Artillery (from French artillerie) is a military Combat Arm which employs any apparātus, machine, an assortment of tools or instruments, a system or systems used as weapons for the discharge of large projectiles in combat as a major contribution of fire power within the overall military capability of an armed force. Artillery is also a system of scientific research and its application towards design, capability and combat use of the above matériel . Over the course of military history the projectiles were manufactured from a wide variety of materials, made in a wide variety of shapes, and used different means of inflicting physical damage and casualties to defeat specific types of targets. The engineering designs of the means of delivery have likewise changed significantly over time, and have become some of the most complex technological application today.
For much of artillery’s history during the Middle Ages and the Early modern period the artillery pieces on land were moved with the assistance of horse teams. During the more recent Modern era and in the Post-Modern period the artillery piece crew has used wheeled or tracked vehicles as a mode of transportation. Artillery used by naval forces has changed significantly also, with missiles replacing guns in surface combat.
The process of firing the artillery piece is called gunnery. The act of discharging the projectile from the weapon is called servicing the gun by the gun crew to produce artillery fire, and can be either direct artillery fire, or indirect artillery fire. The manner in which artillery units or formations are used is called artillery support, and may at different periods in history refer to weapons designed to be fired from ground, naval and even air weapons platform. Although the term also describes soldiers and sailors with the primary function of using artillery weapons, the individuals who operate them are called gunners irrespective of the rank, the gunner being the lowest rank in Artillery Arm. The weapons gunners use, are collectively referred to as ordnance, and individually as an artillery piece, while its projectiles are referred to as munitions, in both cases regardless of the specific type in use.
The term is also applied to a combat arm of most military services when used organizationally to describe units and formations of the national armed forces that operate the weapons. The gunners and their ordnance are usually grouped for combat into gun crews, with several such crews combined into a unit of artillery commonly referred to as a battery. Batteries are roughly equivalent to a company in the infantry, and are combined into larger military organizations for administrative and operational purpose.
During military operations the purpose of Artillery is to support the other Arms in combat through delivery of its munitions onto the target, usually at the request of troops in combat contact or gunners may be expected to come into direct combat contact with the enemy to by delivering either High Explosive munitions to inflict casualties on the enemy from casing fragments and other debris, blast, and burn injuries, or by demolition of enemy positions and piercing of enemy armour. The artillery fire may be directed by an Artillery observer.
Military doctrine has played a significant influence on the core engineering design considerations of Artillery ordnance through its history, in seeking to achieve a balance between delivered volume of fire with ordnance mobility. However, during the modern period the consideration of protecting the gunners also arose due to the late-19th century introduction of the new generation of infantry weapons using conoidal bullet, better known as the Minié ball, with a range almost as long as that of field artillery. The gunners’ increasing proximity to, and participation in direct combat against other combat Arms and attacks by the aircraft made it the introduction of substantial amounts of armour necessary , leading to the development of the tank, and the evolution of armoured warfare. These influences have guided the development of artillery ordnance, systems, organisations and operations until the present, with artillery systems capable of providing support at ranges from as little as 100m to the intercontinental ranges of ballistic missiles. The only combat in which artillery is unable to take part in is the close quarters combat.
Artillery is the third oldest of Combat Arms, and in many armed forces the gunners exhibit their own pride and a unique set of traditions associated with their service.
Joseph Stalin said of it, “Artillery is the god of war.”
Mechanical systems used for throwing ammunition in ancient warfare, also known as "engines of war", like the catapult, onager, trebuchet and the ballista are also referred to by military historians as artillery.
The invention of torpedoes also occurred in the Muslim world, and were driven by a rocket system. The works of Hasan al-Rammah in Syria in 1275 shows illustrations of a torpedo running on water with a rocket system filled with explosive materials and having three firing points. The first supergun was the Great Turkish Bombard, used by the troops of Mehmed II to capture Constantinople in 1453. It had a 762 mm bore, and fired 680 kg (1500 lb) stones.
In 1415, the Portuguese invaded the Mediterranean port town of Ceuta. While it is difficult to confirm the use of firearms in the siege of the city, it is known that the Portuguese defended it thereafter with firearms, namely bombardas, colebratas, and falconetes. In 1419, Sultan Abu Sa'id led an army to reconquer the fallen city, and Moroccans brought cannons and used them in the assault on Ceuta. Finally, hand-held firearms and riflemen appear in Morocco, in 1437, in an expedition against the people of Tangiers. It is clear that these weapons had developed into several different forms, from small guns to large artillery units.
The artillery revolution in Europe caught on during the Hundred Years War and changed the way that battles were fought. In the following year, the English used a gunpowder weapon in a military campaign against the Scottish. However, at this time, the cannons used in battle were very small and not particularly powerful. Cannons were only useful for the defense of a castle, as demonstrated in the battle of Breteuil in 1356, when the besieged English used a cannon to destroy an attacking French assault tower. By the end of the 14th century, cannons were only powerful enough to knock in roofs, and therefore could not penetrate castle walls. However, a major change occurred between 1420-1430, when artillery became much more powerful and could now batter strongholds and fortresses quite efficiently. Both the English, French, and Burgundians advanced in military technology, and as a result the traditional advantage that went to the defense in a siege was lost. The cannons during this period were elongated, and the recipe for gunpowder was improved to make it three times as powerful as before. These changes led to the increased power in the artillery weapons of the time. Joan of Arc encountered gunpowder weaponry several times. When she led the French against the English at the Battle of Tourelles, in 1429, she faced heavy gunpowder fortifications, and yet her troops prevailed in that battle. In addition, she led assaults against the English-held towns of Jargeau, Meung, and Beaugency, all with the support of large artillery units. When she led the assault on Paris, Joan faced stiff artillery fire, especially from the suburb of St. Denis, which ultimately led to her defeat in this battle. In April 1430, she went to battle against the Burgundians, whose support was purchased by the English. At this time, the Burgundians had the strongest and largest gunpowder arsenal among the European powers, and yet the French, under Joan of Arc's leadership, were able to beat back the Burgundians and defend themselves. As a result, most of the battles of the Hundred Years War that Joan of Arc participated in were fought with gunpowder artillery. 19th century mortar
As small smoothbore tubes these were initially cast in iron or bronze around a core, with the first drilled bore ordnance recorded in operation near Seville in 1247. They fired lead, iron, or stone balls, sometimes large arrows and on occasions simply handfuls of whatever scrap came to hand. During the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) these weapons became more common, initially as the bombard and later the cannon. Cannon were always loaded from the muzzles, but there were many early attempts at breech-loading designs; however lack of engineering knowledge rendered them even more dangerous to use than muzzle-loaders.
Bombards developed in Europe were massive smoothbore weapons distinguished by their lack of a field carriage, immobility once emplaced, highly individual design, and noted unreliability (in 1460 James II, King of Scots, was killed when one exploded at the siege of Roxburgh). Their large size precluded the barrels being cast and they were constructed out of metal staves or rods bound together with hoops like a barrel, giving their name to the gun barrel. Bombards were of value mainly in sieges, a famous Turkish example used at the siege of Constantinople in 1453 massed 19 tons, took 200 men and sixty oxen to emplace and could fire seven times a day. The Fall of Constantinople was perhaps "the first event of supreme importance whose result was determined by the use of artillery" when the huge bronze cannons of Mehmed II breached the walls of Constantinople thereby ending the Byzantine Empire according to Sir Charles Oman.
The use of the word "cannon" marks the introduction in the 15th century of a dedicated field carriage with axle, trail and animal-drawn limber—this produced mobile field pieces that could move and support an army in action, rather than being found only in siege and static defences. The reduction in the size of the barrel was due to improvements in both iron technology and gunpowder manufacture, while the development of the trunnion - projections at the side of the cannon as an integral part of the cast - allowed the barrel to be fixed to a more movable base, and also made raising or lowering the barrel much easier.
The first mobile weapon is usually credited to Jan Žižka, who deployed his oxen-hauled cannon during the Hussite Wars of Bohemia (1418–1424). However cannon were still large and cumbersome. With the rise of musketry in the 16th century cannon were largely (though not entirely) displaced from the battlefield—the cannon were too slow and cumbersome to be used and too easily lost to a rapid enemy advance.
The combining of shot and powder into a single unit, a cartridge, occurred in the 1620s with a simple fabric bag, and was quickly adopted by all nations. It speeded loading and made it safer, but unexpelled bag fragments were an additional fouling in the gun barrel and a new tool—a worm—was introduced to remove them. Gustavus Adolphus is identified as the general who made cannon an effective force on the battlefield—pushing the development of much lighter and smaller weapons and deploying them in far greater numbers than previously. But the outcome of battles was still determined by the clash of infantry.
Shells, explosive-filled fused projectiles, were also developed in the 17th century. The development of specialized pieces—shipboard artillery, howitzers and mortars—was also begun in this period. More esoteric designs, like the multi-barrel ribauldequin, were also built.
The 1650 book by Kazimierz Siemienowicz "Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima" was one of the most important contemporary publications on the subject of artillery. For over two centuries this work was used in Europe as a basic artillery manual.
One of the most significant effects of artillery during this period was however somewhat more indirect - by easily reducing to rubble any medieval-type fortification or city wall (some which had stood since Roman times), it abolished millennia of siege warfare strategies and styles of fortification building. This led, amongst other things, to a frenzy of new bastion-style fortifications to be built all over Europe and in its colonies, but also had a strong integrating effect on emerging nation-states, as kings were able to use their newfound artillery superority to force any local Dukes or Lords to submit to their will, setting the stage for the absolutist kingdoms to come.
Rifling had been tried on small arms in the 15th century. The machinery to accurately rifle a cannon barrel did not arrive until the 19th. Cavelli, Wahrendorff, and Whitworth all independently produced rifled cannon in the 1840s, but these guns did not see widespread use until the latter stages of the American Civil War—when designs such as the various calibre Rodman guns came to prominence.
Artillery continued to gain prominence in the 18th century when Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval, a French artillery engineer introduced the standardization of cannon design. He developed a field howitzer whose gun barrel, carriage assembly and ammunition specifications were made uniform for all French cannons. The standardized interchangeable parts of these cannons down to the nuts, bolts and screws made their mass production and repair much easier. Another major change at this time was the development of a flintlock firing mechanism for the cannons. The old method of firing the cannon involved the use of a linstock or match to light a small quantity of powder charge in a touchhole drilled into the breech. This technique was quite faulty because the ignited powder could easily be extinguished by rain and an excess amount of charge could cause the guns to burst. The flintlock mechanism on the other hand only needs to be cocked and when its trigger is pulled the flint of the hammer strikes the frizzen throwing sparks into the pan and detonating the charge at the breech. The trigger can be tied to a lanyard and fired from a safe distance. These changes laid down in 1789 would prove decisive for Napoleon's conquests. Napoleon, himself a former artillery officer, perfected the tactic of massed artillery batteries unleashed upon a critical point in his enemies' line as prelude to infantry and cavalry assault and, more often than not, victory.
From the 1860s artillery was forced into a series of rapid technological and operational changes, accelerating through the 1870s and thereafter. The first effective breech-loaders (allowing a gun crew to operate while always behind protective barriers) were developed in the 1880s. The first cannon to contain all 'modern' features is generally considered to be the French 75 of 1897 with its cased ammunition, effective breech-loading, modern sights, self-contained firing mechanism, and hydro-pneumatic recoil dampening.
In the 19th century artillery finally made the decisive split between smaller, lighter, and more mobile pieces that stayed with the troops, and much larger weapons deployed to use indirect fire. The second option, using indirect fire, drove the development of the technologies and doctrines that have produced current artillery weapons. To quote McCamley,
[By WWII] decades if not centuries of weapons development had settled into maturity on an almost imperceptibly rising plateau; the sciences of ballistics and explosive chemistry had achieved near perfection given the available technology of the age. Arguably the only new developments of note were discarding sabot rounds... and the hollow-charge projectile... both of which were of marginal significance in the Second World War.
Modern artillery is most obviously distinguished by its large caliber, firing an explosive shell or rocket, and being of such a size and weight as to require a specialized carriage for firing and transport. However, its most important characteristic is the use of indirect fire, whereby the firing equipment is aimed without seeing the target through its sights. Indirect fire emerged at the beginning of the 20th Century and was greatly enhanced by the development of predicted fire methods in World War I. Indirect fire uses firing data set on the sights, predicted fire methods ensure that this data is accurate and corrects for variations from the standard conditions for muzzle velocity, temperature, wind and air density.
Weapons covered by the term 'modern artillery' include "cannon" artillery such as the howitzer, mortar, and field gun and rocket artillery. Certain smaller-caliber mortars are more properly designated small arms rather than artillery, albeit indirect-fire small arms. This term also came to include coastal artillery which traditionally defended coastal areas against seaborne attack and controlled the passage of ships. With the advent of powered flight at the start of the 20th century, artillery also included ground-based anti-aircraft batteries.
The term "artillery" has traditionally not been used for projectiles with internal guidance systems, even though some artillery units employ surface-to-surface missiles. Advances in terminal guidance systems for small munitions has allowed large-caliber projectiles to be developed, blurring this distinction.
One of the most important role of logistics is the supply of munitions as a primary type of artillery consumable, their storage and the provision of fuses, detonators and warheads at the point where artillery troops will assemble the charge, projectile, bomb or shell.
A round of artillery ammunition comprises four components:
When used with HE shells, airburst fuzes usually have a combined airburst and impact function. However, until the introduction of electronic proximity fuzes, the airburst function was mostly used with cargo munitions—for example shrapnel, illuminating, smoke and improved conventional munitions. Airburst HE is more lethal than groundburst against many unprotected targets.
The larger calibres of anti-aircraft artillery are almost always used airburst.
Most artillery fuzes are nose fuzes. However, base fuzes have been used with armour piercing shells and for squash head (HESH or HEP) anti-tank shells. At least one nuclear shell and its non-nuclear spotting version also used a multi-deck mechanical time fuze fitted into its base.
Early airburst fuzes used igniferous timers which lasted into the second half of the 20th century. Mechanical time fuzes appeared in the early part of that century. These required a means of powering them. The Thiel mechanism used a spring and escapement (i.e. 'clockwork'), Junghans used centrifugal force and gears, and Dixi used centrifugal force and balls. By the 1990s, electronic time fuzes had been introduced.
Proximity fuzes have been of two types: photo-electric or radar. The former was not very successful and seems only to have been used with British anti-aircraft artillery 'unrotated projectiles' (in other words, rockets) in World War 2.
The first radar proximity fuzes (called 'VT' for variable time as an obfuscating security measure) were also used for anti-aircraft purposes in World War 2. Their ground use was delayed for fear of the enemy recovering 'blinds' (artillery rounds which failed to detonate) and copying the fuze. The first radar proximity fuzes were designed to detonate at a specified height above the ground, about . These air-bursts are much more lethal against personnel than ground bursts because they deliver a greater proportion of useful fragments and deliver them into terrain where a prone soldier would be protected from ground bursts.
However, proximity fuzes can suffer premature detonation because of the moisture in heavy rain clouds. This led to 'controlled variable time' (CVT) after World War 2. These fuzes have a mechanical timer that switched on the radar about 5 seconds before expected impact. Modern multi-role fuzes usually have selectable height of burst option from 'daisy-cutters' upwards, although these settings can also be used to deal with extremes of soil reflectivity (basically the amount of water).
The proximity fuze emerged on the battlefields of Europe in late December 1944. They have become known as the U.S. Artillery's "Christmas present", and were much appreciated when they arrived during the Battle of the Bulge. Proximity fuzes were extremely effective against German personnel in the open, and hence were very helpful in breaking up the German attacks. They were also used to great effect in anti-aircraft projectiles in the Pacific against Kamikaze planes as well as in England against V-1 flying bombs. Electronic proximity fuzes were a big improvement over the mechanical (non-proximity) fuzes which they replaced, as time fuzes required an accurate estimate of the round's time of flight to the target and especially of the altitude of the target area. If the target's altitude was incorrectly estimated, the rounds would either strike the ground or burst too high.
Delay fuzes are used to allow the round to penetrate into the earth before exploding. This is very effective for attacking earthen bunkers. Similarly, hardened delay fuzes are used against concrete bunkers. Graze fuzes were activated by shell retardation, for example passing through light cover that was insufficiently solid to activate an impact fuze.
During World War 2 another method of HE airburst was used. Ricochet fire using delay or graze fuzed shells fired with a flat angle of descent.
Shells can also be divided into three configurations: bursting, base ejection or nose ejection. The latter is sometimes called the shrapnel configuration. The most modern is base ejection, which was introduced in World War I. Both base and nose ejection are almost always used with airburst fuzes. Bursting shells use various types of fuze depending on the nature of the payload and the tactical need at the time.
Payloads have included:
Until the late 19th Century the only available propellant was black powder. Black powder had many disadvantages as a propellant; it has relatively low power, requiring large amounts of powder to fire projectiles, and created thick clouds of white smoke that would obscure the targets, betray the positions of guns and make aiming impossible. In 1846 nitrocellulose (also known as guncotton) was discovered, and the high explosive nitroglycerin was discovered at much the same time. Nitrocellulose was significantly more powerful than black powder, and was smokeless. Early guncotton was unstable however, and burned very fast and hot, leading to greatly increased barrel wear. Widespread introduction of smokeless powder would wait until the advent of the double-base powders, which combine nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin to produce powerful, smokeless, stable propellant.
Many other formulations were developed in the following decades, generally trying to find the optimum characteristics of a good artillery propellant; low temperature, high energy, non corrosive, highly stable, cheap, and easy to manufacture in large quantities. Broadly, modern gun propellants are divided into three classes: single-base propellants which are mainly or entirely nitrocellulose based, double-base propellants composed of a combination of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin, and triple base composed of a combination of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin and Nitroguanidine.
Artillery shells fired from a barrel can be assisted to greater range in three ways:
Propelling charges for tube artillery can be provided in one of two ways: either as cartridge bags or in metal cartridge cases. Generally anti-aircraft artillery and smaller caliber (up to 6" or 155 mm) guns use metal cartridge cases that include the round and propellant, similar to a modern rifle cartridge. This simplifies loading and is necessary for very high rates of fire. Bagged propellant allows the amount of powder to be raised or lowered depending on the range to the target. it also makes handling of larger shells easier. Each requires a totally different type of breech to the other. A metal case holds an integral primer to initiate the propellant and provides the gas seal to prevent the gases leaking out of the breech, this is called obturation. With bagged charges the breech itself provides obturation and holds the primer. In either case the primer is usually percussion but electrical is also used and laser ignition is emerging. Modern 155 mm guns have a primer magazine fitted to their breech.
Artillery ammunition has four classifications according to use:
Because field artillery mostly uses indirect fire the guns have to be part of a system that enables them to attack targets invisible to them in accordance with the combined arms plan.
The main functions in the field artillery system are:
Organisationally and spatially these functions can be arranged in many ways. Since the creation of modern indirect fire different armies have done it differently at different times and in different places. Technology is often a factor but so are military-social issues, the relationships between artillery and other arms, and the criteria by which military capability, efficiency and effectiveness are judged. Cost is also an issue because artillery is expensive due to the large quantities of ammunition that it uses and its level of manpower.
Communications underpin the artillery system, they have to be reliable and in real-time to link the various elements. During the 20th Century communications used flags, morse code by radio, line and lights, voice and teletype (teleprinter) by line. Radio has included HF, VHF, satellite and radio relay as well as modern tactical trunk systems. In western armies at least radio communications are now usually encrypted.
The emergence of mobile and man-portable radios after World War I had a major impact on artillery because it enable fast and mobile operations with observers accompanying the infantry or armoured troops. In World War 2 some armies fitted their self-propelled guns with radios. However, sometimes in the first half of the 20th Century hardcopy artillery fire plans and map traces were distributed.
Data communications can be especially important for artillery because by using structured messages and defined data types fire control messages can be automatically routed and processed by computers. For example a target acquisition element can send a message with target details which is automatically routed through the tactical and technical fire control elements to deliver firing data to the gun's laying system and the gun automatically laid. As tactical data networks become pervasive they will provide any connected soldier with a means for reporting target information and requesting artillery fire.
Command is the authority to allocate resources, typically by assigning artillery formations or units. Terminology and its implications vary widely. However, very broadly, artillery units are assigned in direct support or in general support. Typically, the former mostly provide close support to manoeuvre units while the latter may provide close support and or depth fire, notably counter-battery. Generally, ‘direct support’ also means that the artillery unit provides artillery observation and liaison teams to the supported units. Sometimes direct support units are placed under command of the regiment/brigade they support. General support units may be grouped into artillery formations eg brigades even divisions, or multi-battalion regiments, and usually under command of division, corps or higher HQs. General support units tend to be moved to where they are most required at any particular time. Artillery command may impose priorities and constraints to support their combined arms commander's plans.
Target acquisition can take many forms, it is usually observation in real time but may be the product of analysis. Artillery observation teams are the most common means of target acquisition. However, air observers have been use since the beginning of indirect fire and were quickly joined by air photography. Target acquisition may also be by anyone that can get the information into the artillery system. Targets may be visible to forward troops or in depth and invisible to them.
Observation equipment can vary widely in its complexity.
Control, sometimes called tactical fire control, is primarily concerned with 'targeting' and the allotment of fire units to targets. This is vital when a target is within range of many fire units and the number of fire units needed depends on the nature of the target, and the circumstances and purpose of its engagement. Targeting is concerned with selecting the right weapons in the right quantities to achieve the required effects on the target. Allotment attempts to address the artillery dilemma—important targets are rarely urgent and urgent targets are rarely important. Of course importance is a matter of perspective; what is important to a divisional commander is rarely the same as what is important to an infantry platoon commander.
Broadly, there are two situations: fire against opportunity targets and targets whose engagement is planned as part of a particular operation. In the latter situation command assigns fire units to the operation and an overall artillery fire planner makes a plan, possibly delegating resources for some parts of it to other planners. Fire plans may also involve use of non-artillery assets such as mortars and aircraft.
Control of fire against opportunity targets is an important differentiator between different types of artillery system. In some armies only designated artillery HQs have the tactical fire control authority to order fire units to engage a target, all ‘calls for fire’ being requests to these HQs. This authority may also extend to deciding the type and quantity of ammunition to be used. In other armies an ‘authorised observer’ (eg artillery observation team or other target acquisition element) can order fire units to engage. In the latter case a battery observation team can order fire to their own battery and may be authorised to order fire to their own battalion and sometimes to many battalions. For example a divisional artillery commander may authorise selected observers to order fire to the entire divisional artillery. When observers or cells are not authorised they can still request fire.
Armies that apply forward tactical control generally put the majority of the more senior officers of artillery units forward in command observation posts or with the supported arm. Those that do not use this approach tend to put these officers close to the guns. In either case the observation element usually controls fire in detail against the target, such as adjusting it onto the target, moving it and co-ordinating it with the supported arm as necessary to achieve the required effects.
Firing data has to be calculated and is the key to indirect fire, the arrangements for this have varied widely. In the end firing data has two components: quadrant elevation and azimuth, to these may be added the size of propelling charge and the fuze setting. The process to produce firing data this is sometimes called technical fire control. Before computers, some armies set the range on the gun's sights, which mechanically corrected it for the gun's muzzle velocity. For the first few decades of indirect fire, the firing data were often calculated by the observer who then adjusted the fall of shot onto the target.
However, the need to engage targets at night, in depth or hit the target with the first rounds quickly led to predicted fire being developed in World War 1. Predicted fire existed alongside the older method. After World War 2 predicted methods were invariably applied but the fall of shot usually needed adjustment because of inaccuracy in locating the target, the proximity of friendly troops or the need to engage a moving target. Target location errors were significantly reduced once laser rangefinders, orientation and navigation devices were issued to observation parties.
In predicted fire the basic geospatial data of range, angle of sight and azimuth between a fire unit and its target was produced and corrected for variations from the ‘standard conditions’. These variations included barrel wear, propellant temperature, different projectiles weights that all affected the muzzle velocity, and air temperature, density, wind speed & direction and rotation of the earth that affect the shell in flight. The net effect of variations can also be determined by shooting at an accurately known point, a process called ‘registration’.
All these calculations to produce a quadrant elevation (or range) and azimuth were done manually by highly trained soldiers using instruments, tabulated data, data of the moment and approximations until battlefield computers started appearing in the 1960s and ‘70s. While some early calculators copied the manual method (typically substituting polynomials for tabulated data), computers use a different approach. They simulate a shell's trajectory by 'flying' it in short steps and applying data about the conditions affecting the trajectory at each step. This simulation is repeated until it produces a quadrant elevation and azimuth that lands the shell within the required 'closing' distance of the target co-ordinates. NATO has a standard ballistic model for computer calculations and has expanded the scope of this into the NATO Armaments Ballistic Kernel (NABK).
Technical fire control has been performed in various places, but mostly in firing batteries. However, in the 1930s the French moved it to battalion level and combined it with some tactical fire control. This was copied by the US. Nevertheless most armies seemed to have retained it within firing batteries and some duplicated the technical fire control teams in a battery to give operational resilience and tactical flexibility. Computers reduced the number of men needed and enabled decentralisation of technical fire control to autonomous sub-battery fire units such as platoons, troops or sections, although some armies had sometimes done this with their manual methods. Computation on the gun or launcher, integrated with their laying system, is also possible. MLRS led the way in this.
A fire unit is the smallest artillery or mortar element, consisting of one or more weapon systems, capable of being employed to execute a fire assigned by a tactical fire controller. Generally it is a battery, but sub-divided batteries are quite common, and in some armies very common. On occasions a battery of 6 guns has been 6 fire units. Fire units may or may not occupy separate positions. Geographically dispersed fire units may or may not have an integral capability for technical fire control.
Specialist services provide data need for predicted fire. Increasingly, they are provided from within firing units. These services include:
Logistic services, supply of artillery ammunition has always been a major component of military logistics. Up until World War 1 some armies made artillery responsible for all forward ammunition supply because the load of small arms ammunition was trivial compared to artillery. Different armies use different approaches to ammunition supply, which can vary with the nature of operations. Differences include where the logistic service transfers artillery ammunition to artillery, the amount of ammunition carried in units and extent to which stocks are held at unit or battery level. A key difference is whether supply is ‘push’ or ‘pull’. In the former the ‘pipeline’ keeps pushing ammunition into formations or units at a defined rate. In the latter units fire as tactically necessary and replenish to maintain or reach their authorised holding (which can vary), so the logistic system has to be able to cope with surge and slack.
Artillery has always been equipment intensive and for centuries artillery provided its own artificers to maintain and repair their equipment. Most armies now place these services in specialist branches with specialist repair elements in batteries and units.
Naval guns are typically longer-barreled, low-trajectory, high-velocity weapons designed primarily for a direct-fire role. Typically the length of a cannon barrel is greater than 25 times its caliber (inner diameter).
Howitzers are relatively shorter. Capable of both high- and low-angle fire, they are most often employed in an indirect-fire role, capable of operating in defilade. Typically, the length of a howitzer barrel is between 15 and 25 times its caliber.
Mortars are smaller, low-velocity, high-angle weapons capable of only high-trajectory fire at a relatively short range. Typically the length of a mortar barrel is less than 15 times its caliber.
Modern field artillery can also be split into two other categories: towed and self-propelled. As the name suggests, towed artillery has a prime mover, usually a jeep or truck, to move the piece, crew, and ammunition around. Self-propelled howitzers are permanently mounted on a carriage or vehicle with room for the crew and ammunition and are thus capable of moving quickly from one firing position to another, both to support the fluid nature of modern combat and to avoid counter-battery fire. There are also mortar carrier vehicles, many of which allow the mortar to be removed from the vehicle and be used dismounted, potentially in terrain in which the vehicle cannot navigate, or in order to avoid detection.
At the beginning of the modern artillery period, the late 19th Century, many armies had three main types of artillery, in some case they were sub-branches within the artillery branch in others they were separate branches or corps. There were also other types excluding the armament fitted to warships:
After World War I many nations merged these different artillery branches, in some cases keeping some as sub-branches. Naval artillery disappeared apart from that belonging to marines. However, two new branches of artillery emerged during that war and its aftermath, both used specialised guns (and a few rockets) and used direct not indirect fire, in the 1950s and '60s both started to make extensive use of missiles:
However, the general switch by artillery to indirect fire before and during World War I led to a reaction in some armies. The result was accompanying or infantry guns. These were usually small, short range guns, that could be easily man-handled and used mostly for direct fire but some could use indirect fire. Some were operated by the artillery branch but under command of the supported unit. In World War II they were joined by self-propelled assault guns, although other armies adopted infantry or close support tanks in armoured branch units for the same purpose, subsequently tanks generally took on the accompanying role.
The three main types of artillery 'gun' are guns, howitzers and mortars. During the 20th century, guns and howitzers have steadily merged in artillery use, making a distinction between the terms somewhat meaningless. By the end of the 20th century, true guns with calibres larger than about 60 mm had become very rare in artillery use, the main users being tanks, ships, and a few residual anti-aircraft and coastal guns.
The traditional definitions differentiated between guns and howitzers in terms of maximum elevation (well less than 45° as opposed to close to or greater than 45°), number of charges (one or more than one charge), and having higher or lower muzzle velocity, sometimes indicated by barrel length. These three criteria give eight possible combinations, of which guns and howitzers are but two. However, modern 'howitzers' have higher velocities and longer barrels than the equivalent 'guns' of the first half of the 20th Century.
True guns are characterised by long range, having a maximum elevation significantly less than 45°, a high muzzle velocity and hence a relatively long barrel, and a single charge. The latter often led to fixed ammunition where the projectile is locked to the cartridge case. There is no generally accepted minimum muzzle velocity or barrel length associated with a gun.
Howitzers can fire at maximum elevations at least close to 45°, and up to about 70° is normal for modern ones. They also have a choice of charges, meaning that the same elevation angle of fire will achieve a different range depending on the charge used. They have lower muzzle velocities and shorter barrels than equivalent guns. All this means they can deliver fire with a steep angle of descent. Because of their multi-charge capability, their ammunition is mostly separate loading (the projectile and propellant are loaded separately).
That leaves six combinations of the three criteria, some of which have been termed gun howitzers. A term first used in the 1930s when howitzers with a relatively high maximum muzzle velocities were introduced, it never became widely accepted, most armies electing to widen the definition of 'gun' or 'howitzer'. By the 1960s, most equipments had maximum elevations up to about 70°, were multi-charge, had quite high maximum muzzle velocities and relatively long barrels.
Mortars are simple, the modern mortar originated in World War 1 and there were several patterns. After that war, most mortars settled on the Stokes pattern, characterised by a short barrel, smooth bore, low muzzle velocity, generally firing at an elevation angle greater that 45°, and a very simple and light mounting using a 'baseplate' on the ground. The projectile with its integral propelling charge was dropped down the barrel from the muzzle to hit a fixed firing pin. Since that time, a few mortars have become rifled and adopted breech loading.
There are other recognised typifying characteristics for artillery. First the type of obturation used to seal the chamber and prevent gases escaping through the breech. This may use a metal cartridge case that also holds the propelling charge, a configuration called 'QF' or 'quickfiring' by some nations. The alternative does not use a metal cartridge case, the propellant being merely bagged or in combustible cases with the breech itself providing all the sealing. This is called 'BL" or 'breech loading' by some nations.
A second characteristic is the form of propulsion. Basically modern equipment can either be towed or self-propelled (SP). A towed gun fires from the ground and any inherent protection is limited to a gun shield. Towing by horse teams lasted throughout World War 2 in some armies, but others were fully mechanised with wheeled or tracked gun towing vehicles by the outbreak of that war. The size of a towing vehicle depends on the weight of the equipment and the amount of ammunition it has to carry.
A variation of towed is portee where the vehicle carries the gun which is dismounted for firing. Mortars are often carried this way. A mortar is sometimes carried in an armoured vehicle and can either fire from it or be dismounted to fire from the ground. Since the early 1960s it has been possible to carry lighter towed guns and most mortars by helicopter. Even before that, they were parachuted or landed by glider from the time of the first airborne trials in the USSR in the 1930s.
In an SP equipment, the gun is an integral part of the vehicle that carries it. SPs first appeared during World War 1, but did not really develop until World War 2. They are mostly tracked vehicles, but wheeled SPs started to appear in the 1970s. Some SPs have no armour and carry little or no ammunition. Armoured SPs usually carry a useful ammunition load. Early armoured SPs were mostly a 'casemate' configuration, in essence an open top armoured box offering only limited traverse. However, most modern armoured SPs have a full enclosed armoured turret, usually giving full traverse for the gun. Many SPs cannot fire without deploying stabilisers or spades, sometimes hydraulic. A few SPs are designed so that the recoil forces of the gun are transferred directly onto the ground through a baseplate. A few towed guns have been given limited self-propulsion by means of an auxiliary engine.
Two other forms of tactical propulsion were used in the first half of the 20th Century: Railways or transporting the equipment by road, as two or three separate loads, with disassembly and re-assembly at the beginning and end of the journey. Railway artillery took two forms, railway mountings for heavy and super-heavy guns and howitzers and armoured trains as 'fighting vehicles' armed with light artillery in a direct fire role. Disassembled transport was also used with heavy and super heavy weapons and lasted into the 1950s.
Artillery is used in a variety of roles depending on its type and caliber. The general role of artillery is to provide fire support—"the application of fire, coordinated with the manoeuvre of forces to destroy, neutralize or suppress the enemy". This NATO definition, of course, makes artillery a supporting arm although not all NATO armies agree with this logic. The italicised terms are NATO's.
Unlike rockets, guns (or howitzers as some armies still call them) and mortars are suitable for delivering close supporting fire. However, they are all suitable for providing deep supporting fire although the limited range of many mortars tends to exclude them from the role. Their control arrangements and limited range also mean that mortars are most suited to direct supporting fire. Guns are used either for this or general supporting fire while rockets are mostly used for the latter. However, lighter rockets may be used for direct fire support. These rules of thumb apply to NATO armies.
Modern mortars, because of their lighter weight and simpler, more transportable design, are usually an integral part of infantry and, in some armies, armor units. This means they generally don't have to concentrate their fire so their shorter range is not a disadvantage. Some armies also consider infantry operated mortars to be more responsive than artillery, but this is a function of the control arrangements and not the case in all armies. However, mortars have always been used by artillery units and remain with them in many armies, including a few in NATO.
In NATO armies artillery is usually assigned a tactical mission that establishes its relationship and responsibilities to the formation or units it is assigned to. It seems that not all NATO nations use the terms and outside NATO others are probably used. The standard terms are: direct support, general support, general support reinforcing and reinforcing. These tactical missions are in the context of the command authority: operational command, operational control, tactical command or tactical control.
In NATO direct support generally means that the directly supporting artillery unit provides observers and liaison to the manoeuvre troops being supported, typically an artillery battalion or equivalent is assigned to a brigade and its batteries to the brigade's battalions. However, some armies achieve this by placing the assigned artillery units under command of the directly supported formation. Nevertheless, the batteries' fire can be concentrated onto a single target, as can the fire of units in range and with the other tactical missions.
There are several dimensions to this subject. The first is the notion that fire may be against an opportunity target or may be prearranged. It the latter it may be either on-call or scheduled. Prearranged targets may be part of a fire plan. Fire may be either observed or unobserved, if the former it may be adjusted, if the latter then it has to be predicted. Observation of adjusted fire may be directly by a forward observer or indirectly via some other target acquisition system.
NATO also recognises several different types of fire support for tactical purposes:
These purposes have existed for most of the 20th Century, although their definitions have evolved and will continue to do so, lack of suppression in counterbattery is an omission. Broadly they can be defined as either:
Two other NATO terms also need definition:
The tactical purposes also include various "mission verbs", a rapidly expanding subject with the modern concept of "effects based operations".
Targeting is the process of selecting target and matching the appropriate response to them taking account of operational requirements and capabilities. It requires consideration of the type of fire support required and the extent of coordination with the supported arm. It involves decisions about:
The targeting process is the key aspect of tactical fire control. Depending on the circumstances and national procedures it may all be undertaken in one place or may be distributed. In armies practising control from the front most, if not all of the process, may be undertaken by a forward observer or other target acquirer. This is particularly the case for a smaller target requiring only a few fire units. The extent to which the process is formal or informal and makes use of computer based systems, documented norms or experience and judgement also varies widely armies and other circumstances.
Surprise may be essential or irrelevant. It depends on what effects are required and whether or not the target is likely to move or quickly improve its protective posture. During World War 2 UK researchers concluded that for impact fuzed munitions the relative risk were as follows:
Airburst munitions significantly increase the relative risk for lying men, etc. Historically most casualties occur in the first 10–15 seconds of fire, i.e. the time needed to react and improve protective posture, however, this is less relevant if airburst is used.
There are several ways of making best use of this brief window of maximum vulnerability:
Originally, counter-battery fire relied on ground or air-based artillery observers noticing the source of the artillery fire (due to muzzle flashes, smoke, spotting the artillery pieces, etc.) and calculating firing solutions to strike back at them. Artillery spotting, along with reconnaissance, was one of the major roles for aircraft in warfare (see World War I). Modern counter-battery fire relies on counter-battery radar, which calculate the source of incoming artillery shells very accurately and quickly—so quickly, in fact, that return fire can sometimes begin before the first enemy shell or rocket has landed.
The development of fast and accurate counter-battery fire has led to the concept of shoot-and-scoot and concentration on the development of highly mobile artillery pieces (typically self-propelled guns like the US M109 Paladin, the South African G6 Howitzer or Soviet 2S1 Gvozdika, or rocket artillery like the Soviet Katyusha or the multi-national M270 MLRS). The idea is to fire and then move before any counter-battery fire can land on the original position.
The task of destroying enemy artillery batteries can also fall to attack aircraft, but unless they are already on patrol overhead, they are usually not quick enough to save friendly forces from damage. More often, ground-based counter-battery fire would suppress the enemy battery/batteries and force them to move, while aircraft would follow up later with a strike to destroy the rest of the enemy artillery.
The FO can communicate directly with the battery FDC, of which there is one per each battery of 4–8 guns. Otherwise the several FOs communicate with a higher FDC such as at a Battalion level, and the higher FDC prioritizes the targets and allocates fires to individual batteries as needed to engage the targets that are spotted by the FOs or to perform preplanned fires.
The Battery FDC computes firing data—ammunition to be used, powder charge, fuse settings, the direction to the target, and the quadrant elevation to be fired at to reach the target, what gun will fire any rounds needed for adjusting on the target, and the number of rounds to be fired on the target by each gun once the target has been accurately located—to the guns. Traditionally this data is relayed via radio or wire communications as a warning order to the guns, followed by orders specifying the type of ammunition and fuse setting, direction, and the elevation needed to reach the target, and the method of adjustment or orders for fire for effect (FFE). However in more advanced artillery units, this data is relayed through a digital radio link.
Other parts of the field artillery team include meteorological analysis to determine the temperature, humidity and pressure of the air and wind direction and speed at different altitudes. Also radar is used both for determining the location of enemy artillery and mortar batteries and to determine the precise actual strike points of rounds fired by battery and comparing that location with what was expected to compute a registration allowing future rounds to be fired with much greater accuracy.
Examples of MRSI guns are South Africa's Denel G6-52 (which can land six rounds simultaneously at targets at least 25 km away), Germany's Panzerhaubitze 2000 (which can land five rounds simultaneously at targets at least 17 km away) and Slovakia's 155 mm SpGH ZUZANA model 2000. The Archer project (Developed by BAE-Systems in Sweden), a 155 mm howitzer on a wheeled chassis claiming to be able to deliver up to 7 shells on target simultaneously from the same gun. The twin barrelled AMOS mortar system, developed in Finland, is a 120 mm twin barreled mortar capable of 7 + 7 shells MRSI. The United States Crusader program (now canceled) was slated to have MRSI capability.
MRSI was a stunt popular at artillery demonstrations in the 1960s. With its increased risk of a mistake, (needing a range to the target that gives time for several rounds to be fired and only useful against a few types of target in an era where PPD fuzes are becoming standard) whether MRSI is still merely a stunt or has real tactical value over other methods is moot.
This is a very effective tactic against infantry and light vehicles, because it scatters the fragmentation of the shell over a larger area and prevents it from being blocked by terrain or entrenchments that do not include some form of robust overhead cover. Combined with TOT or MRSI tactics that give no warning of the incoming rounds, these rounds are especially devastating because many enemy soldiers are likely to be caught in the open. This is even more so if the attack is launched against an assembly area or troops moving in the open rather than a unit in an entrenched tactical position.