This article was originally published in the 2021 edition of The Bridges Papers.

The last twenty years of conflict in the Middle East has seen coalition forces adapt and evolve their tactics and doctrine to suit the battlespace in which it fights. Iraq and Afghanistan saw the tactics of large scale conflict seen in the Second World War, Falklands War, and Gulf Wars become less relevant as operations became counter insurgency focussed. This came with significant complexity and has shaped a generation of Artillerymen. Looking forward the contemporary operating environment will reflect the scale witnessed in the latter half of the twentieth century, again dictating significant evolutions in capability and procedures. There is a sense of uncertainty in our methods as the artillery community fights to establish a firm foundation to project from into the future. With the introduction of new and upgraded systems (Long Range Fires (LRF)[1], Protected Mobility Fires (PMF)[2], Digital Terminal Control System (DTCS) Next Gen, and Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) and Android Precision Assault Strike Suite (APASS)) radiating a shining light on the capability horizon, our techniques and procedures are still influenced by the experiences of counter insurgency operations. Our current answer to supporting manoeuvre seems to be a generic ‘one size fits all’ approach, wherein any Joint Fires Team (JFT) can support any ground manoeuvre element with the standard skillset taught on the basic JFT course. The Royal Australian Artillery’s (RAA) ability to provide effective joint fires and effects requires greater investment in tactics and training if JFTs are to operate in high tempo formation reconnaissance. This article contends that the evolving nature of forward engagement areas in the land battlespace emphasises the value proposition of surface to surface fires and their controllers. It argues the modification required to current tactics, before finally considering future structure opportunities for the RAA, acknowledging their vital role to play in warfare in all domains, and in warfare at all ranges[3].

The evolving nature

The forward areas within which formation reconnaissance operate are highly contested, requiring the support of surface-to-surface and air-to-surface assets, with the ability to coordinate and control being the critical function of forward observers. Whilst stealth may be the preferable technique for a contemporary peer-on-peer battlefield, the current and future operating environment of formation reconnaissance is unlikely to permit this method to its full extent. Operational tempo and battlefield density determine the reconnaissance model, and time is rarely available for passive observation. Capabilities available to opposing stakeholders ensure any surreptitious manoeuvre around the battlefield is difficult to maintain for prolonged periods, and reconnaissance assets must deploy on task fully prepared for kinetic engagement. The contemporary battlespace will see adversaries who are equally intent on, and capable of, dominating domains as we are; therefore, the ability for reconnaissance to maintain sustained observation will likely be unviable. Tempo will drive reconnaissance, and we must keep up physically, and in the currency and accuracy of information and intelligence acquired. For forward observers this requires the ability to remain mobile with secure and reliable communications links over distances. This tempo and manoeuvre comes with greater risk of engagement with the opposing force. Layered offensive support assets must be in abundance, as should air assets with the caveat that they are not a substitute but supplementary to surface to surface systems. Heavy investment in the survivability of the reconnaissance force through the apportionment of assets is a necessary investment in subsequent action.

Incoming armoured capabilities, in particular Boxer (Land 400), provides a highly mobile, armoured reconnaissance asset capable of heavy weights of fire utilising organic weapon systems (namely the 30mm LANCE Turret Remote Weapon System (RWS), Spike LR2 Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) system) across multiple variants. Currently this provides Army’s best proposition for a tempo driven armoured reconnaissance force into the future, currently in the process of integrating JFTs into the capability to guarantee the provision of joint fires and effects coordination to extended range. With multiple optics and firepower options these forward elements possess the ability to break contact and extract quickly, importantly surviving an encounter in the short term. Despite the optimism of this capability, the incorporation of JFTs to effectively support armoured reconnaissance is not yet battle ready. It must be acknowledged that there is still a great deal of bottom up refinement required to Land 400 to understand the ability for JFTs to support while fully closed down in armour. Whilst the future environmental frame will see the collaboration of SitAware[4], Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA)[5] smart displays, and mounted target acquisition systems (VINGTAQS-II[6] and the LANCE-II[7] turret system itself), until they are fully operational the suite of mission types a JFT would offer a manoeuvre commander will be heavily limited. This emphasises the options JFTs bring to manoeuvre commanders, and that we must invest in the training programming of observers on multiple systems specific to role to ensure they are battle ready now.

Modifying our tactics

The new systems that are becoming available require the upskilling of our observers, and will change the way in which we employ our capabilities, requiring swift modifications to our tactics and doctrine. In focussing our attention to more modified future employment we must look at what is required for the perceived coordination of joint fires and effects. Firstly, we must discard our infatuation with air assets, be they fixed or rotary wing. They undoubtedly bring a formidable capability to the table; however, we have become complacent through the luxury of air superiority. Ground contacts in Afghanistan and Iraq on occasion certainly gave air assets reason to be cautious in exercising their freedom of the skies, but largely weather has been the most challenging of adversaries to our air capability, breeding an undeserved confidence in our fighting ability[8]. When faced with a contemporary enemy we will not boast this same freedom, and must learn to adapt our methods accordingly.

The ability to remain hidden to strike surgically and decisively is as pertinent as ever. Our focus must now be on utilising surface to surface fires, only unmasking at a time and place where we can capitalise our advantage, striking with overwhelming first round effects, then moving before counter engagements. The artillery raid is by no means a new concept[9], however must now be actively and routinely trained to gain the prowess to remain survivable in future conflict. The key to realising the aspiration of achieving first round effects currently lies in the integration and development of ATAK and APASS, presently vying for dominance as the precision software of choice within the targeting world. As we acknowledge our former vulnerabilities in relying on voice communications, the collaboration of such digital precision strike suites with Next Gen DTCS allows us to push to greater distances whilst still maintaining our ability to call for fire. The increased range of surface to surface capabilities, adding to existing air capabilities, and Joint Fires Observers (JFOs) yields the opportunity for targeting at the tactical and operational level. Using armoured reconnaissance to move into position to strike precisely with concentrated offensive support will be a decisive act in degrading adversary capability[10].

Signature management is now critical to our survivability. To operate at extended range we must remain below the detection threshold or adapt to transmit and move. As with unmasking our offensive support assets, we will be required to transmit and move immediately, maintaining tempo to maintain survivability, transmitting only through necessity, lest we be detected to be targeted[11].

Surface to surface coordinated fires and effects will come from self-propelled artillery platforms, and LRF. It will be critical that these assets are allocated in direct support of reconnaissance as part of the investment in the future fight. At the recent Armour 2030 - Future concepts and capabilities symposium it was raised that we must no longer fire to manoeuvre, but rather manoeuvre assets in order to layer our capabilities, fires, and effects. In turn this allows engagement and manoeuvre before adversaries are able to counter. This concept should be embraced and utilised in support of reconnaissance to ensure the ability to screen, guard, and critically break contact to ensure the survivability of essential, but finite, assets[12].

The violence brought to bear by the towed M777A2 howitzer will still be relevant, and available, but is more appropriate for the close fight given the range overmatch of opposing equivalent systems. The mobility and survivability of the M777A2 is sufficient when employed correctly; however, it’s shorter range, reliance on being towed, and lack of protection make it more vulnerable and less conducive to support reconnaissance engagements given the distance forward it needs to travel to support forward call signs. When allocated complimentary to other layered assets it will certainly apply the appropriate levels of ferocity to maintain a weight of fire.

Tactically, PMF can be used to coerce the enemy into unmasking their positions. Self-propelled artillery can be used to engage an enemy position and quickly move as enemy counter battery guns unmask in response. Forward observers are then presented the location to counter strike using other cued supporting assets, be they long range fires or reinforcing PMF assets. These methods can be employed through traditional observers’ optics or CEA Tactical (CEATAC) radar systems complementing PMF gun groups.

Future structure

In order that fires and effects capabilities are available to support evolving tactics, opportunities must be seized to change the force structure within the RAA. The future requirement for a dedicated Artillery Brigade (Fires Brigade) will assist in establishing some form of control over the dynamism of incoming fires projects, and operationally over the deployment and employment of assets in support of manoeuvre. Adopting the Russian tactic of manoeuvre to fire will greatly enhance our potency on the battlefield and secure the initiative[13]. Whilst artillery platforms can be organised into appropriate capability regiments (i.e. dedicated self-propelled regiment/s, long range fires regiment/s, air defence regiment)[14], JFTs can also hone their skills in bespoke roles, be that formation reconnaissance, pre-landing force (PLF), or mechanised/motorised ground combat elements. Formation reconnaissance JFTs would equate to long range patrolling dismounted and mounted tactics, as opposed to more standard combat manoeuvre. The control and coordination of such a force by Artillery Brigade Fires Joint Fires and Effects Coordination Cell would ensure both the availability and appropriate distribution of assets on call to reconnaissance tasks.


It is evident that the contemporary operating environment more reflects that seen pre-Iraq and Afghanistan; however, tactics must change with the introduction of advanced technology and weapon systems. The introduction into service of new fires capabilities ensures the value of artillery observers in formation reconnaissance, and the effect they can achieve in degrading the enemy before manoeuvre engagement. The reorganisation of the RAA force structure and the continued development of future capabilities adds significant value to coalition operations, ensuring we are a formidable adversary on the battlefield when we receive the call to war. As the changing face of conflict sees innovative weapon systems, target acquisition systems, and the introduction of remote autonomous systems we must keep the pace in adapting our tactics and doctrine accordingly, using them to dictate the course and outcome of conflict.