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Exercise Illustrates NATO’s Long-Range Fires Problem

1/4/2019
By Hal Foster
Anakonda 2018 exercise

Poland Armed Forces

CHELMNO, Poland — The sky over the Vistula River was slate-gray, but there was no rain — so the Polish Army’s 12th Mechanized Division had to improvise.

The troops had wanted to ferry some of their heavy equipment across the Vistula as part of NATO’s Anakonda 2018 exercise in November. But the river had fallen so much overnight that sand bars had appeared in its middle, creating the danger of the motorized ferry running aground. So the soldiers practiced landings only on the staging-area side of the river.

The ferry would make a loop on that side, then land, dispatching an armored personnel carrier and a dozen troops to clamber up the bank toward an imaginary enemy.

In addition to armored personnel carriers and tanks, the 12th has an array of big guns — self-propelled howitzers, multiple-rocket-launcher systems, anti-aircraft systems and surface-to-air missiles.
Nearby, the 12th Mechanized Field Artillery Battalion conducted a joint fire exercise with troops from the U.S. 82nd Field Artillery Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Lt. Col. Daniel Noga, who led the Polish troops, enthused that his country would soon be getting the American-made M142 HIMARS multiple-rocket-launching system in order to gain more big-gun range. With extended-range guided munitions, M142 rockets can reach targets up to 100 kilometers away, experts say.

With Russia fielding artillery with increasingly longer ranges, the U.S. Army has named long-range precision fires as its top modernization priority. Here, where Poland is part of the forces protecting NATO’s eastern flank, which side has the most effective artillery is of vital concern.

Half a world away at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Col. John Rafferty, director of the long-range precision fires cross-functional team, is spearheading the creation of the Army’s next generation of long-range artillery, rockets and missiles. He’s also a key player in ushering in a task force approach to equipment development that is aimed at putting weapons in the field years earlier.

Rafferty joined the new Army Futures Command in August. An important component of his job is getting the key players in the development of big guns working simultaneously rather than in sequence — an approach aimed at reducing weapons delivery time, he said.

The traditional equipment-development model is linear, Rafferty noted. That is, one player completes their development task before the next starts theirs.

With a linear model, “first we develop a concept, then the requirements for the weapon, then it takes several years to develop the science and technology, then we turn it over to the acquisition people, who work with industry” to deliver the product, Rafferty said in an interview. This step-by-step process takes too long when you need something to counter a superior weapon that an adversary has fielded, he said.

Last year the Army introduced the task force concept — weapons-development players working on their tasks simultaneously — to try to reduce delivery times. It calls the task forces cross-functional teams.

The Fort Sill portion of the team consists of 50 people. Several dozen others — including science and technology experts — work at places like the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, and the Army Test and Evaluation Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

“Most of the work goes on elsewhere, and our job [at Fort Sill] is to pull it all together,” Rafferty said.

Army Futures Command wanted someone with big-guns field experience — as opposed to a science and technology background — to head the cross-functional team.

The idea was that, as the development process moved forward, a hands-on artillery officer was more likely to keep the bigger picture in mind: Would a particular weapon meet the troops’ needs?

With seven tours in the Middle East, Rafferty fit the bill. His last job in the region was field artillery brigade commander. “We had HIMARS units in Jordan, the UAE, Kuwait, Iraq and Syria,” he said.

Rafferty’s Fort Sill team has established ambitious delivery goals for the next generation of big guns. It wants to get the new weapons in soldiers’ hands up to four years earlier than if they were being developed under a non-task-force approach.

Some of the fires it is developing are tactical, some operational and some strategic. Tactical weapons are for a traditional battlefield, operational weapons are for denying an enemy an operational capability such as air defense, and strategic weapons are for knocking out command-and-control targets far from the front.

The main objective of modernizing long-range fires is leapfrogging the superior ranges of some adversaries’ weapon systems, Rafferty said. Other goals include increasing fires’ punch and precision.

The tactical weapon the Army is developing is the Extended-Range Cannon Artillery, or ERCA. Its range of 70 kilometers will more than double the 30 of today’s self-propelled howitzer, the Paladin.
Importantly, 70 kilometers will far outstrip the 44 kilometers that Russia’s 2S35 cannon reaches.

John Gordon IV, a former Army colonel who is a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corp., said in an interview that a key reason why armies need longer-range artillery these days is that units must cover a much larger piece of ground than in the past.

Armies are a fraction of the size they were in the 1980s, when NATO had 25 divisions, he said.

“In 1985, a cannon with an operational range of 25 kilometers could support a brigade battle with a front of 35 to 40 kilometers,” he said. “Now a brigade would be expected to cover a lot more area.” Longer-range artillery would help do that.

ERCA will sport a 58-caliber — or 30-foot — gun, versus the Paladin’s 39-caliber — or 20-foot — tube. And it will have a redesigned chamber and breach.

A rocket-assisted, extended-range projectile will combine with the greater muzzle velocity that ERCA’s longer tube will offer to generate the range the Army wants, Rafferty said.

“Right now we’re testing that extended-range projectile, called the XM1113,” he said. And “we’re getting it out in excess of 70 kilometers.”

Because ERCA will have a much longer barrel, the Army is also testing the mobility of the platform that will carry the gun.

So far, so good, Rafferty said. “I just came back from a test shot at the Yuma Proving Ground that was very impressive,” he said.

If the development effort stays on track, the plan is “to field the first battalion of this weapon in 2023,” he said, adding: “That’s a pretty aggressive path.”

The operational weapon that Rafferty’s team is developing, the Precision Strike Missile, or PrSM, will have a range of 499 kilometers.

It will replace the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, whose early models have a range of around 190 kilometers and later variants 300 kilometers.

About 490 kilometers is the maximum range that NATO and Russian forces are allowed under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. On Dec. 4, however, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Kremlin that it had 60 days to stop violating the treaty or the United States would no longer abide by it. Russia, which has repeatedly denied violations, warned that it would retaliate.

Scrapping the treaty would open the door to both the West and Russia developing longer-range conventional and nuclear missiles for the European theater, Gordon said.

At the moment, the Russians’ “very formidable, extremely accurate SS-26 Iskander, launched from sites in Kaliningrad, could reach most of Poland and part of eastern Germany,” he said. If the 499-kilometer limit is lifted, “future Russian missiles are going to be able to strike targets in a lot more of Europe.” Kaliningrad is a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania.

PrSM will be deadlier than the ATACMS and do a better job of sidestepping enemy countermeasures, Rafferty said.

It will also have two launch pod containers, compared with ATACMS’s one. “This will cut our supply chain in half — and it’s cheaper,” he said.

The two companies competing for the PrSM contract will begin test-firing their versions of the missile in August 2019.

If the tests prove the basic missile concept feasible, “then we’ll spiral in new technologies — sensors, smarter munitions and submunitions,” Rafferty said.

A revised, shorter timetable for rolling out the PrSM is one indication of the Army’s confidence in the cross-functional team approach.

“The original plan for the Precision Strike Missile was to field an urgent materiel release of it in 2027,” Rafferty said. That has been shaved to 2023.

The two strategic-fires systems the Army is developing are a long-range cannon and a hypersonic missile.

The missile is a major departure because “the Army has not been working on strategic fires since the Pershing missile” was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Rafferty said.

The new cannon and missile will be used in tandem against targets such as air defense systems. The cannon would knock out thin-skinned structures and equipment, including radar, and the missile would hit sturdier infrastructure and hardened targets.

“You need a mix of weapons” to knock out strategic targets, Rafferty said. “The strength of these systems is that they’re integrated. Between these two systems, we’ll be able to create these windows of opportunity that a joint force would need to gain access to the operating area.”

Rafferty hopes the Army’s cross-functional team approach reduces the number of weapons projects that slip into what developers call the Valley of Death.

“That’s an expression that refers to something coming out of science and technology and reaching a certain level of performance, and if there’s nobody there to grab it to move it to the next process of the program — the management and acquisition phase — it just dies,” he said.

“Our job is to make sure we don’t let anything fall into the Valley of Death and to make sure that everything we are doing contributes to these modernization priorities.”

Behind it all is a sense of urgency, Rafferty added.

“This is about future readiness,” he said. “We can’t let off the gas. We’ve got to deliver.”

Half a world away in Poland, the 12th Mechanized Division’s Noga would be nodding his head in agreement.

Topics: Strategic Weapons, Strike Land Attack Air Defense, International, Global Defense Market

Comments (1)

Re: Exercise Illustrates NATO’s Long-Range Fires Problem

If it wants, the US Army could field many systems that advance the range and mobility of the artillery sector. This all depends on politics, will, budget, motivation, and management. For instance, the Crusader at 40 tons had the range of the PZH2000. It was axed because the critics thought 40 tons was still too heavy. So the FCS NLOS-Cannon weighed in at 22 tons and had the range of the M777, and it too was axed because 22 tons might be too heavy for C-130, so two important prototype artillery systems that were tested and worked well were cancelled, leaving the M109 which has been modified repeatedly. Then there’s HMMWV “Hawkeye” 105mm which the US Army tested, and Israeli mortars on the cargo bed of HMMWVs. These more mobile systems sure beat entrenching towed artillery. Missiles could fit inside the THAAD launchers, be they anti-ship, cruise missiles, or surface-to-surface missiles. They might not be as mobile as HiMARS, but THAAD ER is hypersonic (Mach 8.24) and can be used as a surface missile with modifications. So seriously, US Army artillery can undergo a revolution if new modifications and systems are adopted and implemented. I am somewhat surprised that they’re just sticking with ATACMs and M109s.

Peter at 12:35 PM
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