Category Archives: Artillery

Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb

Boeing, in developing the second generation of the Small Diameter Bomb, which adds a tri-mode seeker to the concept of the existing GPS/INS SDB, recognized that the hard part of designing a precision weapon is the guidance. The airframe and warhead are usually rather straightforward. And they also had the bright idea to strap a rocket booster to the back of the SDB II, and introduce a ground launched version.

Even better, they were able to use the existing booster from original style rockets of the long serving M270 MLRS. That keeps costs down. Plus, the MLRS system’s existing infrastructure reduces costs and training needed.

While the current GPS/INS guided unitary warhead GMLRS system is fine, it is also unable to accurately target moving targets.  The SDB II was designed to strike moving targets. That’s going to increase the ability to hold at risk enemy high value/high payoff targets such as air defense systems.

We also wonder how long it will be until someone discusses the potential for coastal defense, or even a ship launched variant as an anti-ship missile system.


Filed under Artillery


So, a friend linked this post on Facebook about the US Army’s Excalibur 155mm guided artillery shell being adapted to the US Navy’s 5” (127mm) Mk54 gun.

Raytheon’s 155mm M982 Excalibur extended-range guided artillery shell is being shrunk down to fit into the Mark 45 five inch deck guns that are deployed aboard the Navy’s Cruisers and Destroyers. This miniaturized sea-going Excalibur, known as the N5, could triple the range of current five inch shells and offer pinpoint ‘danger close’ fire support like never before.

Since my friend teased the link as another nail in the A-10 coffin, that sparked a bit of debate. I of course, chimed in:

1. The Marines operate their own fleet of CAS aircraft, that is, the AV-8B and the F/A-18 Hornets.
2. PGM is here to stay. Both Army and Marines now use, or very shortly will, guided MLRS, 155mm artillery, and 120mm mortars. That precision ability means less need to call on PGM equipped CAS. Not eliminate, but reduce. And the future of CAS has been shown to be PGM anyway.
3. We can reasonably expect to see similar PGM capability extended to 81mm mortars in the next few years.
4. The relatively short range of the N45 is really only a matter of importance for the first 48 hours or so of a landing- that is, until the landing force gets its own artillery ashore.
5. The Army (and thus the Marines) are also fielding PGM 155mm artillery that simply uses a guided fuze installed on conventional 155mm common shells. We can also expect to see that applied to the 5″ gun. These shells have a shorter range than Excalibur, or N45, but they are also a good bit cheaper, and offer virtually the same accuracy within their range capability as the more expensive rounds.
6. CAS isn’t dead, nor even dying. But CAS is a mission, not a platform. Sure, I’d like to see the A-10 kept around. But the Air Force isn’t out to kill the A-10 from some historical dislike of the CAS mission. They just don’t have the money. Further, while the A-10 is reasonably safe in the face of little or no air defense, it will fare very badly in the face of anything above 1st and 2nd generation MANPADS. The simple kinematics of missile defense means that a faster jet is less vulnerable to being hit.

I recently addressed PGM artillery in this post.

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Filed under Artillery

So Let’s Let ‘Em Have Nukes!

…what a great idea.

After all, just because they conduct naval maneuvers to practice sinking US warships is no reason to think they are hostile toward the United States.

Just like threatening to wipe Israel off the map is no indicator of any latent dislike of our ally.  More diplomatic success for our anti-American President.


Filed under Air Force, army, Around the web, Artillery, Defense, doctrine, guns, history, Iran, islam, israel, leadership, missiles, navy, nuclear weapons, obama, planes, Politics, ships, stupid, Uncategorized, war, weapons


Four days after the bloody struggle to come ashore on Iwo Jima’s fire-swept black volcanic sand beaches, a patrol from 28th Marines was ordered to the top of the sullen volcanic lump that dominated the six square miles of sulphur and rock.  The seven-man patrol under the Executive Officer of Easy Company, 28th Marines raised a small flag.  The flag, difficult to see from the beach, was replaced by a larger one retrieved from one of the LSTs offshore supporting the landing.  Five Marines and one Navy Corpsman labored under fire to plant the larger colors into the rocky ground. The raising of the second, larger flag was captured by Joe Rosenthal, and became the most iconic and reproduced image in the history of photography.


Many commonly believe that the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi signaled the end of the fight for Iwo Jima.  In reality, twenty-two more days of relentless and ferocious savagery lay ahead.  It was not until 26 March 1945 that Iwo Jima was declared secured.  Of the six men who raised the flag on Suribachi, three, Sgt Mike Strank, Cpl Harlan Block, and PFC Franklin Sousley, would die on the island, along with more than 6,800 others, mostly Marines.  A fourth flag raiser, Second Class Hospital Corpsman John Bradley, was among the more than 19,000 wounded.   The man who took the motion picture footage from the same vantage as Rosenthal, Marine Combat Cameraman Bill Genaust, was later killed in one of Suribachi’s hundreds of caves.

Bradley received a Navy Cross for his actions in combat on 21 February, and Strank a Bronze Star.  Bill Genaust also received a Bronze Star.

The above movie is the approximately 20 minute production called “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”.  Well worth the time, as it is a grim and unvarnished look at the titanic struggle for Iwo.  Seldom have the words of a senior officer been so accurate, or heartfelt, as when Admiral Chester Nimitz described the fight for the island.

Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue

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Vice Admiral Rowden’s Message


You can read the text of it over at Salamander’s place.  Micromanagement?  Possibly.  Necessary?  Some folks, among which is a guy named Greenert, seem to think so.  From where I sit, it seems there is some serious concern (finally) on the part of Navy leadership from the CNO on down, including SURFPAC, that our numbered Fleet Commanders don’t know how to fight their fleets, that Task Force Commanders do not know how to fight their task forces, nor Battle Group Commanders their Battle Groups, or individual COs and Officers, their warships.   There is, it is suspected, a lack of understanding of warfighting at all levels.  From the Operational Arts, to doctrine and tactics, down to techniques, and procedures, there is an alarming lack of understanding in areas for which we should strive for mastery.  In addition, it is likely that there is serious question about the true state of readiness of our fleet and the ships and aircraft (and Sailors) which comprise it.  Maintenance, training, proficiency, mindset, all these are suspect.


I think SURFPAC’s message is a very good step in the right direction.  It may also shake out the most egregious impediments to training for war, both self-inflicted and externally imposed.  This includes peripheral tasks that take up inordinate time and attention, maintenance and manpower shortcomings that render weapons and engineering systems non-mission capable, and jumping through burdensome administrative hoops required to perform the most basic of combat training.


I cannot say whether or not VADM Rowden dislikes Mission Command.  I hope that he does not, because the ability of junior commanders to take the initiative and act boldly across widely-flung battlefields in the absence of orders has been the critical element of success for many centuries.  But Mission Command requires junior leaders who are positively imbued in their craft, and senior leaders who understand what must be done and can clearly express their intent (and then have the courage to trust their subordinates).   The entirety of the US Navy, more so perhaps than the other services, must rely on such leadership for its survival in combat with an enemy.  Unfortunately, the Navy may be the service that has become the most over-supervised and zero-defect-laden bastion of micromanagement in all of DoD.

Gunnery training aboard U.S.S. Astoria (CA-34), spring 1942.

Vice Admiral Rowden’s message has an almost desperate tone to it.   As if, to quote Service, Navy leadership realizes that it is later than you think.  One cannot help but be reminded of the myriad comments from US cruiser sailors in 1942.  Following initial and deadly encounters with a skilled and fearsome Japanese Navy in the waters off the Solomons, many deckplate sailors swore they would never again bitch about the seemingly incessant gunnery and damage control drills that interrupted their shipboard lives.    Like 1942, a Naval clash against a near-peer who can muster temporary advantage will be a costly affair where even the winner is badly bloodied.  Unlike 1942, there is no flood of new warships on the slips which can make good such losses.


Words from an earlier post of USS Hugh W. Hadley, on the picket line off Okinawa, reinforce the importance of what VADM Rowden wants:


                      1.  It must be impressed that constant daily drills in damage control using all personnel on the ship and especially those who are not in the regular damage control parties will prove of  value when emergencies occur.  The various emergency pumps which were on board were used effectively to put out fires.  Damage control schools proved their great value and every member of the crew is now praising this training.

                      2.  I was amazed at the performance of the 40 and 20 guns.  Contrary to my expectation, those smaller guns shot down the bulk of the enemy planes. Daily the crews had dinned into their minds the following order “LEAD THAT  PLANE”.  Signs were painted at the gun stations as follows “LEAD THAT PLANE”.  It worked, they led and the planes flew right through our projectiles.

Not the things of (fill in the blank) History Month or of SAPR or “diversity” training….


Filed under armor, Around the web, Artillery, China, Defense, doctrine, engineering, guns, history, leadership, logistics, missiles, navy, Russia, ships, Splodey, veterans, war, weapons, World War II

Guided unitary warhead MLRS in action

Esli sent along (finally!) these screen caps of a GMLRS shot he set up in Iraq a few years ago, showing just how accurate the artillery rocket can be.



The target building was full of mines, and presumably it was safer to blow it in place, rather than try to safe all the old ordnance.


Filed under Artillery

A Brief History of Precision Guided Artillery Munitions in the US Army

In the 1970s, faced with the specter of thousands of Soviet tanks possibly rushing through the Fulda Gap, the Army was looking intently for ways to rapidly kill large numbers of tanks.  The TOW missile, the M1 tank, and host of other weapons were developed to face this threat.*

One development looked at the revolution in accuracy that Laser Guided Bombs had shown in the late stages of the Vietnam war, and concluded that a laser guided artillery shell would be just the thing to plink tanks. Normal artillery can make life difficult for tank formations, but the odds of actually destroying a tank are pretty slim with traditional artillery. But a laser guided 155mm artillery round, especially one with a shaped charge 6.1” diameter warhead, would destroy any tank in the world.

But there’s a big difference in the robustness required of electronics that will fly aboard an airplane, and be dropped, versus those that have to withstand the stupendous accelerations of being fired out of a gun tube.

Still, by the late 1970s, and early 1980s, American industry managed to field the M712 Copperhead laser guided 155mm Cannon Launched Guided Projectile. Copperhead required a forward observer equipped with a laser designator, and a clear line of sight to the target, not to mention reliable communications with the firing battery.

Beyond that, Copperhead actually cost a ton of money more than was originally expected. Because Copperhead was so expensive, tank killing by artillery fell instead to DPICM, or Dual Purpose, Improved Conventional Munitions. DPICM was essentially the clusterbomb of artillery. A shell was merely a carrier for a host of submunitions that would be scattered over a target area. Many of those munitions were small shaped charge warheads that could usually penetrate the thin top armor of Soviet tanks.

But Copperhead did work, and it was useful for certain very high value targets, and so it remained in the inventory, and indeed saw combat use in Desert Storm, and even as late as the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

M712 Copperhead approaches a target tank

For almost 30 years, that’s where the state of the art in precision guided artillery stagnated.

But much as the advent of the Laser Guided Bomb inspired the Copperhead, so to did the advent of the GPS/INS guided JDAM bomb inspire the next stage in precision artillery.

First up with the GPS guided G-MLRS 270mm Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, which replace the DPICM warhead of a conventional MLRS rocket with a unitary warhead of about 250 pounds, and a guidance kit that gave it the ability to strike within just a few meters of its intended target at ranges of up to 70 kilometers.

Not surprisingly, the same technology was applied to a 155mm artillery shell, resulting the in the M982 Excalibur. The Excalibur 155mm guided projectile has been in operational use for over 7 years now. Excalibur is essentially a GPS guided missile launched from a gun tube. It both extends the range of artillery, and increases the accuracy.

XM982 Excalibur inert.jpg

But the Excalibur is fairly expensive. The entire projectile is a precision weapon. What was really wanted was a guidance kit that could be applied to existing stocks of conventional artillery ammunition to provide it was precision capability.

First up was the AMPI, Accelerated Mortar Precision Initiative, also known as the MGK, or Mortar Guidance Kit. By replacing the nose fuse of a conventional 120mm mortar round with an innovative GPS guidance system, the traditionally less than precise mortar system suddenly became capable of dropping the first round within 5-10 meters of the aim point.

It wasn’t a great leap to transform the MGK into a similar guided fuse for 155mm shells.

Unguided, conventional artillery will continue to have a place on the battlefield. But for many applications, both in the current Counter Insurgency fights, and in possible future near peer engagements, precision artillery has better effects, is a lesser logistical burden, reduced collateral damage, and can safely be used closer to friendly troops.




*By the way, the Air Force also spent a lot of time and money developing weapons and sensors for this very same role.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, Artillery