The 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP) stressed that “maintaining Australia’s technological edge and capability superiority over potential adversaries is an essential element of our strategic planning.”[1] The DWP also identified that “over the next 20 years a large number of regional forces will be able to operate at greater range and with more precision than before.”[2]

Royal Australian Artillery gunner prepares 155mm ammunition

Royal Australian Artillery gunner prepares 155mm ammunition[3]

Additionally, the 2020 Force Structure Plan[4] reaffirmed the need to build a more potent, capable, and agile Defence Force – including acquiring capabilities that enable Australia to hold adversary forces and warfighting infrastructure at risk further from Australia. To do this, the Australian Government will invest $55 billion in land combat capabilities and increase its investment in strike capabilities.[5] In support of this effort, the 2020 Defence Strategic Update (DSU) outlined significant modernisation projects for the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery (RAA). Artillery aims to establish a competitive advantage or overmatch over the opposing force. To sustain that contribution effectively, artillery sensors and systems used must keep pace with advances in technology, which requires adequate investment now and into the future.

In August 2021, the RAA celebrated 150 years of continuous artillery service to Australia. This anniversary provides an occasion to reflect on, and commemorate, the valuable and enduring contribution made by the RAA and its predecessors, to the delivery of Australia’s defence capability in the national interest. Importantly, it also provides the opportunity to consider the future direction of the RAA as an integral component of Australian land power. This paper is intended to inform such consideration by shedding light on the new artillery capabilities that are being considered by Army within phase one of the Artillery Modernisation Plan (AMP) covering the period 2020-2030.

In the first part, this paper reflects on the role of artillery and the current structure of each of Australia’s artillery units and enabling force elements. The paper then outlines the enduring ‘gunnery problem’ and demonstrates its interrelationship with the range of artillery systems. Part two looks at the potential future of Australia’s artillery combat capability by discussing the six capability areas under consideration within the AMP’s first 2020-2030 phase, specifically: self-propelled artillery, long range missiles and rockets, improved ammunition; new ground-based air defence systems, unmanned aerial systems, and an upgraded digital terminal control system. This paper presents the capabilities for those artillery systems that Australia has already chosen, then explores weapon systems that Australia’s allies and peers currently have in-service or are developing that Australia may seek to mirror in order to achieve parity in combat capability and to meet the objectives of the AMP.

The sources consulted are drawn from the public domain, and the capabilities listed illustrate the type of platforms and technologies that are in development, or that are already available. Necessarily, this paper is not exhaustive in its consideration of the many platforms currently in-service. Moreover, those reviewed (and the order they are presented) does not imply the necessity for their acquisition by the ADF, nor an assessment of their ranking compared to other nations’ systems. They do, however, represent a relevant cross-section of similar contemporary artillery capabilities relevant to the capability objectives of phase one of the AMP and the Army’s delivery of the potent, capable, and agile land capability demanded by Government.

Part 1: Framing the Issue

1-1: Roles and Functions of the RAA

The heritage of Australian artillery originates on 1st August 1871. Before this date, Australian colonies had their own volunteer and part-time gunners that augmented British forces garrisoned in Australia. When the British forces left the need arose for permanent artillery forces to sustain the necessary critical technical gunnery proficiency. These first batteries – comprising Australian officers, gunners, guns, and equipment – served as both garrison coast artillery and mobile field artillery.[6]

From the early days of the smoothbore, muzzle-loaded guns horse-drawn on field carriages used by the first Australian expedition during the Sudan War in 1885, much has changed. The contemporary Australian artillery capability comprises three components:[7]

One: Offensive Support. The field artillery system is made up of a number of sub-components.

  1. Indirect fire support elements. These are the guns, mortars, command and control, tactical defence, and reconnaissance elements of the units and sub-units that operate the equipment.
  2. Joint Fires and effects co-ordination elements. These elements integrate all communications and personnel for the control and coordination of all indirect fire support elements.[8] They include joint fire teams (JFTs) which are the elements that observe and acquire targets and create and send targeting data.
  3. Support elements. These are the non-combat components that assist in making the field artillery elements operate. They include transport, logistics, and the qualified fitter armaments personnel who inspect and repair the equipment used in an artillery unit.

Two: Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA). STA is the fusion of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planning elements with joint fires and effects planning elements, which together support the battle plan.[9] STA operations sense and then collect battlespace information and data, and then fuse it into a product that can be used as an input to the targeting process, command decision-making, and the intelligence cycle.[10] The equipment used by an STA unit may include weapon locating systems such as radars and unmanned aerial systems (UAS).[11]

Three: Ground-Based Air Defence (GBAD). GBAD comprises land-based surface-to-air weapon systems designed to defeat or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action. Weapon systems may include guided weapons, anti-aircraft artillery or non-lethal means, and may include integral surveillance and target acquisition assets.

The evolution in the structure of Australian artillery reflects changes to its role. At the end of the Great War, the defined role of artillery used by British and Commonwealth armies was:

To help the infantry to maintain its mobility and offensive power by all the means at its disposal. The primary objects of artillery fire should therefore be:

  1. To assist the movements of its own infantry; and,
  2. To prevent the movements of the enemy’s infantry.[12]

This statement can be contrasted with more contemporary organisational descriptions of the role of artillery in the Australian Army:

The role of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery is to maximise the combat power of the Australian Defence Force through the provision of offensive support coordination and indirect firepower, surveillance and target acquisition and ground-based air defence.[13]

Evidently, the role has changed from one primarily focussed on supporting the infantry, to one that recognises the RAA’s capacity to deliver combat capabilities across the entire force and reflects its unique ability to synchronise joint fires across all parts of the battlespace.[14] It has long been recognised that artillery provides critical capabilities essential to winning battles. As such, today’s artillery units provide:

  1. Indirect fire support over long ranges to destroy, neutralise and disrupt targets to support friendly plans or prevent the enemy from executing their plan.
  2. Air and missile defence capabilities to destroy enemy aircraft and missiles, and deny the adversary use of the airspace.
  3. Surveillance and target acquisition to inform the intelligence picture and provide the precise target information to enable indirect fire support, air and missile defence systems, and other non-artillery systems to accurately engage targets.
  4. Command, control, and coordination of fire support, air defence and surveillance capabilities so that they are integrated to maximum effect into combined arms and joint forces.

1-2: Current RAA Units and Responsibilities

Organisationally, the RAA consists of three full-time field artillery regiments and one reserve regiment, one surveillance and target acquisition regiment, and one air defence regiment.

The three fulltime field artillery regiments are equipped with 155mm M777 towed howitzers, with each regiment providing close support to a combat brigade. The reserve regiment is equipped with 81mm mortars and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and provides Joint Fire and Effects[15] (JFE), command and control, Joint Fire Officers, and 81mm fire support to reserve battlegroups. The surveillance and target acquisition regiment is responsible (primarily) for providing JFE-led Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) to Army using UAS. The composite air-land regiment is equipped with missile systems and extended-range radars and is responsible for providing Army’s air defence capability. Both regiments are divisional-level assets, grouped as part of 6th Combat Support Brigade.

The RAA also provides JFE staff and advice on artillery capability and employment to the wider Army and ADF. This is achieved through the assignment of RAA personnel to the staff of the Divisional Joint Fires and Effects Coordination Centre (JFECC) within HQ 1st Division (Deployable Joint Force Headquarters); the Supported Arms Coordination Centre within Headquarters Amphibious Task Group (RAN); the Directorate of Army Air Support within RAAF Air Command; and the Effects Cell within Headquarters Joint Operations Command. These staffs are supported by various embedded artillery entities such as Joint Terminal Attack Controller Troop, Ground Liaison Troop, and the Joint Fires Teams in the Army’s amphibious battalion.

The School of Artillery conducts artillery and JFE training for all RAA job roles (or employment categories), as well as individual training for infantry mortars.

Along with a number of smaller individual elements embedded across the ADF, the RAA collectively provides the ‘land domain’ element of the ADF’s joint fires and effects capability system. Several key changes in progress, or due to commence in the near future as outlined in the Army Modernisation Plan, will further enhance and evolve these capabilities.[16]

1-3: The Modern Gunnery Problem

The objective of all artillery systems is to get an artillery projectile close enough to the target to create the desired effect. The system is made up of an observer who identifies and locates the target, a command element that authorises engagement, a fire control element that receives the observer’s information and then calculates firing data and relays it to the delivery system (such as a howitzer), and a delivery system to fire on that data to create the effect. Accordingly, a fundamental requirement of any artillery system is its ability to calculate the exact co-ordinates on the earth, of the target, observer, and delivery system.

From the first employment of artillery, the delivery systems (that is, the guns) were deployed alongside the infantry and cavalry on the battlefield, with the observers co-located with the guns. In these settings, the artillery engaged in direct fire, where the targets could essentially be seen from the delivery system. Accuracy was obtained through direct communication between the observer and the guns themselves, and there was a lesser requirement for computation of firing data.

In the early twentieth century, technological advancements meant that field artillery evolved from a direct fire weapon system (where there was a direct line of sight from the gun to the target), to an indirect fire weapon system (where the gun and observer were geographically separated from each other). The advantages of indirect fire systems are evident. They allow for both a longer effective range and some protection from counterattack. The corollary is that the target, observer, and delivery system are separated from each other with the delivery system unable to see the target. Such a fundamental change adds complexity to the task of engaging targets accurately and fast enough so that the target does not have time to evade engagement, or to take offensive action of its own. Meteorological, ballistic, geo-rotational, and survey corrections have needed to be incorporated into the calculation of the firing data provided to the guns so they can provide accurate indirect fire. The inherent difficulty of this task is referred to in artillery circles as ‘the modern gunnery problem’ and the complexity of the variables is illustrated in Figure 1.

The Modern Gunnery Problem

Figure 1: The Modern Gunnery Problem

Field artillery application of the Gunnery Problem

The role of field artillery is to provide timely and accurate indirect fire support[17] and can be provided by guns, mortars, howitzers, rockets, and missiles. Many modern field artillery systems are protected and/or self-propelled. This fire support is provided through the following field artillery tasks or fire mission profiles:

  1. Suppression[18]
  2. Neutralisation[19]
  3. Destruction[20]
  4. Harassment[21]
  5. Illumination[22]
  6. Interdiction[23]
  7. counter-battery fire (CBF)[24]
  8. coordination of fires[25]

Depiction of a modern field artillery system

Figure 2: Depiction of a modern field artillery system[26]

Figure 2 graphically represents the modern gunnery problem in a field artillery context and is representative of employment of all types of field artillery, including towed and self-propelled artillery and surface-to-surface rocket artillery systems.

Other application of the Gunnery Problem

The resolving of the Gunnery Problem also applies to the other forms of artillery: anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and in engaging targets beyond the ‘close’ battle and into the ‘deep’ battlespace beyond the engagement range of most land manoeuvre forces.

Anti-tank application. Field artillery guns were rapidly adapted to engage tanks and armoured vehicles as soon as they appeared on the battlefields of World War One. Because of the close range, speed of engagement, and the aim of destroying the target through a direct hit, the application of the Gunnery Problem reverted to the traditional, direct fire form. Initially, tanks and armoured vehicles could only be engaged effectively by modified guns adapted from their field artillery role, but later on dedicated anti-tank artillery gun systems were developed. Anti-tank rocket and missile systems soon evolved; first joining, and then replacing the anti-tank guns, and becoming smaller, more prolific and even man portable. Progressively, the anti-tank role became generally consigned to infantry and armoured forces. However, the anti-tank role for artillery remains an effective and lethal form of direct-fire engagement for today’s field artillery systems.

Gunnery Problem Applications

Anti-Aircraft application. In contrast to field artillery which engages an enemy’s land-based systems, ground-based air defence artillery engages enemy aviation systems. This three-dimensional application of the Gunnery Problem involves either direct or indirect fire forms of engagement, depending on the location of the acquisition device and the targeting mechanism. Currently, the RAA only uses missiles in the conduct of direct fire, short-range engagements with enemy aviation systems. However, other military forces employ cannon-based anti-aircraft artillery systems, as well as long-range missiles that employ an indirect fire form. In either situation, the ‘Modern Gunnery Problem’ is particularly acute. Regardless of the range at which they are engaged, airborne targets are fast and move in three dimensions. This adds further complexity to the challenge of targeting as there is now additional computation that needs to be completed in sufficient time for the artillery weapon system to engage the target while it is still within the engagement window.

Deep Battle application. In order to augment modern artillery systems, surveillance and target acquisition artillery units directly support the observer component, with a focus on identifying and selecting targets ‘deep’ behind enemy lines. To achieve this, the observer function has been diversified to include remote sensor devices. Now not only is the observer geographically separated from the delivery system, but the sensor may also be spatially separated from the observer.

Specifically, observers may use technology such as radars or unmanned vehicles. These sensors transmit data collected from ships, aircraft, or other intelligence gathering platforms. The technology used to transmit data and the distance between the artillery delivery system and other components, demands complex computations. The need to support complex modern artillery systems with the latest technology means that the training liability for RAA personnel is continually rising.

1-4: Modernising the Artillery Force

The Australian Army’s AMP aims to upgrade the technology and systems the RAA uses to solve the modern Gunnery Problem. Specifically, the AMP provides a twenty-year capability development framework to ensure that the acquisition, introduction, and disposal of new major systems are tied to – or aligned with – changes to organisational structures, technologies, personnel trades, and training delivery. To achieve this the AMP includes two broad phases covering the periods 2020-2030 and 2030-2040 respectively. Essentially, phase one will focus on introducing new artillery capability, while the second phase will focus on upgrading and improving the systems necessary to ensure the RAA’s effectiveness into the future. This paper focusses on phase one.[27]

There are six major capability development streams currently being managed to deliver modernised weapons platforms and sensors to the RAA through associated LAND projects. These are:

  1. Protected Mobile Fires – Self-propelled artillery [LAND 8116-1 and LAND 8116-3].
  2. Improved ammunition (guidance, firing, range) – [LAND 17-1C.2, LAND 8110-1 and LAND 8115-0].
  3. Long Range Fires – Long-range multiple launch rocket and missile systems [LAND 8113].
  4. Short Range Ground-Based Air Defence (SR-GBAD) – Air and missile defence [LAND 19-7B].
  5. Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Enhancements/Upgrades – Unmanned Aerial Systems [LAND129-3 and LAND 129-4].
  6. Digital Terminal Control System – Ability to coordinate targeting information from the latest platforms operating in the air, maritime and land.[28]

In the following sections, abstracts of each LAND project’s scope are provided to identify the specific elements of land capability that Army has been directed to introduce within each project, as part of the AMP. This is followed by an overview of the objectives to be achieved. Finally, a description is provided of relevant and comparable in-service capabilities fielded by modern allied and international artillery forces across the world.