More effective firepower [ID18D1]

06 November 2018

Many countries in the region are now boosting their firepower with the introduction of new towed and self-propelled (SP) artillery systems, tracked and wheeled, and artillery rocket systems (ARSs), which not only have longer ranges but also carry more effective ammunition.

While the SP systems are more expensive to procure and operate than conventional towed artillery systems, their advantage is that they can come into action much more quickly, carry out a fire mission and then redeploy before any counter-battery fire, making them more survivable.

The latest artillery system to enter service with Indonesia is the French Nexter Systems CAESAR 155mm/52 calibre based on a 6x6 chassis, which can be rapidly deployed over long distances without requiring heavy equipment transporters. An initial batch of 37 has been delivered; an order for an additional 18 was placed in early 2017.

Indonesia's armed forces have taken delivery of 155mm/39 calibre M109A4 SPs from Belgium, and also deploy 105mm towed artillery systems, which can more easily be transported by helicopter. The more recent acquisition is the Nexter Systems 105mm LG1 Mk II for the marines.

Following the acquisition of surplus 155mm/39 calibre FH-70 towed howitzers fitted with an auxiliary power unit (APU), Malaysia procured some 28 South African Denel Land Systems G5 155mm/52 calibre artillery systems.

Singapore has now replaced all its 105mm towed systems with a mixture of 155mm towed and SP artillery systems developed by ST Engineering Land Systems, including the 155mm/39 calibre Primus tracked SP, the 155mm/52 calibre FH2000 fitted with an APU, and the more recent Pegasus 155mm/ 39 calibre Light Weight Howitzer (LWH), which is also fitted with an APU to assist its deployment in marginal terrain.

Singapore has additionally developed and fielded the locally developed 120mm Super Rapid Advanced Mortar System (SRAMS) integrated onto the rear of its Bronco tracked all-terrain vehicle.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia have now deployed the Brazilian AVIBRAS ASTROS ARS, which fires a complete family of unguided rockets, while Singapore has now taken delivery of the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control M142 227mm (six-round) High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which fires guided rockets fitted with a unitary warhead.

Field artillery traditionally fires high-explosive (HE) smoke and illuminating rounds and, to enable targets to be engaged at longer ranges, rocket-assisted projectiles (RAPs) and base bleed (BB) 155mm artillery projectiles are being deployed in increasing numbers. Some countries are now insisting that all new artillery munitions are of the insensitive munition (IM) type, which will not explode when subjected to fire.

For greater accuracy, 155mm artillery projectiles can be fitted with a kit such as the Northrop Grumman Armament Systems (previously ATK Armament Systems) M1156 Precision Guidance Kit (PGK). Fitted with a deep well fuze, this gives a circular error of probability (CEP) of 10m or less, enabling targets to be engaged with precision effect and less collateral damage. The use of a PGK means fewer artillery projectiles are required to neutralise the target - in turn reducing the logistic burden.

Older bag-type propellant charges have now given way in many countries to a modular charge system (MCS) or bi-MCS, which are especially useful when being used with an automatic ammunition handling system.

When used with a 155mm/52 calibre artillery system, a maximum of six MCSs would be employed to achieve maximum range, while a 155mm/39 calibre artillery system would require only five.

The deployment of new artillery systems with larger calibres, having longer ranges and firing more effective ammunition, is only one part of a complete artillery system. Target acquisition is still key and the rapid detection of targets at longer ranges can be very difficult, especially in some of the terrain conditions encountered in the region.

While forward observation officers provided with portable target acquisition systems - consisting of day/night observation devices, laser rangefinders and navigation systems - are still used, targets at longer ranges have to be detected by other means such as artillery location radars and unmanned aerial vehicles, which can relay target information in real time.

Increased emphasis is on joint fires, which not only includes artillery and mortar assets but also fast jets, attack helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and in some cases naval gunfire support. While close-air support is very valuable, it is only the field artillery that can rapidly provide indirect fire support on a 24/7 basis in all weathers.

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