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?”
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.
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.