Relighting the Surface Fire

By Major James W Hammond III, U.S. Marine Corps

Where Do We Stand?

Naval guns always have been the centerpiece of our NSFS capability. Currently, with the exclusion of the soon-to-be decommissioned nuclear cruisers, we have only four classes of ships with naval guns suitable to perform NSFS-Spruance (DD-963), Kidd (DDG-993), Ticonderoga (CG-47), and Arleigh Burke (DDG-51). By 2000, only about 95 ships will provide the fleet with close to 155 five-inch guns, the smallest number in the U.S. Navy this century. NSFS must substitute for the landing forces' organic capability and provide and augment fires across the full range of complementary fire support capabilities as measured in time, range, proximity, accuracy, and responsiveness. Fires do not just shape the battlefield and provide interdiction; they also provide close support of engaged friendly forces. Missiles cannot provide the close support of troops.

Further, we must bear in mind that fire support is not just guns, missiles, rockets, and shells; it is the entire system that, besides the weapon system, includes a command-and-control system and a target acquisition system. Only a complementary range of capabilities built around all elements of the fire support system will begin to achieve the envisioned seamless fire support capability across the very challenging sea-land interface. Failure to understand and develop a balanced fire support system that integrates all three elements can lead to military disaster, as evidenced by the collapse of the much-touted Iraqi artillery force in 1991.

To support "Forward . . . from the Sea" and "Operational Maneuver from the Sea," the Navy is focusing on increasing the current five-inch mount from 54 to 62 caliber and developing a rocket-assisted, Global Positioning System- and Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS)-guided round-the Extended-Range Guided Munition (ERGM) to meet the over-the-horizon threshold requirement of 41 nautical miles with an objective range of 63 nautical miles. Next, they will look at developing missile technology to support the land attack using the Army's Advanced Tactical Missile (ATACM), the Standard Missile, the Sea Standoff Land Attack Missile (Sea SLAM), or a combination of all three, to supplement the already fielded conventional surface- and submarine-launched land attack weapon, Tactical Land Attack Missile (TLAM). Future development will include exploration of the feasibility of a new gun mount, possibly a 155 mm, with advanced propellant technology. Discussion continues on the much publicized arsenal ship as a 21st-century replacement for battleships. Further, the Navy has done some testing on the feasibility and effectiveness of incorporating the latest Marine Corps and Army digital fire control system into its shipboard systems.

To engage targets effectively at greater ranges and with better precision, the target acquisition capability must improve. Expanded use of unmanned air vehicles is one way to improve target acquisition capability beyond the range of the supporting naval gunfire spotter who accompanies the maneuver forces ashore. Also, the Navy Sea Systems Command has investigated the possibility of giving the AN/SPY-1 radar on Aegis-class ships the capability to locate counter battery targets in the same way that the very successful Firefinder family of radars (AN/TPQ-36 and AN/TPQ-37) on the ground do for the Marine Corps and the Army. Studies show the technical and tactical feasibility of making this relatively simple modification, and analysis demonstrates that the theoretical maximum range and accuracy could be significantly greater than that of both ground radars.

We must be wary of exaggerated claims surrounding these planned improvements because the benefits they bring also will produce adverse effects. The tradeoffs must be evaluated in light of realistic understanding of how warfare might-and might not-evolve. For example, GPS/INS-guided extended-range rounds fired from a gun will have a long time of flight, which will diminish their responsiveness. The cost of these rounds will make a heavy volume of fire prohibitive and unattainable when it is needed. As Lieutenant General P. K. Van Riper, Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, noted in June 1996, "We are so interested in precision that we forget that a lot of rounds on a relatively large area for a sustained period has utility for the commander." Sometimes quantity is more important than precision. Further, the ERGM round is greatly limited, as it takes two to three of the spaces in the five-inch magazine.

Also, depending on a high-technology answer is dangerous. GPS easily can be stymied by low-power jammers that can be produced in large quantities and are, therefore, not feasible to destroy. Methods to counter the effects of jamming will raise the cost of the round further, limiting their use and lowering the terminal effect covered by each round as more of the warhead is displaced by increasing guidance and propellant. This in turn will make precise locating and hitting the target even more critical to the success of the munition, which will increase delay and reluctance of using this munition. The logic of employing precision-guided munitions is at times difficult to square with the realities of war, where uncertainty and fog will always prevail. We often forget that we are fighting a living, thinking foe, who will do everything to respond to our moves in a manner we do not expect.

Further, the increase in combat capability delivered by the proposed arsenal ship is greatly overrated. Whether the savings envisioned in the program will be realized when the support personnel on other platforms and the protection required from other ships and aircraft are added into the equation is still a question. This "fire support" platform will not provide the full range of complementary fire support capability because it will not, as it is currently envisioned, go close enough to shore to fire guns and rockets. Finally, the arsenal ships will add nothing to our fire support system; they will only make up for a portion of longer-range fire support capability that was lost with the retirement of the A-6 aircraft and its highly effective refueling derivative, the KA-6.

To Be Considered

Fire support from the sea must be responsive to the needs of the commander on the ground and encompass rapid planning. Current research into development and integration with a common digital fire support command-and-control system must be expanded into a program backed with a firm commitment. Piggybacking off the Army and Marine Corps' development of the Advance Field Artillery Tactical Data System makes the most sense. Closely coupled with command and control are command synergism and tactical decision making. While GPS is beginning to be used by ships to increase fire control accuracy, this technology should be further integrated into all equipment used to determine firing and targeting data. Such tactical decision aids will give significant assistance in positioning ships best to support maneuver from the sea; determining the best way to attack a target; giving critical insight into the true effect of terrain on the trajectory from the ship to a target; and, when integrated with other shipboard data systems, planning logistical requirements and reporting constraints.

Some of the fleet's naval guns must be larger. The five-inch gun is too small, and should be considered only a stopgap in our rejuvenation program. While some advanced technology in the ERGM program will squeeze more from the five-inch shell, a larger system like a 155 mm or an eight-inch weapon-or a mixture of both-is required. This will give our ground forces the needed support, as measured in terminal effect, that has been recognized in land cannon systems for a number of years. The de facto change in the primary role of naval guns from ship-to-ship combat to fire support for landing forces should be reflected in all future guns: greater choice of trajectory that will provide better defilade fire capability and less range dispersion. Also, a rocket system like the Army's Multiple Launch Rocket System is missing from the list of planned shipboard weapon systems. Rockets are needed to provide some of the volume required to complete the range of naval fire support.

Currently no naval gun shell has submunition bomblets. While the ERGM will have bomblets, a large portion of our conventional shells-be they five-inch, 155-mm, or eight-inch-must also have a capability similar to the very effective Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions. A number of attempts have been made to develop and field this capability on shipboard gun systems but none has ever gone to production. As our enemies increasingly use electro-optic sensors in their weapons, the importance of smoke to counter their tactical effect has been recognized by fielding an improved 155-mm artillery smoke/obscuration shell. Yet this level of improvement has not been reflected in seaborne weapon systems that provide the same function. The Navy's five-inch white phosphorous round provides only one minute of coverage over 150 meters in a crosswind, while under the same conditions the M825 155-mm howitzer's felt-wedge white phosphorous shell covers 350 meters for five to eight minutes. This very limited naval capability means that the Navy cannot provide landing forces with vital obscuration protection against modern advanced weapons. Even older types of obscurants, such as white phosphorous, when delivered in sufficient quantity over the right area, substantially limit the ability of modern electro-optic sensors. An improved Navy shell could easily capitalize on the Army's research and development conducted since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War into improving older smokes and developing newer multispectral obscurants.

Professional mass, a battalion of artillery firing one volley where all 18 rounds impact simultaneously, has far greater effect on the target than one battery firing three successive volleys of six rounds each. Since the advent of indirect fire support at the turn of this century, the focus has been on producing mass via tactics and command-and-control systems. Technology offers new ways of achieving mass. The capability of a single cannon to achieve a self-massing capability, where multiple rounds fired by a single howitzer impact simultaneously, currently is being introduced into new artillery systems. The next generation 155-mm self-propelled howitzer for the U.S. Army-the Crusader-will have a multiple-round simultaneous impact (MRSI) capability. It will be able to fire four to eight rounds in rapid succession that will all impact the target at the same instant. Because naval gun systems have always been far more mechanized and computer controlled, have possessed a greater rate of fire, and have always benefited from procedures that produce greater results for each round-in order to make up for the limitations imposed by their inherent logistical constraints-this capability should have been introduced in naval systems first.

The meteorological stations on board Navy ships must be able to provide timely and accurate meteorological data via digital data links to ship weapon systems and artillery systems that have landed ahead of their own meteorological stations. Currently, Navy meteorological units on board ship are not trained to provide this required support to Marine artillery units. The U.S. Army is developing models and profilers that will allow them to take meteorological data from soundings conducted behind the forward line of troops and extrapolate it to the more important area near the zenith of the path of projectiles. The naval services must develop the same type of models and software for the littoral regions to make the sea-land interface truly seamless. This work will have even greater application for the NSFS system than just fulfilling its role of substituting for land-based fire support as it transitions ashore. Even rounds such as the ERGM need accurate meteorological data, because their ability to correct their flight path to hit the target is greatly restricted. Indeed, the Army is developing advanced meteorological models in response to the needs of newer, long-range advanced weapon systems. Navy gunners, as a result of years of neglect and the artificiality of the training environment, neither use nor understand the need to use continuous meteorological data to achieve accurate predicted fire-a training deficiency we must correct.

Besides material solutions, we can do a number of other things to improve the long-forgotten area of fire support. Improvements to the training process probably would reap the greatest benefits and would develop the attitudes and level of tactical knowledge we need most. This would lead to more intelligent and informed decisions about material, tactics, doctrine, and organizational changes. Some improvements have been made in the last few years for Marine expeditionary unit (special operations capable) training, though they do not begin to match the level and scope of improvements that should be our goal. Ships and naval staff leaders and concerned crew members, including aircrews, should be integrated into some parts of combined arms exercises (CAX) at Twenty-nine Palms. These leaders should get out and learn how the entire fire support picture comes together at the fire support and maneuver elements of the Marine air-ground task force. The bond among the naval gunfire liaison officer (NGLO), the observers, spotters who will call in NSFS, the maneuver forces they support, and the NSFS ships must be made tighter. In the same way, some of these Fleet Marine Force personnel should ride cruisers and destroyers during live firing exercises to gain a better appreciation of NSFS capabilities and limitations. The greatest improvements would be found by creating a CAX-like live-fire littoral exercise at a training area like San Clemente Island and a comparable Atlantic site (e.g., Vieques) that would allow full integration of landing forces and NSFS fires. To accomplish this effectively, the impact areas on San Clemente Island and Vieques would have to be greatly expanded and rules changed to allow concurrent maneuver-but no other measure would do more to revitalize innovation and maturity in NSFS and littoral operations.

Other improvements also must be considered. The Supporting Arms Coordination Center should have a "greener" flavor to it. It needs operators with years of fire support experience. The assignment policy for the naval gunfire liaison officer billet has for years been a self-admitted problem within the Navy. Recent changes in manning policy by the Bureau of Naval Personnel may alleviate this problem, because all surface warfare officer lieutenants now must go to a second division officer billet, and the detailer makes the assignment. The result should be that the detailer has the incentive to send only those officers who are ahead in their qualification track to nontraditional billets such as NGLO. Ideally, this policy will continue and we will see an overall increase in performance by the individuals in these 30 to 40 billets who are the Navy's point men in NSFS.

There should be no difference in quality among the naval officers sent to ANGLICO-which is more popular and whose mission is to support the U.S. Army and our allies-and those assigned to the Marine artillery battalions, who are tasked to support Marines on the ground. To increase the incentive, the Marine Corps and the Navy should look at making NGLO billets joint billets or establishing a mechanism that gives these officers some sort of joint credit. If they were sent to the same billets in a U.S. Army division, there would be no question that they would receive joint credit. NGLOs, besides applying their shipboard knowledge of naval guns and missiles, must learn an entirely new area of warfare to do their job successfully. They must learn and apply maneuver and fire support orders; ground communications; transportation and logistics; staff planning; and advanced tactics, techniques, and procedures. This radical departure from their duties at sea gives them invaluable insight into land operations that will pay great dividends for joint operations when they return to driving ships and must go in harm's way to support troops ashore. This is an ideal opportunity for the Navy to build future joint commanders in its ranks.

We must approach the problem of providing accurate fire support from sea platforms as a system, which has its own interdependent functions and requires unique support, capabilities, and integrated training. The full range of complementary fire support capabilities must be addressed in developing our plans and employment. Training must be realistic, not separated by overly defined roles of warfare specialization that fail to reflect total platform functionality. As we try to maintain a national policy of engagement in a rapidly changing world, it is more and more likely that we soon may be called on to employ our amphibious skills. We must not forget that our guns and missiles and the other important elements of a complete fire support system from the sea are integral ingredients to the success of our operations in the littorals.

 

 
 

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