Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Is St Barbara Dead or Asleep?

Is St. Barbara, patron saint of the artillery, dead, or asleep? I hear of our troops in Iraq being ambushed repeatedly by Iraqi insurgents and terrorist, and do not hear evidence of prompt and accurate artillery fire in support of our troops. I hear of troops pinned down and waiting for aerial support which takes what appears to be an excessive period of time based on my own expectations in Vietnam under similar conditions. If rounds were not on the way (“shot out”) in two or three minutes, some one failed to do their job. I hear further than artillery battalions are now patrolling the streets as riflemen.

The reason presented for the failure to protect the grunts, guys and dolls on the ground is that artillery is “too indiscriminate”. This is can understand with the ballistic bullet of olden days, but isn’t this the day of the precision munition? Based on the advertising of the “Revolution in Military Affairs”, artillery can be put in the back closet of the second floor of any offending real estate. Proper fusing, shell selection and terminal guidance to do this isn’t rocket science anymore.

Perhaps the dissolution of Division Artillery and devolution of firing batteries to support the resurgent Battle Group of Pentomic fame, the Brigade Combat Team, has something to do with it. Even in the Pentomic Division, Divarty controlled the guns. The reversion of cannon to grunts is a throw back to the WW2 and Korean War “cannon company” of the Regimental Combat Team.

Until Transformation, artillery was rarely attached, but in support: direct, reinforcing, or general support. When the Queen of Battle wanted some balls thrown in harms way, they came from anywhere within range regardless on any specific command relationship. There was a thing called the Fire Support Net and a guy called the FSCOORD who wielded the most deadly hand held weapon on earth … a radio handset.

In Korea and Vietnam, an isolated and besieged outpost could be defended by a veritable ring of interlocking grazing fragments of steel. My father, a WW2 105mm battery commander, told me to get everyone into holes and walk the rounds in until the steel whizzed overhead. In Vietnam, we called that Danger Close. What we could do then with a battalion of guns, precision munitions could be handled by a battery or less.

It was considered a career terminator to commit troops outside an artillery fan in Vietnam, and it should be today. With precision munitions and a geographically based array of guns netted with today’s net technology, any potential sniper better have more than one layer of homogenous steel over head.

What with Predators and the new lethal toy airplanes in the hands of troops, there should be no one committed outside eyeball range, large or small.

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