate? Would you be confident firing artillery in support of a maneuver unit in 2 weeks if necessary?

    I ask this because there's been a bit of a stir of late suggesting that we're losing our "conventional" warfighting skills. Often with this line of thought comes, be careful or we might find ourselves facing similar problems to those the IDF recently experienced against Hezbollah.

    While I think this argument overlooks a whole variety of reasons why Hezbollah posed such a problem for the IDF, I do think it's important nonetheless and something we very much need to keep in mind.

    I'm currently reading Victory at High Tide: The Inchon-Seoul Campaign.
    As I turn the pages I keep thinking about the issue of whether we are indeed losing our "conventional" capabilities and, if this is true, I'm trying to figure out the timeline to become proficient again (I'm a grunt so can't speak much, if at all to arty, tanks, engineers, etc.). The article mentions 6-12 months to become proficient in arty again. To be honest, this seems like an extremely long time considering the Inchon invasion. Early July 1950 the Commandant of the Marine Corps is asked if he can execute a division-sized amphibious invasion at Inchon in September. At the time the Marines are fighting for their very existent and barely have 1 functioning and decently trained regimental combat team in the Corps. Remnants of another exist at Camp Lejeune. Since 1945, the Marine Corps' conducted minimal amphibious training; same for the Navy. Little to no battalion or higher exercises. In fact, the main thing that the Marine Corps' been doing from 1945-1950 is becoming smaller, having the budget cut, and figuring out very creative ways to train with little to no funding.

    When the Commandant gives the word "go" around 8 July the barely functional regiment is sent to the Pusan Perimeter, and two other regiments are formed by activating reservists and taking almost all other Marines from North Carolina, Hawaii and elsewhere and sending them to Camp Pendleton to join 1st and 7th Marines. Amphibious vehicles, mothballed at the time, are sent from Barstow, CA to San Diego. Marines that used the vehicles in 1945, 5 years earlier, re-familiarize themselves with them, the Marines get whatever gear they can find, jump on ships, and are off in early Aug for the Pacific. No training at the company level or higher. Ships on the way over are jam packed. This definitely doesn't facilitate training. Typhoons mess up the prep timeline. 5th Marines, which had been fighting in the Pusan (allegedly one of the best, if not the best unit holding the perimeter), is pulled back and sent to link-up w/ the rest of 1MARDIV. Old and barely functional landing craft staged in vicinity of Japan from 1945 onward, piloted in some cases by former Japanese naval officers, take the Marines ashore. No amphibious rehearsal. Almost all odds against the joint-force landing. But in the end, the operation, executed on 15 September 1950, is a resounding success. Heart. Determination. The Will to Win and Only to Win. These rule the day.

    I can't help but to think about this when some say we're not ready to fight a "conventional" fight today. If you tell a Marine or Soldier to attack something today, in my heart-of-hearts I know they'd accomplish the mission just as the 1stMar Div (and 7th Infantry Division) did at Inchon and then into Seoul.
    Last edited by Maximus; 04-30-2008 at 04:28 AM.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Interesting post, Maximus. Good points.

    Having been in the 1st Mar Bde at the time, I can testify that what you say is true and that the Bde and later the Div did everything it was supposed to do. I can also say it was not easy; it got done but it was tough and there were excess casualties due to all the factors you cite.

    There were two differences then and now which may or may not be significant, only time will tell. The first is that the Officers and NCOs of the Div virtually all were combat experienced in WW II and a large number had prior 'Banana War' experience and all that experience was generally in their nominal field of expertise. The second is that there was a difference in general attitude with respect to acceptance of what the fates wrought then as opposed to now, I believe.

    It is pretty well proven that COIN efforts enhance the skill of individual Infantrymen and are neutral to mildly detrimental to the skills of those in the other Combat Arms.

    Given all three factors, I think that skill deterioration is a big concern -- but I agree with you that the Troops will make it work regardless under most circumstances.

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    Ken,

    Thanks for the post. Semper Fi brother!

    How small a world it is. I served with 1st Mar in OIF-I. I am also reluctant to say outright that we're not ready to fight a "conventional" fight because my experiences in 2002-2003. I checked into 1st Mar in Nov '02. No platoon. The battalion's at roughly 30% strength. We're all called back from Christmas leave and told we're going to war. All the Lts present, we were still short quite a few Lts at the time, look at each other wondering where the Marines for the platoons are. Marines from the School of Infantry East and West are sent to 1st Mar, specifically, 1st Bn 4th Marines, at the cyclic rate. On 5 Jan 2003, I have a platoon of 30 Marines; my other squad is in Kuwait at the time and I won't link-up with them until 25 Feb, having never met any of the Marines. We get on ship on 17 Jan 2003, having never conducted a platoon, company or battalion live-fire and maneuver exercise. We did what we could on ship. We trained hard but as far as live-fire goes, there's only so much one can do on a "small" deck. We land in Kuwait 25 Feb. Link-up with the other squad. Train for about 3 weeks in the desert, almost exclusively at the platoon and limited rehearsals at the company level. We have no AAVs at the time. All rehearsals are conducted dismounted or using 7-ton trucks. 19 March we get AAVs; many of these AAVs are in a sorry state. All day and night long our AAV warriors, reservists from Texas, burn the midnight oil getting the vehicles up. We cross the LD 20Mar, towing one of my platoon's 3 AAVs.

    In the end, the Marines fought like hell, fixed AAVs under ponchos while on the move at night, executing combined arms, tank/mech-infantry integration, and enduring the elements the whole time... nasty sand-storms, down to 1 MRE a day and very limited water, etc. (Please don't think that I'm even trying to compare this to the Chosin). We even executed a river crossing in the AAVs to get into Baghdad.

    I say all this because, as you know, ultimately what we can do comes down to Heart, the Will to Win and Only to Win, Teamwork, Esprit, etc.

    All this said, we must be aware of skills that are atrophying and find ways to alleviate this/these problems. I think, at least in the Marine Corps, we're doing this.

    Semper Fi,
    Scott

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    Default maneuver support

    Personally, I would not want to be in a maneuver unit receiving danger close rounds from a FA unit with only 2 weeks training, but that being said, it could be done. The crew drills and basic Fire Direction could be done, at least. If you took infantryman or tankers, and gave them 2 weeks non-stop on a howitzer, they could probably emplace and shoot. Could they emplace, shoot low/high angle, out of traverse, march order, move, emplace, and repeat? Probably not. Also, who would train and lead them?

    The biggest issue we have is experienced trainers and leaders. A healthy FA unit has NCOs with years of hands on experience. When a FA unit stops shooting for 2 years plus, and as people PCS, ETC, get promoted, etc... you lose your experience level. There is no one to train the trainers.

    For the Fire Direction Centers, I do not think you would want to take non-13D's and create a FDC from scratch in two weeks. Soldiers, NCO's and Officers spend months learning gunnery. I don't think you could cut it down to two weeks. Again, you would also find few commanders willing to shoot their rank with that FDC.

    For maintenance and support, it takes a U6, the howitzer maintenance expert, several weeks in school, plus months - years of hands-on experience to master their howitzer. The ammo sections also need training in drawing, handling, then preparing the rounds for fire missions.

    Can you take a battalion of redlegs, put them in the field for 2 weeks and teach them basic infantry skills? Yes, we've done it. Could they move to an objective, clear it, and move out... yes. Was it pretty? No, but it worked.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maximus View Post
    PATMC,

    You mention it takes a long time to re-train artilley. Can you give a rough estimate? Would you be confident firing artillery in support of a maneuver unit in 2 weeks if necessary?
    Last edited by Steve Blair; 04-30-2008 at 02:13 PM. Reason: fixed quote

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Question Not to take away from the concern

    But can someone tell me what the likelihood of Full out and out Ground Arty component being a mainstay in the future. If the USAF gets the 22's and others then when comparing ground arty in relation to Air or Naval Arty which are the more likely to be used in largess. Isn't it a little harder for an enemy to take out supporting assets that are in the air or the ocean than on the ground.

    Pound for pound what is the tradeoff between these and is it even something to be considered or can our forces not accomplish the missions without 155's on the ground.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Humphrey View Post
    But can someone tell me what the likelihood of Full out and out Ground Arty component being a mainstay in the future. If the USAF gets the 22's and others then when comparing ground arty in relation to Air or Naval Arty which are the more likely to be used in largess. Isn't it a little harder for an enemy to take out supporting assets that are in the air or the ocean than on the ground.

    Pound for pound what is the tradeoff between these and is it even something to be considered or can our forces not accomplish the missions without 155's on the ground.

    Except in bad weather. Or for some reason our Aircraft can't/won't be overhead.

    Also, response time for Arty is damn near immediate, aircraft take time to come overhead. Arty is usually Direct Support to the unit, meaning it can be grabbed immediately. Aircraft are subject to the ATO and CAOC priority of allocation. If the battle is over a wide front, you may not get aircraft support.

    Arty can provide continuous fire to suppress an enemy, for hours if needed. Aircraft have limited bombs and can't stay on station.

    We're not to the point that JDAMs can replicate indirect fire support.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Except in bad weather. Or for some reason our Aircraft can't/won't be overhead.

    Also, response time for Arty is damn near immediate, aircraft take time to come overhead. Arty is usually Direct Support to the unit, meaning it can be grabbed immediately. Aircraft are subject to the ATO and CAOC priority of allocation. If the battle is over a wide front, you may not get aircraft support.

    Arty can provide continuous fire to suppress an enemy, for hours if needed. Aircraft have limited bombs and can't stay on station.

    We're not to the point that JDAMs can replicate indirect fire support.
    All good points

    Let me add that you can field a hell of a lot of artillery for the price of an F22

    And as for immediacy and the continuing need for arty look at earlier rotations on OEF and how soon units began taking arty with them.

    Don't forget either the pricesion revolution is also giving indirect fires with a truly remarkable capability to deliver pinpoint fires.

    If I had to pick between CAS and indirect fire from organic redlegs, I will take the indirect. Happily we do not need to make such a choice. We need to make sure that we do not allow such a choice to be framed and crammed down our collective throats.

    Tom

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Also, response time for Arty is damn near immediate, aircraft take time to come overhead. Arty is usually Direct Support to the unit, meaning it can be grabbed immediately. Aircraft are subject to the ATO and CAOC priority of allocation. If the battle is over a wide front, you may not get aircraft support.

    Arty can provide continuous fire to suppress an enemy, for hours if needed. Aircraft have limited bombs and can't stay on station.

    We're not to the point that JDAMs can replicate indirect fire support.
    Very well said. Artillery and armor travel with infantry too they are not "requested" or added to an equation.

    When was the last Naval bombardment? I thought the Iowa, Missouri, etc.. had all been mothballed? Off to google (the hive mind) again.
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    Default Gotta concur

    However, in Feb 2002, when I asked 10th Mountain staffers at Bagram Air Base why there was no arty on the ground (at least anywhere out in the open that I could see or in fact, I believe, anywhere in country), the response I got was, "CENTCOM/SECDEF believes it sends the wrong message to the locals and the folks at home....we don't want to make it look like we're occupying Afghanistan." Then, not a week later Operation Anaconda kicked off. We sure could have used some 105/155 help up in the Shai Kowt...
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    Default Skill fade

    I took over as the S-3 of an armor battalion just returning from a six-month tour guarding Haitian refugees at Guantanamo Bay. The battalion redeployed to Fort Hood where it then lost about 30% of its personnel who had been retained until mission completion.

    Anyway, the battalion had not fired a shot in over 9 months, and had not maneuvered at all for nearly a year. The tanks had been packed in cosmoline for about six months. The following timeline reflects our journey back to competence:

    Three months to get the vehicles back in shape and achieve minimal gunnery standards.

    Six months to reach full gunnery qualification and minimal competence in maneuver at the company level.

    Nine months to fully restore our skill set at the battalion level.

    Now, I am sure that given unlimited ammunition, training resources, and relief from all the niggling peacetime duties that distract you from training, we could have done it considerably faster. But this was 1995-6, and we were the only battalion on post that had fallen so far behind in our conventional skills. It might have taken considerably longer if the whole division (at that time the 2nd Armored of blessed memory) had been in the same boat. And we had a considerable core of NCOs and officers whose conventional skills had not eroded brought into the unit to help with training and maintaining.

    Yes, it may only take a few intensive weeks to put a battalion back on its conventional feet. But what about when you have 100 battalions to put back on their feet? With brigade and division commanders who have not seen a brigade or division maneuver together in the last five years or so?

    We have to do the job set before us. But let's not minimize the damage it is doing to our conventional skill sets, or stop seeking ways to mitigate the damage. I personally find disturbing the argument that 'our magnificent soldiers will make it happen'. That's probably true, but more of them will be dead than might otherwise have been necessary.

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    Default Skills fade

    Quote Originally Posted by Eden View Post
    Yes, it may only take a few intensive weeks to put a battalion back on its conventional feet. But what about when you have 100 battalions to put back on their feet? With brigade and division commanders who have not seen a brigade or division maneuver together in the last five years or so?
    ...but this is the heart of the problem. The fact that skills will fade while out of role is a known fact and to a degree, measurable.

    What training, doctrine and equipment must allow for, is the rapid reacquisition of the required skills sets, or the activity required to maintain a useful degree of currency. This is both clearly possible and viable, but there must be the institutional desire to recognise this and act on it.

    British Army Artillery, Armour and Engineer units, came back to Germany from 4 month emergency tours in Northern Ireland and got on with facing the Soviet Army. It is far from easy, it is painful, but it is doable.

    ...and no one has a choice on this, because just like Vietnam, you may well find yourself facing an enemy armoured formation, with insurgents running around trying to kill you as well.
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    Default Ulster and the US Army

    I too recall the few press stories on the re-adjustment of British Army units deployed from Germany to Ulster, for short tours and then returning to their conventional heavy war-fighting role. In my reading of the journal British Army Review I've not seen any articles describing the process. Hopefully our lessons learnt have been provided via the much lauded British Defence Liaison Staff, in Washington DC and on commands. I know an Engineer Colonel who might be able to comment, so standby.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    All good points

    Let me add that you can field a hell of a lot of artillery for the price of an F22

    And as for immediacy and the continuing need for arty look at earlier rotations on OEF and how soon units began taking arty with them.

    Don't forget either the pricesion revolution is also giving indirect fires with a truly remarkable capability to deliver pinpoint fires.

    If I had to pick between CAS and indirect fire from organic redlegs, I will take the indirect. Happily we do not need to make such a choice. We need to make sure that we do not allow such a choice to be framed and crammed down our collective throats.

    Tom
    Gah, CavGuy and Tom beat me to the punch.

    They're right.
    For a conventional war, the numbers aren't favorable for a CAS-only (no arty) force package. If we have X number of troops (say 100,000+) engaging the enemy, and they all need fire support, the USAF just doesn't have the numbers necessary to do it - not even close (especially given the spiralling cost of a modern fighter-bomber).

    As I have said in other threads, artillery is dirt-cheap compared to fighter-bombers, considering not only how much an F-22 or F-35 costs, but also how much initial pilot training costs, how much annual training costs... and the support costs: it works out to be a dozen or so ground crew for each plane, maintenance and parts are expensive... There is just no comparison between arty and CAS in terms of cost vs. effectiveness (especially now with precision munitions for the artillery).

    I also seem to recall a comment about how arty would be more vulnerable to ground attack by insurgents... that depends on the scenario envisioned.
    Artillery units often turn out to be surprisingly hard targets for insurgents or enemy units behind the lines, especially when compared to a sprawling airbase (I'm thinking of examples from Vietnam).

  18. #98
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default F35

    I will admit though that no artillery piece is as cool looking as this:
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    Default I dunno Tom

    ...this looks pretty cool...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eden View Post
    I personally find disturbing the argument that 'our magnificent soldiers will make it happen'. That's probably true, but more of them will be dead than might otherwise have been necessary.
    I agree completely. That line of "three bags full" (aka, "we the unwilling, led by the unknowing, have done so much for so long with so little that now we are capable of doing anything with nothing at all") stuff smacks of the duPicq/Joffre line of reasoning that eviscerated the French Army in 1914/15 and ended up bleeding France white. I would carry it on to the British at the Somme and the Allies' "successes" through mid-1942 as further examples that most would not contest. I'll not fall on my sword WRT to America's armed forces post 1945.

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