155mm Artillery

After our recent excursion back into maritime matters here is a question.

With the future character of conflict and other conflicts are increasingly pointing to a need for precision and low collateral damage is the role of the traditional gun artillery diminishing?

Although the 105mm Light Gun and other nations 155mm weapons being deployed to great effect in Afghanistan with a mix of fast air, attack helicopters, armed UAV’s, GMLRS and possibly loitering munitions is there a great need anymore?

I think we forget the advantages of artillery at our peril and there is more to the 105/155 mix than a simple comparison with other systems like speed of deployment, sustainment, logistics, diversity natures (smoke and illum etc), the ability to both supress and neutralise and low cost but with funding appearing to diminish for the naval 155mm and greater concentration of resource in the other systems it is still a valid question to ask.

Remember, budgets are finite and choices have consequences.

Anyway, have a spot of big shooty stuff porn!

Ok, so I know the Light Gun isn’t 155mm but I like the videos!

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September 19, 2011 7:07 am

Never served so constantly surprised by things I learn – I was surprised by how labour intensive and how long it took to load the 155mm guns – given improvements in counter-battery fire, against a near peer enemy I think that whatever future solution we go with should have the highest level of autonomy possible and be on the most mobile platform possible – this will cost which might make it a nice to have rather than essential.

September 19, 2011 7:10 am

Tubby, that makes it the Archer, then?

September 19, 2011 7:33 am


I was thinking DONAR as it is tracked – I am assuming that tracked will be faster off road than wheeled but I suspect I am wrong as only one of the systems shown has tracks. Also DONAR looked like it might be dangerous on even a minor slope when it fired as it really rocked on its tracks where the other systems seemed to use hydraulics to dig into the ground for stability.

Brian Black
Brian Black
September 19, 2011 7:38 am

Traditional guns needn’t be imprecise, targeting systems and ammunition have been continuously developed over the years. Still a relatively cheap way to blow shit up too, despite all the added technology. The many newer 155 systems show the continuing usefulness and practicality of the big guns, shame we can’t afford them.

It’s a couple of years old, but there’s a glowing account of the light gun in use in Afghanistan here.


September 19, 2011 10:09 am

With the UAV menace over any not-one-sided battle field (persistent, cheap;the latter making them so numerous that even though they are fairly easy to shoot down – the micro models you have to detect first, though – there will be another one coming), I would discount any designs that can’t be operated from under armour. Counterbattery fire does not need you firing first, to be spotted, anymore.

– Denel Rhino, at 49 t, is bad for strategic mobility
– Donar and Archer both fall into 30-31 t range
– can’t do away with the 105mm as a (specialist) underslung-cargo by helo (except by going over to 777, but what does that change?)… so the mix is needed, even going forward, but Braveheart serving an ever more narrow niche another 155mm is needed on the side

Brian Black
Brian Black
September 19, 2011 11:17 am

Hi, ACC.
“another 155mm is needed on the side” Isn’t AS90 scheduled to remain in service until around 2025. There are probably quite a few better, or more appropriate systems out there, but changing the heavy guns must be nearly at the bottom of the list of priorities right now.

And how much armour do you want for your heavy artillery; protection against small arms and splinters, or are you suggesting something heavier?

September 19, 2011 11:30 am

Hi BB,

Other than its short barrel, there is nothing wrong with Braveheart. Excellent tactical mobility (taking it over roads for longer distances not so good, and anything more strategic less good still).

What I was trying to say is that it is an excellent companion to armoured and AI formations (BGs in practice)to the extent that they will continue to exist.

Denel, despite being excellent, is “too much of the same” and depending on 105mm alone in other formations would leave us short of (affordable) firepower.

Proliferation of types is not something I would promote, but in this case we can have the same logistics trail at least for the artillery rounds (and assured future development of them, too).

September 19, 2011 12:19 pm

BGs? You mean battlegroups?

These are relatively small teams (afaik typically a reinforced battalion, right?).

Such small teams do not need long range. In fact, they could make do with 120 mm mortars. There’s no need for 52cal barrels in them, for adding that would have little effect.

We should differentiate between highly agile small formations and core/support formations that move less around, but provide services such as field hospital, long range artillery fire, logistics node…

This concept can be applied at several levels (corps being the node, small brigades the agile forces or division being the node, battlegroups the agile forces).

In the end, neither 39cal nor 52cal has the range that’s desirable, and both are out-ranged by rocket artillery counterfire (the limiting factor is the placement of OPFOR artillery radars and their bearing). Rocket artillery achieves great ranges with ease and can easily be accurised with a guidance (fin stabilised, little shock).

The niche where SPHs are superior should thus be rather small; it’s mostly about firing a few SMK shells in support of recce teams within 30 km radius.

September 19, 2011 12:58 pm

Hi S O,

Yes, British BGs tend to be very small. I have been advocating 120mm SPG direct&indirect fire mortars to be an organic part of them (while also icreasing the size).

If we tone your corps down to a division or a brigade, then the node and the agile part holds also in today’s practice. While I agree that long range artillery (40-70 km these days, our GMLRS 70 km but e.g. Smerch 90km and therefore dangerous in counterfire role and well endowed with targeting assets other than just radars, e.g. UAVs that they launch from the same carriers as the rockets – not at the same time, of course) definitely is an asset to be controlled and allocated centrally, it does not remove the need for them to be
– protected (also while firing),
– agile (getting to where they are needed quickly and without special assistance) and
– tactically mobile, ie. when they are actually attached to a lower-down formation for a specific tasking, then they can keep up… whether advancing or regrouping/ retreating. Not just to shoot and then scoot

paul g
September 19, 2011 2:09 pm

nice monday morning viewing, shame you can’t smell-o-vision! Did anyone else laugh at the bloke taking ages to load the projectile into the archer with his crane thingy, can’t see the RA having one of those,with hairy arse BSM’s about!
Another thing about archer, it’s a bit long (54ft) the G6 is only 46ft, denel have banging shells out to 70km, thanks to it’s off road skills in south africa it’s nicknamed the “Kalahari Ferrari.” Not sure if it’s the answer for the new UK formations, DONAR is not required while we have AS90, was it me or were the other wheeled versions fixed ie the whole truck would have to move to change direction of fire, if so, pants!

September 19, 2011 2:21 pm

Hi paul,

I could not believe it! ” laugh at the bloke taking ages to load the projectile into the archer with his crane thingy, can’t see the RA having one of those”
– especially when they were loading the charges with such speed and ease, compared to the French with their Caesar
– mismatch in the number of charges and projectiles? Did not understand that(with Archer)

September 19, 2011 3:11 pm

So through the lens of budgets, potential threats and use case scenarios how about:

1. 120mm mortars at BG level and for “rapid intervention” forces as they have NATO ammo compatibility (not many using 105mm any more ?), a wide range of precision guided rounds in development / use and can be armoured/mounted/”light” as required.

2. Buy a LIMAWS(M) type system, smaller, lighter and easier to deploy than the M270 MLRS, and concentrate on the guided rockets with unitary warheads

3. Acknowledge other (old fashioned ? Conventional ?) threats may appear, so when possible upgrade AS90 with the 52 cal barrel and other bits and bobs ….


paul g
September 19, 2011 3:37 pm

can you picture some new fresh gunner with his over pronounced xbox thumb telling the BSM “it’s health and safety, it’s too heavy, i know my ‘uman rights” (sadly in my last 2 years, i did have a crafty[REME private] spin that one on me, after clocking a weekend extra)
would you turret the 120mm á la AMOS/NEMO using surplus warriors or would you use the “old fashioned” way and stick them in the back of the many bulldogs we have.
Also what about the denel G7 it’s a 105mm howitzer that can lob 105mm 30km! difference with this it’s not stabilised so can’t be used as a 105 light tank, which would lead to the usual bun fight on a) tactics on it’s use and b) who crews it. (ps i don’t work for denel just getting very impressed with what they are churning out)
using this as towed or mounted one system goes into Td’s commonality file!

September 19, 2011 3:53 pm

Paul/ Jed,
RE “1. 120mm mortars at BG level and for “rapid intervention” forces as they have NATO ammo compatibility (not many using 105mm any more ?), a wide range of precision guided rounds in development / use and can be armoured/mounted/”light” as required.”
– yes, put the double turret in BGs (tracked chassis. e.g. Warrior) and the single one in Rapid Intervention units… that makes it AMOS and NEMO (as the ST Kinetics one does not do direct fire mode, but would be available off-the-shelf in Bronco and RG32)
– Nemo is already “off-the-shelf” on AMV; Dutch Marines, Swedish Marines, Finnish Marines use the chassis or the complete package (and it would appear to be available on the rear unit of a Viking, though no source has ever been attributed to that picture; just thinking of RM here)
– as 16AAB only has a recce Sqrn and 3CDO does not have that, but has a dedicated Armour support unit (all Viking?)… make those two units a “pool” while keeping them where they are?

Further, RE Jed’s n:o 2. “Buy a LIMAWS(M) type system, smaller, lighter and easier to deploy than the M270 MLRS, and concentrate on the guided rockets with unitary warheads”
– buy the system as specced and trialled, and if there is still any doubt about the vehicle (as expressed on this blog), buy the US HIMARS instead

September 19, 2011 8:03 pm

Need to answer my own question: why so many more charges (over the number of projectiles) on Archer?

As the feed mechanism is fully automatic, to do a 15 sec burst of three rounds for MRSI (simultaneous impact on target), the system needs to pick charges of varying potency (rather than send the first round 10 km high, to arrive at the same time as n:o 3)

September 19, 2011 8:10 pm

Paul G and ACC

1. Turret versus non – does it matter ? Horses for courses, we were talking artillery, so direct fire does not count ? In which case back of a Warrior, back of a Bulldog (retire them already!)or back of Warthog (or Viking).

2. Turreted on some platforms does not mean Nemo or AMOS, it could be much cheaper (BAe) turret as already tested on Warrior and in service with Saudi’s (National Guard ?). Turreted on appropriate (already available) platform does of course bring additional flexibility to do direct fire support role.

3. Beauty of it is, with BAe turreted on FRES, STK SRAMS on Warthog and “old fashioned” tube in the back of Bulldog or Viking, or towed tube on wheels (ala USMC) it’s the same bomb, same charges, same fuses, same ballastics (thus same fire control) etc.

4. Despite SO’s stated objections about rate of ammo use, the AMOS would of course offer some serious “pocket artillery” fire power to the BG commander – but at a price !

5. HIMARS – no problemo – how about sticking the launcher on our “standard” MAN trucks ?

6. SA G7 – “non-standard” ammo I believe, which is how it makes it’s range performance ? Notwithstanding improvements in the shells, an RA officer I worked with in TA told me that by the end of the Cold War the Abbot’s were planned to be deployed well to the rear to provide fires on any air mobile break throughs by the Soviets, as the weight of fire of the 105mm HE shell was not consideed sufficient to make it useful against armoured formations.

John Hartley
John Hartley
September 19, 2011 8:22 pm

If the RN is denied 155mm, why not go the other way & have a 114mm light, semi auto, deployable army gun?

September 19, 2011 8:48 pm

Hi Jed,
Your n:o 2 answered your n:o 1. I didn’t include the BAE alternative as I thought it never reached production (ie. was sold to Saudi).

N:o 4: As mortars fire at a high angle anyway, they can be very good in MRSI (AMOS puts six onto the same target; with artillery firing over a longer ranges you have a bigger challenge than with AMOS – actually hitting the target; when we are not talking the expensive guided rounds; and with those you don’t want to do MRSI).

5, I was again thinking about just ordering an existing solution (but we had a good discussion not long ago about the armoured cabs for, and also the x-country mobility of, the MAN trucks… so surely fine, just that you don’t just fit the launcher, also the replenishment vehicle is a specialised unit).

Mike W
September 19, 2011 9:02 pm


“Also DONAR looked like it might be dangerous on even a minor slope when it fired as it really rocked on its tracks where the other systems seemed to use hydraulics to dig into the ground for stability.”

I think that rocking on the tracks might possibly have been because it was mounted on the carrier (M270?)designed for the GMLRS. I think that the latest plan might be to mount it on the ASCOD chassis, which might be a more stable platform.

“So through the lens of budgets, potential threats and use case scenarios how about:”

Agree with everything you suggest. All seems eminently sensible! However, is the Braveheart 52 calibre barrel technology still around? Has it dated somewhat?

September 19, 2011 10:49 pm

Hi Mike W,

RE “is the Braveheart 52 calibre barrel technology still around? Has it dated somewhat?”

A good point (whether it – the upgrade – is needed at all goes back to Sven’s comment about the Corps/ Division/ Brigade core or centrally held assets (and the others, more agile, doing manoeuvres), and the ranges over which effects AND accuracy can today be achieved.

If you increase organic “fires” at bn and BG levels (as I have been suggesting, with units that are tactically mobile and well protected at all times – except perhaps when replenishing ammunition), then the current about 30 km is quite OK (the other part being only 10-12 km ranged heavy mortars).

This you would typically do if you plan for a mobile battle, to be in depth, meaning through manoeuvre – and not saying which way. Braveheart, as it is, fits the bill.

Terrain scanning radars (in BRR mainly?) have also been becoming more organic to the units. You would of course still include Artillery Foreward Observation vehicles, with all their specialist kit & comms. They are networked and therefore, whether they call in the organic fires, the longer ranged units from the brigade level, or both – no matter. The longer ranged units that need not move around as much – in our case being the GMLRS; regardless of what the carrier is. Range a problem? Stick with the carrier we have and put an ACASMS on the other side, instead of the second six-tuplet.

September 20, 2011 8:01 am

spello above,at the end,
– tried to type ATACSM

paul g
September 20, 2011 10:36 am

agree with all i didn’t mean a dedicated system when quoting the AMOS/NEMO, my bad grammar! Forgot about the warrior turret, however wouldn’t the twin tube version on the CV90 fit on the warrior or is the turret ring too small?

I’m all for re-using hulls be it a 105mm SPG or 120mm mortar truck,ambulance etc tc as a company that is skint, it grates me to see kit so eagerly palmed off to surplus companies for tuppence ha’penny (and then ironically sold for a profit).

so if we went 120mm would you like to see a 120mm weisel 120mm system for the light inf possibily 16 AAB with the new rigs it could be air dropped and then provide shoot and scoot under cover for the sky gods, better than mortar platoon humping a 120mm tube, i know they’re big lads, but!!

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
September 20, 2011 10:40 am

I think you meant ATACAMS :- )

September 20, 2011 10:49 am

Seriously buttered fingers today!
– yes: ATacMS (normally the Americans stop at four letter with their acronyms – much to recommend it)

September 20, 2011 11:11 am

Time for me to make a silly suggestion (doubtless) but…

… Looking at ARCHER and that enclosed gun set up, could you not stick one of those on the deck of a ship? I understand it would have to be “sea-proofed” and some compensation would have to be built in for the effect of pitching and rolling I imagine, but it seems like an easy soultion to an otherwise bloody complicated problem.


Mike W
September 20, 2011 12:39 pm

Yes, wouldn’t argue much with what you say in your reply to me.

It is just that there seems to be a certain amount of confusion over AS90 and AS90 Braveheart. At one point you use the phrase:

“Braveheart, as it is, fits the bill.”

as if Braveheart were already in service. I might be wrong but I was under the impression that Braveheart was the version which was planned to replace the existing barrel with a new extended-range ordnance 52 calibres (L/52) long.

You further say: “then the current about 30 km is quite OK.” If you are referring to the present AS90, I think the range is only 24,700 m firing the standard ammunition (or 30,000 m with enhanced (base-bleed, BB) rounds). It would have been the Braveheart with 52 cal barrel that would have extended the range using standard ammunition to 30,000 m, with a potential increase to around 40,000 m for enhanced-range projectiles.

No, the point of my original question was whether the Braveheart upgrading, which was planned to take place quite a few years ago, has now been superseded by present day technology, although I would of course accept Braveheart. Any increase in range would surely be useful.

September 20, 2011 12:52 pm

Hi Mike W,

I must have fallen victim to the BAE propaganda, because this is what I meant: ““then the current about 30 km is quite OK.[”] If you are referring to the present AS90, I think the range is only 24,700 m firing the standard ammunition (or 30,000 m with enhanced (base-bleed, BB)”
– I am sure that you are right about 52 being since long buried (it was the only entry in Indian competition under that cal; some water has been flowing under the Thames bridges since then)

But why I say “it’s OK” is that it is the asset that can move with a BG (mobility and protection) and the BG would not be operating in isolation – thinking of the 70 km cover here for precision fires against high-value targets (without any tacair or AAC gunships, which of course add a lot)

Mike W
September 20, 2011 1:44 pm

Ah, got you now. I wouldn’t have any quarrel with your basic argument, as I said earlier.

Incidentally, I think the British Army is still interested in ATACMS for the GMLRS launcher but it is a long-term plan, I believe.

September 20, 2011 2:41 pm

Got to say I really liked the look of the NLOS missile – pity the Yanks cancelled the project. Basically it was a 1.5 tonne pallet with 15 precision-guided missiles and a communications rack and it needed zero crew to operate. You just unloaded it off the back of a lorry (or whatever) and it sat there listening for fire mission requests. 40 km range, accurate, reasonable-size warhead.
Something like that would be a lot cheaper, more mobile and more flexible than MLRS or 155mm, and would be a lot less logistically demanding. You could sling it under anything that flies, carry it in pretty well anything that rolls, you could stick it on the deck of a ship offshore, even parachute drop it. (Similar system: IAI’s Jumper.) And once it’s in position that’s it – you don’t need to bring in gunners to operate it or food for the gunners, etc…

True, the price per shot for a system like that is going to be more than it is for a gun system. But that only matters if we’re going to be banging off hundreds of them at a time.

September 20, 2011 4:33 pm

Hi a,

Do you think the Yanks just passed the design on, or did the Israelis do it from scratch?
” launched from a vertical launcher pack to precisely strike targets at ranges of up to 50 Km …

The JUMPER system contains eight canistered missiles and one integrated command and a control unit that are arranged in a launcher pack.
Overall dimensions are: 1.4X1.4X2m.
The system requires no operating crew and no special launching platform. Pinpoint accuracy and short time of flight make the JUMPER a perfect solution for the autonomous fire support to the Ground Forces. The missile is 1800 mm long, has a diameter of 150 mm, and weighs 63 kg.”
– so like a lot of long but very thin men standing together

September 20, 2011 4:49 pm

Hi Mike W,

There is a good cost/ benefit analysis from the abt 100 ATacMS’s that were used in the Gulf; to take out C&C and AAW’s other elements; disrupt (or even deny) the resupply of the front line; etc
– should make a good investment case, but first we must buy the super-duper stuff that can loiter and wait for three Taliban to come together, and then strike…

Anyway, Braveheart (52 barrel) went on to live another life with the BAE Private Venture (RN) 155mm project, and could even have been fitted (the gun to the turrets, or more likely: the new turrets with the gun to the ships) without further modifications needed
– no good; cancelled!
– for their next job the hitch is that the RN does not have ships big enough to take it :
“With the DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyers ended at just 3 ships, BAE is proposing a 155mm “AGS-Lite” turret swap for their 5”/62 caliber Mk.45 MOD4 gun that now equips DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers. It has no stealth, half the weight of the AGS turret, and less rocket-boosted, GPS-guided 155mm LRLAP ammunition in the magazine. It is offered as an option if the US Navy wants to begin reversing their huge decline in naval fire support capabilities.”

Mike W
September 20, 2011 8:13 pm

“but first we must buy the super-duper stuff that can loiter and wait for three Taliban to come together, and then strike…”

Yes, agree with that. That’s why I think that weapons such as Fire Shadow, if not proving absolute battle-winning weapons as such, will help considerably in the conflict and could even help tip the balance.

It seems at the moment, though, as if that is perhaps going to be the only item of new Artillery equipment we are going to get over the next decade (I’m not dealng with Air Defence). In the year 2000 our Artillery (Field, Depth Fire, etc.) consisted of:

AS90, 105 mm Light Gun and MLRS

In the year 2010 the situation was exactly the same.

And by the time we get to Future Force 2020, I fear that the situation will be almost identical, the above three weapons, with the addition of Fire Shadow and we can’t even afford a proper truck-mounted version of that! (We shall be using the towed version initially). God, what an economic mess this country is in! Does anyone else think we’ll get anything new?

Thanks for the rest of the info, ACC.

September 21, 2011 10:54 am

but first we must buy the super-duper stuff that can loiter and wait for three Taliban to come together, and then strike

That would be “drones”, no? Or rather “drones plus artillery”.

Or indeed “Super Tucanos”, with the advantage that if they don’t see three Taliban together they can turn round and go home and try again tomorrow. You can’t recall a loitering munition. All you can do is tell it to blow itself up at a cost of – and I’m being really optimistic here – £100k a time.

Do you think the Yanks just passed the design on, or did the Israelis do it from scratch?

Well, the Israelis seem to have got theirs to work, unlike the Yanks. Maybe we should think about buying some from them.
The biggest problem seemed to be the IR seeker; so ditch it and rely on LTD or GPS targeting. If we’re using it as artillery we shouldn’t be firing it blind anyway, not in these days of restrictive ROEs, we should only be hitting targets that we’re painting or observing. (Current artillery – rocket or gun – doesn’t have IR seeker heads. Why should Jumper or NLOS missiles?)

September 21, 2011 3:32 pm


Fully concur “Maybe we should think about buying some from them.”

Do it off-the-shelf, and not pretend that it is our own (like the Elbit stuff, using standard issue for what – 5 years? – and not owning up to that, and then trumpeting the roll-out after huge incremental costs. That have returned -what?

September 21, 2011 4:04 pm

Actually, ACC, in this case I think it would be worth doing the BAE Subsidy Special and setting up our own production line in the UK. It doesn’t make sense to do that for small numbers of costly things (like, say, Apache) but if the British Army decided to buy Jumper as the next-gen long-range artillery system for the RA, it would buy a lot of them at a fairly low unit cost, and keep buying them year after year, and so it might actually make financial sense to pay the license fee and set up a production line for the Jumper (or would it be renamed Pullover for UK use? With the specialist anti-armour variant, Tanktop?) in Britain.

September 21, 2011 4:07 pm

Hi a,

“the next-gen long-range artillery system for the RA” and RN?

September 22, 2011 9:37 am

Only as far as RN shore bombardment goes. Pullover wouldn’t be a viable antiship system. But you could put a few pallets of it on the deck of, well, anything (or indeed an ISO container full of Pullover cells in a module bay), and there you go: instant monitor.

September 23, 2011 12:59 pm

AS90 need not go anywhere, it does the job and did it very well in Iraq. The key to good artillery is high quality ammunition, good navigation and stabilisation, excellent MET data and a C4I system to control it.

paul g
September 23, 2011 1:23 pm

So if denel are producing stuff that can be lobbed 70Kms from a 155mm barrel, rather than calling for a mass cull of AS90 (from penny pinching suit wearers, not on here) shouldn’t be offering them a patch of land on one of these “fantastic” new enterprise zones that the govt has announced? I just wish we had a home soil ammo factory, for peace of mind.

September 23, 2011 2:05 pm

RE “wish we had a home soil ammo factory”
– me, too, as the first thing you need to (and most probably can) to surge is ammo production.

Even the Germans. who seem to be quite competent in matters artillery, get the best range out of their Pz2000 by firing Denel rounds… not sure of the compatibility of those they do the 70km with, but someone might know

September 28, 2011 6:24 pm

I wrote a text today on my Defence & Freedom blog about artillery (seen from their target’s perspective). It’s a very different style; theory in quest of spotting what’s really important.

I believe this is what should come first, long before you discuss hardware choices among often similar systems (admittedly, I don’t stick to this order of steps all the time either).

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
September 29, 2011 1:51 pm

I may be of the glass is half full ilk, but a towed Fireshadow launcher is surely more tactically deployable than a truck mounted version. I was a bit disappointed to see CAMM in a truck mounted format as it increases the system’s visual signature – I’d actually like to see the launch containers as singles connected by fibreoptic cable. The best an enemy could then do is take out one missile with one missile, rather than the launch vehicle and a cluster of missiles.

I’d also like to see and image seeker and GPS/INS added to CAMM. It has a 20k range, so the ability to use it as an NLOS-C surrogate system would greatly increase its versatility and budget survivability. IMHO both loitering and direct attack missiles need image (or very high res MMW) seekers as the ability to engage moving or rapidly relocating targets in complex environments without excessive collateral damage is highly desirable. The ability to hit moving targets is obviously highly desirable on a conventional battlefield (and at sea) as well as is the ability to have a weapon that conducts its own BDA (does anyone remember the US programme for a towed camera and datalink deployed by falling LGBs?).

There are some big questions hanging over Fireshadow, namely affordability (already touched upon) and the vulnerability of its data link and ground stations in a peer to peer level conflict. However, the system really is a game changer. It doesn’t take a RAND corporation study to work out how much difference an effective loitering munition could make to conventional warfare.

September 29, 2011 1:59 pm

Hi Chris,

Don’t know how affordable per bang it would be RE “I’d also like to see and image seeker and GPS/INS added to CAMM. It has a 20k range,”
– but that range coincides with ground-based ground surveillance radars, which reach that far and do separation to 10-20 cm sideways and 1-2m in depth even with sparse trees & the like in the way
– I have no idea how much better the MMW imaging does from the air, looking down, but that’s not the topic either

September 29, 2011 5:07 pm

“In a peer level conflict does anyone think FireShadow would be shot out of the sky in double quick time?”

Depends on how easy it is to detect Fire Shadow and on what kind of air defence capability the enemy has.
It might even be the case that Fire Shadow is used to take off enemy SAMs instead. Hard to say with the data we (don’t) have.

September 30, 2011 1:47 pm


This is my first post on this site, but have been reading for a while.

In a peer level conflict, wouldn’t WatchKeeper be just about as vulnerable as FireShadow? In which case, it would be likely that having FireShadow could help to protect the WatchKeepers as acting as decoys etc. It would be better to have some FireShadows shot down rather some WatchKeepers.

I actually think FireShaodw could prove to be a useful decoy for UAVs and Helicopters. With its reported cruise speed of 150-300 km/h it would match the speed of most current UAVs and helicopters. And if the RAf do buy the Mini Air Launched Decoy then that and FireShadow could complement each other nicely, with possible fitting the jammer from the MALD-J into a FireShadow version?

Also with a reported operating height of ~15,000 feet that would allow FireShadow to operate outside the range of short range SAMs so forcing the enemy to use its longer range ones. If FireShadow costs ~£100,000 then that would most likely make it a lot less expensive than any missile that could shot it down. So maybe lossing a lot of them would be a good thing?

Another possible mission that I think the FireShadow might be able to preform it stopping air operations from a airbase, especially if there was only limited mid/long range SAMs near it. Keeping a number of FireShadows loitering nearby ready to attack if it looks like there is preparation for any launches or landings. Add some versions fitted with jammers or anti radiation seekers and maybe they could do something that has proved very hard to do in the past and close down a airbase at least for a limited but useful time period. For example if Argentina somehow magically gained control of the Falklands and was using Mount Pleasant to launch attacks on the fleet (yes very unlikely situation but just as a example).

As for the cost of a FireShadow, is it really that expensive compared to UAVS? The Hermes 450s in Afghanistan have completed around 4000 sorties totalling around 50,000 hours. I think its about 5 years that they have been operating there? So around 800 sorties a year with each sortie averaging 12.5 hours. From the reported contracts given to Thales over the years it seems that it has cost around £30 million a year for them to provide and support the Hermes 450. So that would work out to a average of around £37,500 for each sortie.

I have no idea how much WatchKeeper will cost to operate, it might be more or might be less, but if we took that as a rough figure then would a armed version of WatchKeeper carrying out a attack mission really be much cheaper. If it never launched its weapons then yes it would be, but if it launched two LMM missiles it would depend on how much they cost.

Also in more challenging air environment there would be more loses so the average operating costs of a UAV would increase, due to the cost of replacements.

I know I’ve talked a lot about possible future improvements to FireShadow which might not get developed but I do think that FireShadow has a lot of potential.

Sorry this has turned out to be a much longer post than I meant it to be.

September 30, 2011 3:11 pm

Good points; the Israelis have theirs loitering and looking for rocket launches (with this method, there is no time to vacate the launch site/ spot).

But don’t they have one that is actually designed for taking out AA networks – starting with their surveillance and targeting assets? The operating ranges “there” are of course quite compact when compared to other potential situations.

Mike W
October 4, 2011 7:24 pm

Have just read an article on the M777 howitzer in one of the Sunday newspapers.

Apparently, BAE has secured another large order from the US for M777 howitzers, this time for 70. This will safeguard 380 jobs in northern England, most of them, I would imagine at the company’s Barrow-in-Furness manufacturing base.

It appears that the deal means that BAE systems has now received orders for 1,071 guns, making the M777 one of Britain’s most successful defence exports. (I would imagine that the total for sales of the M777 is now higher than that for the sale of 105mm Light Guns.)

How sad it is that Britain cannot even afford to bring into service one of its best-selling exports. I suppose that by the time it gets into service (if ever), it will be obsolete or obsolescent.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
October 4, 2011 8:31 pm

@ Matt – Welcome to Think Defence! Some interesting ideas; not convinced about Fireshadow but you have made me think again. The main problem is the lack of money and vision to upgrade it.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
October 6, 2011 12:54 pm

Re the M777 I did see a report that the US had placed another big order for M119s (their version of the L119 which was an L118 chambered for US 105 ammo left over from the L5 pack howitzer for training). Quite a few other countries bought light guns of one sort or another – who has bought the M777 in addition to the US? Canada, Australia(?), Saudi (which also recently ordered M119s) and India? I think US M119s are actually made at Rock Island Arsenal.

As to closing Mount Pleasant (in Argentine hands) down, I’d actually given that some thought. Given that the GPS coordinates of every structure on it must be known, closing it down (assuming fixed wing air, UAVs or Fireshadow hadn’t already done so) would be a matter of achieving a lodgement on the islands less than 70km away, putting an AD ‘bubble’ around it with CAMM, HVM and whatever C-RAM system we get and landing a troop of GMLRS launch vehicles. I would assume in the eventuality of such an invasion, the Septics would let us have some ATACMS too which at least some of our M270s are equipped to launch. That would mean a lodgement within 300km.

Of course the Argentines already have a GPS/INS glide bomb project of their own and will inevitably acquire UAVs. GPS guided shells and missiles and a gammut of other nasties. To what extent we can base a defence policy around clinging on to some sparsely populated islands at the other end of the world (regardless of mineral and fish wealth) is obviously a moot point and not for this thread.

October 6, 2011 1:25 pm

Thanks Chris,

I’ve kept away from all the FI stuff, but your point is generally well made:
” achieving a lodgement on the islands less than 70km away, putting an AD ‘bubble’ around it with CAMM, HVM and whatever C-RAM system we get and landing a troop of GMLRS launch vehicles”

This is the modern equivalent of the US army and USMC taking artillery to various hill tops by helo 40 years ago (it was only 22 years between the WWs)
– a note to all those who want to discount air/ helo portability in weapon system choice criteria
– interlocking fire by machine guns dominated the battle field for (c.) 69 years