Contemporary Operating Environment

Artillery illuminating ammunition: Tactically useful or a roman candle?

By Simon Hunter and Kevin Pamenter September 3, 2021


A note from The Cove Team: This article was first published in The Royal Australian Artillery Liaison Letter journal.

“In this business, you find the enemy, then go after and destroy him. Everything else is rubbish” – Eddie Rickenbacker

Darkness has long been an ally to those seeking to achieve surprise or avoid detection from their enemy; however, with the recent and seemingly continual advances in night fighting equipment, it begs the question: “Is artillery white light illumination tactically relevant?”

Tactical relevance
To question the relevance of illumination we must first consider the tactical objectives:

  • to aid the observation of fire,
  • to assist the movement of own troops,
  • to illuminate enemy activity, and
  • to diminish the effectiveness of some enemy night observation equipment.

Noting the suite of night fighting equipment in our observation posts and among our manoeuvre elements, it is proposed that the value of illumination in the visible spectrum is almost negated to the point of irrelevance, particularly for the first three objectives.
The second great challenge to the usefulness of the illuminating round is that it must provide battlefield benefits that justify the risk of unmasking the guns – an equation that becomes much more difficult to balance when fighting a near peer adversary who possess credible counter fires capability.

Sustained illumination engagements associated with harassment & interdiction fire plans, to keep the enemy awake or force them to take counter measures while denying the cover of darkness, are concepts that rely on a negligible counter battery threat. Even with improved survivability facilitated by Protected Mobile Fires, the unmasking of the guns for protracted periods is inviting unwanted enemy attention, therefore it must be justified by the tactical effects.

Some may propose an investment in IR illumination may be a likely and superior alternative; however, the value of this is dependent on a significant night fighting overmatch, which cannot be assumed as the ADF prepares for a near peer adversary.

Cost benefit factor

The illuminating projectile is more expensive than HE natures and cost per round is due to roughly double with the arrival of the Assegai fleet. Discontinuation of the use of illumination (at the conclusion of current contracts and expenditure of current stockholdings) will provide resources that can be directed to natures that deliver greater tactical effect. Resources aside, the dis-establishment of an artillery delivered illumination capability will create additional capacity on platforms, ammunition trucks and along the supply chain for other natures of more tactical value. Based on current first line configurations for a Battery, substitution of high explosive with illumination would result in 56 rounds of more tactical worth.

Conclusion

While it is clear this paper has a bias towards divesting the capability provided by artillery illuminating ammunition, it is acknowledged there would be a requirement for more detailed analysis and broader consultation before such an outcome. The intent of this paper is to commence discussion and potentially initiate a formal capability review to guide the sustainment and future procurement of artillery illuminating ammunition.


Portrait

Biography

Simon Hunter and Kevin Pamenter

LTCOL Hunter has completed a range of Artillery specific postings in each of the three Combat Brigades, culminating in his recently completed tenure as Commanding Officer of 1 Regt, RAA. Non-corps specific postings include DJFHQ, HQJOC and Army HQ. LTCOL Hunter is currently posted as Directing Staff at the Australian Command and Staff College.

MAJ Kevin Pamenter was the Battery Commander of ‘A’ Battery, 1st Regiment RAA in 2020 and this year has been employed as the Operations Officer in the same unit. He was the SO2 Current Operations in the Divisional Joint Fires and Effects Coordination Centre in 2019 and has been an instructor in gunnery at the School of Artillery where he trained RAA officers on their basic and intermediate courses.

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

Whilst I acknowledge the points made in this article, I am nevertheless cautious of the over reliance on Night Fighting Equipment (NFE), Certainly NFE has advanced near continually since its initial development in the Second World War, with current equipment more reliable, more modular, and overall far more effective than even compared to 20 years ago. However, with such developments comes the ever familiar limitations of logistics. NFE’s are complicated and battery intensive pieces of kit, which whilst useful, limit the ability of the infantry to rely on them. One only needs to look back at the 2003 invasion of Iraq to see that. Even in relatively ideal conditions, the Allied coalition’s logistical network failed to provide adequate NFE and the batteries necessary to utilise it. Per a quote from then Navy Capt. Clark Driscoll “We literally [came] within days of running out of these batteries—where major combat operations would either have ceased or changed in their character because of the lack of battery support,”.Admittedly, this refers to the BA 5590 portable power source, but if such an essential piece of kit can run out after little more than a month of combat, than how can we expect anything different from the comparatively less important NFE? May I inquire about your thoughts on the usage of mortar illumination rounds? Your article is written from the perspective of the RAA, but I’m curious to hear your perspective on it. It would grant the first line configurations of a Battery an additional 56 rounds as you stated, whilst also not completely requiring an infantry formation to rely on NFE.

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