The role of artillery in modern asymmetric conflicts

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

In the Western military doctrine of the 21st century, artillery has often been relegated to a secondary role, if not ignored. However, in modern operational scenarios, artillery is a fundamental element in supporting military operations. The more modern pieces have a high throw and can use an extremely varied ammunition depending on the targets to beat, even projecting with terminal guide sub-munitions that increase their accuracy, allowing to hit point targets. Moreover, the modern proximity quills allow the explosion immediately above the target to be hit, increasing its destructive power. It is therefore evident that a few modern pieces can repel an attack of substantial guerrilla forces if caught in the open and suitably directed.

In the last century the artillery played a fundamental role in conflicts, initially with extensive barrage fires and later with increasingly precise interventions.

During the Cold War period, the Soviet bloc remained long tied to attacks with a large deployment of pitchers and field rocket launchers, while NATO aimed at precision and mobility through the use of self-propelled artillery.

Even the Soviets, in the early 70s, began to introduce self-propelled machines, such as the 2mm 1S152 and 2mm 3S122, while continuing to field numerous towed parts such as the 30mm D-122 and D-20 152 mm. In the West, in the same decade, modern 155/39 mm towed pieces appeared such as the Anglo-Italian-German FH-70 (photo) and the Swedish FH-77 (equipped with an auxiliary engine that allows parts to move locally on varied terrain and to change position), the Americans focused on the lighter M-198, capable of being airborne.

The Americans were the first to test the potential of the Soviet artillery pieces of the regular units of the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam conflict. In fact, the modern D-30 and D-22 pieces from 122 and 152 mm proved to be superior to the American 155 mm obese and cannons; to counteract the shots of the 130 mm long-throw (27.000 m) the American departments resorted to self-propelled 175 mm.

It is also true that the Communists came from the success of their artillery in the battle of Dien Bien Phu, in the 1954, against the French, so over the following years they had paid particular attention to the specialty.

It was the communist artillery to capture some of the most important achievements of the war by bombing airports and communication routes. In addition, the North Vietnamese used everything, including the pieces captured by the enemy, maneuvering them with great skill in the jungle. In the 1975 the artillery, along with the armored forces, opened the way for the communist forces towards Saigon, which was left without American air support.

A particular theater where the artillery played a primary role was that in Angola, characterized by the civil war, after that for independence against the Portuguese. The artillery played a fundamental role, in particular the Cuban one. The expeditionary body of Havana arrived with numerous pieces, single-pipe and multi-pipe, typical of the Soviet arsenal, as well as heavy mortars.

The decisive episode took place in the days of the proclamation of independence, 11 November 1975. Holden Roberto's FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) had reached the gates of the capital Luanda, also thanks to the support of a pair of Zaire battalions, equipped with some AML-90 busses. The road to the capital passed in the middle of the marshes where the guerrillas of the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, of Marxist inspiration) and elements of the Cuban expeditionary force with pieces of 122 mm D-30, mortars 120 mm, 122 mm BM-21 field rocket launchers, 23 mm twin guns ZU-23-2.

When the FNLA forces attacked, through a narrow corridor, they were hit by a deadly fire never seen before in Angola, thanks to the Cuban's operational capabilities. Roberto's guerrillas, after a few minutes of enemy fire, were completely disbanded, the disaster was so serious that the FNLA lost all of northern Angola without being able to oppose a valid resistance, since the guerrillas were terrified by the fire of the Cuban artillery .

To stem the communist expansion in Angola, the South Africans intervened from the south. The Pretoria government had sent small mobile columns that, coming up to the north, quickly came into contact with the Cubans. However, the South Africans were equipped with old British pieces from 25 pounds (88 mm) and 140 mm. The inability to face the communists as well as the lack of support from the Carter Administration forced the South Africans to retreat, leaving the country in the hands of the Marxist forces.

The only ones to oppose the invasion were the forces of the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) of Savimbi who, thanks to external aid, managed to resume vast areas of the country. Pretoria made numerous land incursions and at the end of the years 80 deployed the powerful new pieces G-5 from 155 / 52 mm (photo), equipped with advanced long throw projectiles, the tactical situation was overturned and the South African artillery was able to inflict heavy losses to the communists.

Together with the G-5 a new ammunition was developed with an improved aerodynamic profile and with a basic flow system, ie a quantity of propergol which, by burning, forms a pressure zone that does not cause a thrust but a sort of overpressure cone that simulates an aerodynamic tail. All these features allowed to reach ranges over 50.000 meters.

In the course of the wars between Israel and the Arab states there is the greatest confrontation between the Western artillery, of which the army of Tel Aviv was mainly equipped, and the Soviet ones supplied to the Arab armies. In the conflicts of movement prevailed the Israeli one, focused on self-propelled vehicles, nevertheless in the so-called war of attrition, along the Suez Canal, the Tsahal he realized he was at a disadvantage in terms of conventional pieces. To remedy this disadvantage, Soltam produced parts from 155 / 39 such as the M-68 and the M-71. A major problem was the Soviet camp rockets, in this sector the West showed a worrying delay, to remedy Israel used many captured complexes, then developing nationals in addition to improved ammunition for the captured complexes.

On the Golan Heights, artillery duels continued for decades. The Israelis had developed a special, decalibrated project for their self-propelled M-107 from 175 mm (photo), with which they could hit Damascus airport. A typical scenario sees Hezbollah open fire on Jewish settlements but soon after they suffer counter-battery fire; the Shiites set up rudimentary launch stations for rockets from 107 and 122 mm. The radars that accompany the Israeli artillery identify the launch point and immediately start the reaction, generally with the M-109 from 155 / 39 mm but also with the MLRS rocket launchers with 227 mm rockets.

Remaining in the Middle East, artillery is also playing an important role in the context of the war in Syria. The government has a large number of artillery pieces and has made extensive use of these systems. The rebels required several pieces while others came to the Islamic state after they were captured in Iraq (including M-198 flint pieces from 155 / 39 mm). However with the continuation of the war the pieces of Damascus began to suffer from the wear of the reeds, consequently decreasing the potential of actual fire. A sharp change occurred with the arrival of Russian artillery, with heavy rocket launchers (equipped with rockets with thermo-roofs, very effective in shooting against defensive lines and urban stations, as the wave of overpressure they generate is lethal even against personnel repaired in underground shelters). The Russian forces also have UAVs for the recognition and conduct of the shooting, providing an operational yield significantly higher than the Syrian forces. A limitation in the use of artillery is given by the proximity of the lines of the contenders in the urban spaces, for which the cannons of the wagons are often used to carry out the cannonades. In any case, in the Syrian conflict, artillery shots (howitzers and rocket launchers) caused the greatest number of damage in urban areas.

(photo: US Marine Corps / Italian Army / web / last image Online Defense, Homs)