Future Operating Environment

Writing Competition | An Artillery Brigade

By Pietro Ruggeri November 16, 2020


With The Cove's 2020 Writing Competition officially closed, we will be publishing the entries whilst the judges deliberate on the submissions.  The competition topic is:

"How can we simplify the Army so that the time saved can be reinvested to becoming Future Ready?"

Consolidating artillery units under an Artillery Brigade will enable the Australian Army to establish an organisational culture best prepared for the introduction to service of Protected Mobile and Long-Range Fires, setting the conditions for the Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) to be Future Ready. An Artillery Brigade will be the formation responsible for the Force Generation of RAA capabilities, including field artillery, surveillance and target acquisition (STA), ground-based air defence (GBAD), and air-land integration (ALI). The brigade will also maintain Operational Generation of deployable lightweight towed howitzers, self-propelled guns, rocket artillery, weapon locating radars (WLR), tactical unmanned aerial systems (TUAS), and surface-to-air missiles, in order to support land components and joint forces.

The Army’s current organisational structure has three artillery regiments supporting a multi-role combat brigade each. Then, under command of a combat support formation, is Australia’s TUAS and short-range air defence capability, including a small ALI sub-unit. Amid a rapidly modernising RAA this dispersed organisational structure has introduced a significant risk of introducing new capabilities and concepts in isolation. Although the introduction to service of some equipment can be achieved at the unit level it is the overall impact on Army’s joint fires and effects apparatus which must be simplified for control.

Australia’s 2020 Force Structure Review identifies that, late in the decade, two regiments of self-propelled guns will be established. Already, it is evident that an organisational re-structure is required for the three standing field artillery regiments. Further, the review discusses the acquisition of a battery of long-range rocket artillery and missile systems with the intent of establishing a regiment thereafter.[1] Land 8116, the program responsible for introducing Protected Mobile Fires, seeks to procure 30 K9 self-propelled guns and 15 K10 armoured artillery resupply vehicles. The K9, native to South Korea, is a significant improvement in mobility, survivability and lethality to the RAA’s current fleet of M777 howitzers. This new system will be so different from any gun so-far employed by Australian artillery that significant changes will also be required to tactics, techniques and procedures; the K9’s ability to emplace and fire within 30 seconds as well as achieve three-rounds simultaneous impact is unprecedented in the RAA. Land 8113, the procurement of Long-Range Fires, intends to purchase the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) from the United States, a system capable of both multiple-rocket fire and precision guided missiles out to some 300km.

Artillery Now

The RAA’s current field artillery capability is limited to the M777A2 lightweight medium howitzer. Each of the three multi-role combat brigades has an artillery regiment under direct command, with three batteries of four howitzers in each regiment. Although air portable, the primary means of transporting a M777A2 is towing, an effort achieved by the recently introduced Rheinmetall HX77 8x8 truck. Towed artillery has long been Australia’s preference for close support field guns, with their effectiveness reinforced during 20th Century South East Asian conflicts. Pack howitzers and air portable light guns proved often decisive in combat in South Vietnam, a war which established the cultural bedrock for intimate and habitual artillery-manoeuvre relationships. Supporting a mixed taskforce in the near region; however, is no longer the sole prospect for an artillery regiment.

Plan Beersheba and Plan Keogh, two recent force restructure initiatives, have introduced an armoured cavalry regiment (ACR) and mechanised infantry battalion to each combat brigade. These units, consisting of tanks, light armoured vehicles, and armoured personnel carriers, are expected to form highly mobile and lethal Battle Groups. Current capability delivers a lacklustre fire support platform, with towed artillery’s mobility incommensurate with armoured or mechanised units. A brigade’s requirement to defeat enemy artillery is also unsupportable. The M777A2 and its current suite of 155mm ammunition is unable to achieve range overmatch against most threat platforms.[2] Only the guided Excalibur round is capable, though its payload is designed for destruction of small structures not entire enemy gun lines. It is evident that combat brigades require fire support from different platforms depending on the type of land warfare being engaged in.

A course of action could be to equip each artillery regiment with three different platforms to enable organic combat brigade support across the spectrum of operations; towed artillery for motorised, amphibious or air mobile tasks; self-propelled guns for mechanised land warfare; rocket artillery for counter-battery fire or operational targeting. This certainly raises issues regarding logistical and maintenance support to platforms, cross-qualifying soldiers and officers, and the dilution of subject matter expertise. It is arguably more simplistic and efficient to convert artillery regiments into single platform units during the introduction of self-propelled guns and rocket artillery, thereby mitigating the aforementioned concerns. Although this may diminish the strong habitual relationships built between gun batteries and manoeuvre units, it will significantly increase the flexibility and expertise of the RAA’s regiments.

Future Artillery

The RAA will undergo the most drastic technical transformation in its history in the next decade. The Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) will enter service by 2023, requiring a complete revision of Australian tactical GBAD. Then, later in the decade, self-propelled guns and rocket artillery will be introduced. 30 self-propelled guns, procured under project Land 8116 Protected Mobile Fires, will introduce an unprecedented level of mobility and survivability to the RAA. Also unprecedented will be the logistical, maintenance, and technical training liability incurred with the K9 and K10 platforms.

The intent to establish two regiments of self-propelled guns can be achieved by re-rolling current towed artillery units. This will; however, generate a capability gap in the combat brigade which is left with a single towed artillery regiment. If self-propelled guns were to be spread evenly across the brigades this would generate a greater burden on logistics and maintenance, two requirements which will already be a steep learning curve for gunners. Establishing subject matter expertise on the equipment will also be degraded, as three units begin generating their own standard operating procedures based on limited user experience.

The introduction to service of the K9 will not eliminate the Army’s requirement for towed artillery. Although towed guns’ mobility is incommensurate with current mechanised systems (or future ones acquired in project Land 400) they are still suitable for motorised and light combat. Army’s emphasis on amphibious operations, for example, highlights the requirement for air-mobile equipment capable of being flown into the complex terrain which dominates Australia’s near region. The exchange of towed artillery for self-propelled guns by two regiments will create a surplus of M777A2s. These can be operated by the RAA’s Army Reserve regiment, who will be better integrated into the full-time force if able to provide more meaningful fire support than their current mortar capability, as well as substitute operators and staff who are more applicably trained. Again, this type of mobility would best be the subject of a collection of experts who are well trained and experienced in air-mobile and amphibious operations, regardless of service category.

A long-range fires capability will be a first for Army. Never has the RAA, or any land component, had the ability to fire out further than 80km. It is arguable that equipment, training and procedures required for this should be concentrated in an expert sub-unit capable of deploying with any land component. Spreading HIMARS platforms across gun regiments, or concentrating them in a regiment whose focus is UAS or GBAD, would hinder the expedited process required to bring an effective long-range fires capability into service in the quickest time possible without sacrificing the quality of training. This too means that raising long-range fires as a reservist capability would be the first step in mitigating the expertise required by rocket artillerists. It will take FORCOMD level coordination to enable this without distraction; or alternatively a dedicated Artillery Brigade which understands the importance of this multi-domain capability.

In order to best coordinate and achieve these concepts in a whole joint fires apparatus of target acquisition and engagement a higher headquarters is required to facilitate training and execution. Expecting the Joint Fires and Effects Coordination Centre (JFECC) of Headquarters 1st Division (HQ 1 Div) to become responsible for self-propelled guns supporting mechanised forces, towed artillery conducting air-mobile operations, long-range rocket artillery conducting counter-fires and striking operational targets, as well as the radar and UAS target acquisition systems required to facilitate this, is infeasible. A dedicated, full-time formation is the best option available to Army when considering the requirement to collectively integrate some of the most advanced systems ever operated by the RAA into service. A suggested Artillery Brigade order-of-battle is demonstrated below in Figure 1.

 

 


Some allied armies have already identified the requirement to establish an artillery formation or, at least, a divisional artillery headquarters. The UK Army has recently removed its self-propelled, towed, and rocket artillery regiments from combat brigades, instead co-locating them under the 1st Artillery Brigade. The brigade’s role is “the artillery provision to warfighting and integrating joint fires through the provision of targeting, battle management, and ALI,” while the headquarters, “provides the joint fires expertise to 3 (UK) Divisional Headquarters when deployed.”[3] This enables the coordination and standardisation of all facets of joint fires in both exercises and operations. The US Army, given its size, has not opted to establish field artillery formations but instead place a Division Artillery (DIVARTY) in each of their combat divisions. The DIVARTY’s responsibility is to coordinate all joint fires assets allocated to their division, including those systems provided by the Field Artillery Brigades (who’s role is to raise, train and sustain rocket artillery battalions). DIVARTY is thereby able to collate all target acquisition data and allocate fire units based on their Divisional Commander’s intent for battle.[4]

An Artillery Brigade best suits the size of Australia’s Army, particularly if it also integrates STA and GBAD forces in a collective joint fire apparatus. In order to best support such an organisation some key organisations will need to be established in the Headquarters. While HQ 1 Div’s JFECC is the ADF’s primary deployable joint targeting coordination cell, there is also the necessity to coordinate, supply, and maintain all the fire support systems executing their intent. A force coordination element is needed to provide command and control of the physical requirements of gun, rocket, missile and STA systems. An operations cell is also required to best facilitate coordinated and integrated support to brigade exercises to ensure that combined arms training levels are achieved and maintained by combat units. Although this growth seems complex, it is far simpler than building an ad-hoc headquarters from the remnants of other regiments whenever exercising or deploying the Div JFECC.

Conclusion

Trying to grow the RAA while its units are decentralised by both geography and command arrangement will make the integration of new equipment a difficult process. By establishing an Artillery brigade, preferably with physically co-located capabilities (i.e. both self-propelled regiments on one base), reduces the command, logistical, maintenance and training burdens which will inevitably be endured. It would be brash to suggest that the RAA can revolutionise its capabilities without also revising its standing organisation. By removing these burdens and focusing internally, at least until Final Operational Capability is achieved on all projects, the RAA can simplify its structure and processes, reinvesting that time in ensuring the Regiment is best ready to provide Army’s future fires.

 

 

End Notes

[1] Department of Defence, 2020 Force Structure Plan (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2020), 69.

[2] John Gordon, et al., Army Fires Capabilities for 2025 and Beyond (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2019), xv.

[3] Ministry of Defence, ‘HQ 1st Artillery Brigade,’ UK Army, accessed 12 October 2020 at: https://www.army.mod.uk/who-we-are/formations-divisions-brigades/3rd-united-kingdom-division/hq-1st-artillery-brigade/

[4] This is best summarised in: David Johnson and David Halverson, ‘Massed Fires, Not Organic Formations: The Case for Returning Field Artillery Battalions to the DivArty,’ Association of the United States Army, 20-1, April 2020.


Portrait

Biography

Pietro Ruggeri

Pietro Ruggeri is a Field Artillery Officer who has served with the 8th/12th and 16th Regiments  RAA, including time on exchange with New Zealand's 16th Field Regiment. He is currently posted to the School of Artillery.

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

Ruggers, congratulations on a well thought out and timely paper. If units were to be all in the same physical location, whers do you suggest this would be? I would propose that it needs to be somewhere that can provide easy access to field training ranges for field guns but also be very close to RAAF Williamtown airspace, so that NASAMS can be exercised properly as part of an integrated air defence.

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