Contemporary Operating Environment
What is Artillery Surveillance and Target Acquisition?By Wade Cooper August 11, 2020
Artillery Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) is one of three streams within the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery (the other two being Field Artillery, and Ground Based Air Defence). 20th Regiment, RAA is the Australian Army’s only Artillery STA unit; it is part of the 6th Brigade and located at Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera.
The STA Regt is responsible for managing the commander’s counter-fire fight through the integration and synchronisation of target acquisition assets and effects.
Counter-fires is a critical STA and joint fires responsibility; unless enemy artillery is suppressed, they will be free to strike friendly targets, break-up friendly force concentrations, and provide fire-support to enable hostile ground manoeuvre.
The STA system combines the means of acquiring information and targets, and carrying out an appropriate level of target information processing. The STA system incorporates a cyclical process which informs, directs and updates the priorities and the rate of the collection effort.
Funnily enough, the principal tasks for STA are ‘surveillance’ and ‘target acquisition’.
- Surveillance is described as the systematic observation of aerospace, surface or sub-surface areas, places, persons, or things by visual, aural, electronic, photographic or other means. The STA Regt conducts surveillance, in conjunction with other arms, to collect and disseminate tactical information to enable joint fires and effects (lethal and non-lethal).
- Target Acquisition is described as the detection and identification of the location of a target in sufficient detail to permit the effective employment of joint fires and effects (lethal and non-lethal). The locating of enemy joint fires assets is critical to enabling the execution of effective counter fires.
20th Regt, RAA provides surveillance and target acquisition force elements as part of the 6th Brigade’s mission of generating specialist combat support effects across the spectrum of operations to support the Joint Force and Whole-of-Government outcomes.
The role of the Artillery STA Regt is to conduct systematic surveillance, accurate target acquisition, reconnaissance and targeting to enable the effective application of joint fires and effects (lethal and non-lethal).
History of Artillery STA
The colossal volume and usage of artillery during the First World War necessitated the need to find enemy guns, in order to counter them. Thus, ‘locating’ artillery came to prominence with its focal areas of flash-spotting, counter-bombardment, survey, calibration and meteorology. During the Great War, sound ranging capabilities were developed that could – for the first time – detect and respond to enemy indirect fire weapons. Artillery ‘locating’ was cutting edge, and ‘target acquisition’ had been born.
“There is nothing like the urgent need for accurate and timely counter-battery fire to bring into focus the role that locating artillery plays on the modern battlefield.”1
Since the end of the First World War, surface-to-surface fires capabilities have undergone tremendous developments, mostly linked to improved range and munitions. Similarly, artillery locating and target acquisition capabilities have progressed commensurately. The most notable development occurred around the time of the Second World War: the radar. Constantly refined ever since, the primary weapon of artillery STA over the past seventy years has been the Weapon Locating Radar. Of course Artillery calibration, survey, meteorology and sensor2 capabilities have also continued to develop exponentially.
Specific to the Australian Army, ‘locators’ didn’t come onto the ORBAT until just after the First World War. Initially starting as militia, our locators served meritoriously in the Second World War and Korea. Eventually becoming regular units on the Army establishment, Divisional Locating (and later STA) sub-units continued to serve with distinction in Vietnam, East Timor, and Iraq. The Solomon Islands and Iraq saw the introduction of Unmanned Aerial Systems as an STA capability, which also provided continuous service to operations in Afghanistan for nearly a decade. The STA Regt also maintains a technical artillery intelligence capability; this is the ability to analyse enemy artillery tactics, techniques, procedures and equipment to best enable the execution of counter-fires and support to the manoeuvre plan.
Core tasks of Artillery STA
The core tasks of the STA Regt are as follows:
Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Planning
ISTAR planning sees the integration of ISTAR planning teams into JIATF, JTF, Brigade and BG headquarters. These teams plan and coordinate the execution of ISTAR operations on behalf of the manoeuvre commander. These planners provide the linkage between collection operations and joint fires and effects, through the manoeuvre operations function.
Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations
Surveillance and reconnaissance operations include the conduct of tactical tasks within the battlespace as planned by ISTAR planning teams to support the commander’s information requirements. This can consist of tasks such as focal, area and route surveillance and/or focal, route and target reconnaissance.
Manoeuvre Support Operations
Manoeuvre Support Operations involve the use of ISTAR capabilities in direct support of the execution of manoeuvre operations. This can consist of the provision of near real- time information to the commander in order to enable decision making. Information can be provided via voice, data, imagery and full-motion video.
Targeting operations provide targeting support through the coordination of joint fires and effects engagements, using ISTAR sensors, with a primary focus of executing counter- fires tasks. Targeting operations involve the target acquisition and subsequent coordination of engagements in support of joint fires and effects, through cooperative engagement. Targeting operations include tasks such as call for fire (surface fires), laser target designation, manned-unmanned teaming (attack aviation), target hand-off and target mensuration.
What does 20 Regt (Army’s STA unit) consist of and provide?
20 Regt consists of four sub-units: Ops Spt Bty (C3 of the Regiment, SUAS capabilities,3 ISTAR planning support to DJFHQ/HQ 1 Div/JTF), 131 Bty and 132 Bty (TUAS capabilities,4 ISTAR planning support to JTF/Bde/BG HQ), and CSS Bty (maintenance and logistics support to the entire Regt). From 2022, an additional TUAS sub-unit (133 Bty) will be activated.
20 Regt provides scalable ISTAR planning and effects options. These range from SUAS detachments and ISTAR liaison officers, through to TUAS sub-units and ISTAR planning teams. The Regt continues to improve its capability to support deliberate targeting operations. 20 Regt has members posted to SOCOMD units, and shortly to 2 RAR. It maintains a series of short-readiness notice and follow-on force elements that are able to support a range of domestic, regional and global contingencies, tasks and operations.
The future of Australian Artillery STA
The future of the STA Regt is exciting. Land 129-3 will see the replacement of the RQ-7B Shadow 200, from 2022. This replacement TUAS will have a range of 120km+, be runway independent, and provide small and agile Forward Ground Control Stations to better support land, joint and inter- agency operations. The SUAS capability continues to rapidly develop, with some impressive Australian Industry options that will enable 20 Regt to provide robust and scalable support options.
The Artillery Modernisation Plan will likely see the introduction of Long-Range Fires (with candidate systems such as the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rockets System – HIMARS), and the re-introduction of Weapon Locating Radar capabilities (evolution of the AN/TPQ-36). While the organisational structures are still under consideration, as a STA Regt, 20 Regt would be well- positioned to receive systems like these; they will only serve to increase the STA capability through improved sensor-to- shooter/effector linkages. Looking further into the future, 20 Regt is well positioned to lead the introduction of armed-UAVs into Army, if/when that is directed by Army and Government.
20 Regt remains focussed on providing high-readiness, scalable ISTAR options (as part of 6 Brigade) to Army and Government, across the spectrum of operations, both domestically and abroad. As part of an Army in Motion, 20 Regt will ensure Army has an organic, intimate and responsive STA capability that feeds the land-based Joint Fires system. As part of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery, 20 Regt continues to work with other artillery units and headquarters to achieve its motto: Seek to Strike.
1 Ayliffe, K., Posener, J, (2004), Tracks of the Dragon – A history of Australian Locating Artillery, Sydney: Australian Military History Publications
2 A variety of equipment (such as infra-red thermal imagery, acoustic, magnetic, pyro electric and seismic sensors) which are used together or separately to mount surveillance of the enemy to give early warning/cueing.
4 Tactical UAS (range of ~120km): RQ-7B Shadow