Laying down some fire - U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sam Pastor, vehicle maintainer attached to the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team, fires the Mk48 "super SAW" machine gun at the off-base firing range near forward operating base Mehtar Lam Sept. 10. Members from the PRT traveled to the range to practice with crew served, primary and secondary weapons along with M203 grenade launchers and frag grenades.(U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)
10/17/2011 Samantha Tanner - defenceiq.com
Ahead of the forecast withdrawal of forces in 2014 NATO, nations are digesting the lessons from the conflict in Afghanistan and beginning to integrate them into the force development strategies of the future. Some may even find their way into the Afghan National Army as they prepare to take on full responsibility for Afghanistan’s internal security.
By examining those lessons learned, it becomes apparent that the application of indirect fire support on the battlefield is just one area where many lessons have been identified in hard-fought situations. Speaking at Defence IQ’s Future Artillery conference in March of this year, Colonel Brian McPherson of the Canadian Army highlighted some key areas of artillery support that merited particular attention.
Firstly, Canadian Forces operated in numerically small battalions, meaning that despite their lighter logistic footprint, the force size limited overall effectiveness and flexibility on a man-power intensive battlefield.
A second major area of concern was lack of gun power. The shortage of guns available to Canadian forces resulted in troops being exposed to increased risk as the required levels of fire support could not be delivered organically. Highly specialised training was required so that the speed and accuracy of fire support was increased to a point whereby the risks of reduced volumes of guns were compensated for by higher performing crews. This, allied with innovative changes to the structure and composition of operational artillery crews, resulted in greater responsiveness to calls for fire.
Such learning at speed, borne of operational necessity was not confined to Canadian Forces. Colonel Birger Mejlholm has identified a similar process within the Danish Army, it too a small force that was required to rework the structure of fire support detachments. With a shortfall in the volume of key capabilities and technology available, Danish units have been forced to turn to coalition allies in order to coordinate and deliver indirect fires. This has required their gunners to become exceptionally adept at interoperating with other nations, not least in areas of command and control. Whilst the enabling technology is important, the level of training required cannot be underestimated and this is an area where the Danish forces have expended considerable effort.
An area where the Danes excelled was in identification and target acquisition. Much of this success has been credited to the formation of a dedicated ISTAR battalion where the retention of specialist skills and the rapid integration of lessons learned on the battlefield afforded a big increase in ability to control and direct joint fires. The benefits of this approach have not been confined to Afghanistan as members of the battalion also participated in the Libyan air campaign.
Also common to both Danish and Canadian modernisation efforts was the desire to improve mortar capabilities. Principle enhancements to mortar design included thickening the barrel and installing longer pins on ammunition – enabling more precision.
Colonel Mike Ross of the British Army talked of the need to increase armies’ capacity to operate within increasingly crowded air space. The on-going trend of digitisation of the battlespace greatly increased the volume of aircraft (both manned and unmanned) operating at all altitudes – posing a particular problem for the delivery of indirect fires. The attendant demands upon the electromagnetic spectrum also poses challenges for gunners who require huge volumes of bandwidth to capture high quality ISTAR data. When looking towards future conflicts, the need to increase bandwidth stands out as a major priority for those seeking to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of joint fires.