Brigade artillery

Peter Öhman wrote recently (english translation) about the possibility of Swedish Army moving Archers up one echelon to divisional artillery which would leave a void in the brigades. Currently the Swedish Army doesn’t have any other artillery system than Archer, for mortars they have light 81mm mortars, towed 120mm mortars and recently introduced Mjölner, which are still being delivered. In the article he lists properties which brigade level artillery should have and also some TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures) that would be derived from the technical properties. I agree with most of what he wrote and have chosen following properties as guidelines for this article:

  • Ability to shoot&scoot
  • Massed fire
  • Availability, this can mean both high ammo storage and/or fast reloading and range

Having discussed the topic with him there are few quite a big factors where we disagree, mainly the role and mission of brigade level artillery. He thinks that brigade artillery should use most of its resources to supporting combat battalions, whereas I think that brigade needs to conduct shaping fires for its own support. I try to bring these points of view into this article. The aim of this article is to analyse the factors behind what constitutes to a strong brigade artillery and how it might function.

 

Parameters and planning assumptions

 

The parameters that will be used are:

  • Indirect fire unit to combat unit ratio
  • Indirect fire weapon to combat unit ratio
  • Weight of fire
  • Weight of fire and range per unit

For evaluating effectiveness of fire KOTO (2008) (1) will be used, danger zones will be calculated according to this source http://oppejatarkka-ammunnasta.blogspot.com/2016/04/?m=1 (2).

 

While Öhman only discusses artillery I will take mortars into equation too. They are a key player in how the whole brigade indirect fire system works and who does what. In short a weak battalion level indirect means that brigade level system has to pick up the slack and then division level artillery has to do brigade level artillery tasks to compensate for it. I will also enlarge the scope to include light rocket launchers due to their sheer combat power and to help us understand why Russia is so keen on their rocket launchers. Spoiler alert, they’re pretty darn deadly.

 

International examples

 

One of the brigades that has surprisingly strong indirect fire is the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. In total the brigade has 40x 120mm mortar carriers and 18x 155mm M777 howitzers and there are 19 separate firing units, four battalion level mortar platoons, 12 mortar sections one in each rifle company and cavalry troop and three howitzer batteries. For the nine rifle companies and three cavalry troops there are 1,58 firing units per company/troop.

Shouldn’t come as a surprise that Russians love their artillery. Each mechanized brigade has two battalions of self-propelled howitzers, a battalion of BM-21s and three mortar batteries, one for each mechanized battalion. In total there are 80 weapons and 12 batteries supporting 13 mech/tank companies, a ratio of 0.92 batteries per company.

 

Possible weaponry

 

Öhman proposes 120mm artillery to be a theoretically good caliber for brigade artillery. Seeing that no such weapon exists today outside museums or Swedish coastal artillery emplacement I will take the artistic liberation of exploring bunch of different possibilities. Maybe even break some hard learned “truths” along the way. First of all my opinion is that we shouldn’t exclude mortars or rocket launchers from brigade level. Mortars, while short ranged, are the premiere weapon for supporting troops in contact(3). Having one mortar coy at brigade level allows supporting the tip of the spear with strong, immediate and accurate firesupport(2). A battalion attacking with two companies in front and one in reserve can have both companies supported by their own mortar company.

Light rocket launchers like BM-21, Astros and LAR-160 enable a host of different functions. Modern multicaliber rocket launchers can perform both massed and precision fires. Flexibility, massive firepower and shock effect are the biggest factors why there should be rocket launchers at brigade level. Their logistical demands are higher than those of SPH but their firepower compensates for that. MLRS used to be called “Commander’s personal shotgun” before it was neutered to “70km Sniper”.

I don’t think anyone promotes having towed artillery at brigade level in other than special cases and nor do I. Having them at higher echelons is another topic on the other hand. Öhman has a distaste for very long ranged artillery and I share that feeling to some degree. While longer range is useful in some situations, most targets for artillery are located very close to FLOT (4). Firing at longer distances increases the dispersion which makes the fires less effective in general. Every situation is different though and the need for using course correction fuzes should be made case to case basis. CCFs about triple the price of one 155mm round but the flip side is that less rounds are needed to complete the mission (5). We also need to assess the size of the target and sometimes bombarding large areas with big dispersion is the way to go.

 

Fantasy fleet

 

Options are as follows:

 

1 Mortar coy (8x Mjölner), 2x artillery batteries (2×6), rocket launcher battery (6)
2 3x artillery batteries (3×6)
3 Mortar coy (12 Mjölner), 2x artillery batteries (2×8)
4 Mortar coy (12 Mjölner), artillery battery (8), rocket launcher battery (6)
5 2x artillery batteries (2×6), rocket launcher battery (6)

 

For tube artillery I will use a generic 155/39cal weapon with 6RPM, as rocket launcher LAR-160. The brigade in question has three battalions, each with three combat units and a mortar coy of 8 Mjölners. The following figures will take battalion mortar companies into account.

Sieppaa

Option 1 2 3 4 5
Indirect fire unit to combat unit ratio 0,58 0,5 0,5 (0,58*) 0,5 (0,58*) 0,5
Weapon to combat unit ratio 4,16 3,5 4,33 4,16 3,5
Weight of fire 16992kg 8496 9840kg 16560 15744kg

*In case the 12-strong mortar company acts as two half companies

As we can see from the table option 1 has the most indirect fire units supporting the brigade which means a few things. There can be more firing units in reserve, resupplying or moving to other firing positions and also it can support most units at the same time. The options with rocket launcher battery have almost double the weight of fire compared to the ones that don’t. Option two which is the current status quo in most brigades in the West is the worst of these five options by these parameters. It is on par with option 5 in number of units and weapons but has worse weight of fire. What option 2 has over option 5 is sustained fire due to the time it takes for rocket launchers to reload.

For supporting troops in contact option 3 and 4 are on par with each other. This is due to the large amount of mortars they posses. They can be used very close to friendly troops and so the infantry can close in much closer under cover. For shaping fires options 1 and 5 are on par. They both have two artillery batteries and one rocket launcher battery for long range fires. Logistically option 1 would be the heaviest, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking the eggs. Logistically lightest is option 2. Of these option 3 is probably the most versatile one. It’s not as good in shaping fires as some others, but has better resilience due to bigger batteries and a big mortar company. The mortar company provides combat battalions with very strong support fires and two artillery batteries have some capability for shaping fires against most targets. They don’t have enough guns to send shells downrange to level bigger area targets. Also having just two batteries may cause problems with reserves, supply and movement. They can cover eachother’s movement but lack the third unit for extra resilience. If 4 guns are assessed to be enough to count as independent unit, then there can be four sub units, which provides more tactical flexibility but sacrifises some firepower.

 

  1. https://puolustusvoimat.fi/documents/1948673/2258487/PEVIESTOS-Komppanian-taisteluohje.pdf/91dcaf27-56ac-4084-b278-9395752cca93 page 187-189
  2. http://oppejatarkka-ammunnasta.blogspot.com/2016/04/?m=1
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gsw8pFT9CyA
  4. The Russian Way of War, page 138-141, https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/Hot%20Spots/Documents/Russia/2017-07-The-Russian-Way-of-War-Grau-Bartles.pdf
  5. Col Pasi Pasivirta, Armor seminar 2019
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