Research and Discussion

On the development trend of artillery and army missiles in modern warfare

7/31/2022 10:49:20 AM

Currently, some Militaries are applying the achievements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution into the modernisation of their artillery and army missile forces. Stemming from recent conflicts, this trend is aimed to meet the requirements of modern warfare and draws great public concern.

Rapidly-deployed, long range and high accuracy artillery

Recent armed conflicts show that artillery fire support is increasingly dominant as application of new technology has enhanced its features and revived its role in the battlefield. Artillery can be ready to open fire in seconds, night or day, even in the worst weather conditions and visibility. Their higher rate of fire is attributed to the auto-loading system on the self-propelled vehicle. A typical example is the semi-automatic loading system mounted on the German PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer, which reduces its crew to 2 while increasing fire rate. Moreover, in today combat, two or even only one system of howitzer is needed instead of 8 in the past but still very effective. Thus, there has been new development in the organisation and method of artillery warfare.

There is a need for higher rate and longer range of artillery armament. Long-range of artillery fire allows for long-range raids and wide area encirclement. It not only supports the deep penetration tactic, but also can strike the entire defence depth of adversary. Modern artillery armament should have long-range combat capabilities for avoiding enemy counterattacks. The maximum range of artillery often depends on the type of warhead and propellant combination, and can be increased by redesigning shells with higher standards. The US Army has successfully developed and tested the 155 mm M1299 long range howitzer with increased range from 30 km to 70 km. The first 18 M1299 systems are planned for service in 2023.

World militaries are also trying to improve the accuracy of artillery ammunition, in order to increase damage, efficiency and combat effectiveness. When in use, artillery armament will require a large supply of ammunition if its accuracy is not high. Therefore, for effective combat, gunner must not only accurately locate the target through front-line reconnaissance equipment or drones, but also destroy the target with as few ammunition as possible. The American Raytheon Corporation has produced the 155 mm M-982 Excalibur shell using the advances of microelectronics technology, reducing the circle radius of the target error to less than 05 m compared to 200m of conventional shell. If renovated with the M-1156 artillery trajectory correction kit of the Orbital ATK's (USA), conventional shells may achieve accuracy similar to precision-guided ones. Although precision-guided shells are more expensive than conventional ones, they are more effective while fewer shells are consumed. The Korean Hanwha Defence Corporation has developed the K-9 Thunder 155 mm artillery shell that can achieve high accuracy from the very first shot. This is useful especially in urban warfare where civilian casualties are required to be kept at minimum. China's NORINCO industrial group also developed a family of precision-guided shells, including GS1 and GS6 laser-guided shells, with reported accuracy of up to 90%.

Modernisation of artillery’s fire control system

Modern artillery warfare must not allow adversary recover his combat strength after the first fire attack and identify the direction of fire attack. This principle combined with informationised combat conditions has placed high demands on the fast reaction capability and independent combat capability of modern artillery ammunition systems. Therefore, it is necessary to develop automatic artillery fire control systems which promptly receive and transmit command information, and organise effective command and control of fire. Fire control system allows the artillery to engage with out-of-sight targets, position the target by GPS combined with the inertial navigation system. Digitising artillery fire control allows for the direct cycle from scout to fire. Therefore, shells can hit the target in a few seconds when fire reinforcement is required.

Main improvements to the existing Russian artillery systems include the enhancement of the fire control system, the installation of electronic maps, the ability to identify real-time targets in complex conditions, thereby fostering faster and more effective firepower. The Russian Army has installed the Success fire control systems on the 300 mm Whirlwind, 220 mm Smerch, 122 mm Hail multiple rocket launcher systems and the 152 mm 2S19M2 Msta-S self-propelled howitzers. In addition, it also used unmanned reconnaissance aircraft to accelerate the construction of a unified offensive artillery reconnaissance weapon system, greatly improving the informationised warfare capabilities for artillery.

Russian Success artillery fire control system can both be used independently and be combined with the firing command vehicle. Self-propelled howitzer and multiple rocket launcher systems, after being installed with the Success system, can shorten the transition time from marching to combat, reducing the number of operators, making them much more effective. The Success fire control system increases the accuracy of the howitzers from 20% to 30%, shortens preparation time by 1/4, increases the efficiency of destroying the target from 30 % to 40%, and triples the survivability of the artillery battery.

Western countries are also developing artillery fire control systems, aiming to increase the response, accuracy and efficiency of artillery. The Vingtaqs-II reconnaissance system Rheinmetall (Germany) provides long range target location, laser target indication. It can be fixed or integrated on different types of vehicles. The US 155 mm M-777 towed howitzer and 155 mm M-109A6/A7 Paladin self-propelled howitzer use a digitised fire control system enable them to fire the first shell, from marching to combat status, in just 1 minute, compared to 20 minutes as before. This helps shorten the response time and reduce the possibility of enemy’s return fire.

Similar capability has also been achieved by South Korea with the K-9 Thunder and K-55A1 self-propelled howitzer systems. The K-9 Thunder, in particular, is fully automatic with a maximum rate of fire of up to 3 rounds in 15 seconds.

Strengthening army tactical missile power

Army tactical missiles with high accuracy and long-range will enhance combat effectiveness and destroy targets at a longer range than artillery. Long-range precision firepower is an extremely important factor in ensuring victory against the enemy's anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy. Therefore, one of the top priorities of the major powers' armies is to increase the range of the existing army tactical missile systems, and soon develop and put into service new long range fire systems. The US army tactical missiles are launched from the M270 multiple launch rocket double-pod system which is mounted on a tracked vehicle The original missile carries a warhead containing 954 M74 submunitions, with a maximum range of 165 km; while the next version has a range of 300 km, with increased accuracy and a fragmentation warhead. The Precision Strike Missile (PSM) developed by the US Lockheed Martin Corporation has been selected as the next generation long range attack missile system, fired from the multiple rocket launcher system (MLRS) and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). They are used to attack critical targets, A2/AD systems, with a range of up to 500 km or more. Each PSM vehicle can carry two rounds. The US Army has just been allocated a budget of $ 166 million to acquire 110 PSM which are expected to enter service in December 2023.

Russia's Iskander-M Army tactical missile system carries two short-range ballistic missiles on each launching vehicle, with a range of 280 km for the export version and from 400 km to 500 km for the domestic version. The warhead has a mass of 700 kg, including: high-explosive shells, cluster shells, thermobaric shells and armour penetrating shells. The Iskander-M missile system is designed to destroy anti-aircraft missile systems and has proven its effectiveness in real combat in Syria. In addition, Russia is also improving the artillery missile system, especially the multiple rocket launcher system. The Tornado-G multiple launch rocket system was officially handed over and put into service in the Russian Army, marking a new development in the country's rocket system. Tornado-G is installed with 02 containers for storage, transportation and firing with 24 122 mm rockets. The new generation Tornado-G system has a huge impact on the militaries of countries that are using the old version BM-21 Grad.

In modern warfare, artillery weapons and army missiles will be used to maintain fire superiority and destroy military weapons and vehicles; at the same time, effectively support air and sea attacks. It can be affirmed that recent breakthroughs in increasing the strength of artillery and army missile systems have changed the way the army operates; at the same time, raising concerns about an arms race, though quietly but very drastic, significantly impacting on world and regional security.

Senior Colonel DANG DONG TIEN, General Department of Technology