Preparing for Tomorrow's Battlefields With Today's Savings
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
FORT SILL, Okla., Nov. 16, 1996 Four howitzers rumbled along a dusty gravel road. One after another, each quickly pivoted right, then ground to a halt. Tubes unlocked, turrets swiveled and within seconds four artillery rounds blasted a target on nearby Scorpion Ridge. Before the smoke cleared, the big guns were moving out.
Nothing new here, blasting targets is what the field artillery does. Except, in this case, no crewmen emerged to unlock the gun tube, run commo wire to a firecontrol center or handload ammo. These fighting machines were Paladins, M109A6 howitzers, the most technologically advanced cannons in the U.S. Army.
The practice attack demonstrated the Paladin's "shoot and scoot" ability to Defense Secretary William J. Perry. Perry visited the field artillery training center here recently as part of a journey to the next century's battlefield.
Preparing for the future is a top department priority, requiring a comprehensive equipment modernization program, according to the secretary. "Now that the drawdown is over, we have to start increasing the spending in modernization in order to keep equipment from becoming obsolete," he said.
Money saved by closing bases will go for modern equipment, Perry said. The department is now starting to reap the savings of closing bases in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995, he said. "We will have about $10 billion a year savings by the end of this decade. That $10 billion will all go to the modernization program."
Acquisition reform has also led to savings that can now be used to modernize the force, Perry said. "We are having very important success in improving the efficiency of our buying practices," he said. "This is called acquisition reform, but it's just using good commonsense commercial practices for buying our equipment."
A pilot program set up about a year and a half ago for joint direct attack munitions is an example, he said. Each unit was originally projected to cost $42,000, but use of commercial buying practices cut the cost to $14,000 each, a 70 percent reduction.
"Over the lifetime of that program, that's going to be about a $3 billion savings," Perry said. "It's those kinds of efficiencies that are going to be necessary to get the equipment modernization on the track that it ought to be and I believe it will be on."
The Paladin is an example of equipment bridging the gap between current systems and those planned for the future, according to Army officials at Sill. It dramatically increases the responsiveness, survivability and flexibility of selfpropelled cannon artillery.
Adding advanced technology to a 1950s chassis, the Paladin begins a revolution in the way the field artillery fights, officials said. Using computers, the Paladin can determine its own position on the ground and compute its own firing data. Singlechannel groundair radios permit voice and digital communication with the platoon's operation center and with other howitzers in the platoon.
In the past, communications wire had to be manually strung between the vehicles and the firecontrol center. Without the need for wire communications, the Paladin can change position more frequently, an advantage against enemy fire. Officials said such advancements give new meaning to the artillery's ability to move, shoot and communicate.
The Paladin's technology reduces the time soldiers are vulnerable to enemy fire, said Sgt. 1st Class Tim Sherman, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery Regiment. Sherman is the senior field artillery NCO at Training and Doctrine Command's Systems Managers Office for Cannon at Sill.
"Every time you fire a round, the enemy can zero in on your position and fire back," the Hornell, N.Y., native said. "If you take too long to get out of there, you're probably going to get killed. So what this basically does is allow us to survive. In the past, it would take about 20 minutes to prepare a firing position and another 15 to 20 to displace, he said.
"It was very manpowerintensive to emplace the battery before," Sherman said. A fiveman crew served each of the six howitzers in the battery. Surveyers calculated the battery's location, and crew members ran communicaitons wire by hand.
"The gun sections each had a guy who would run the wire to the firedirection center, and when it was time to displace, he would have to go down to the firedirection center, unhook the wire and roll it up," Sherman said. "It didn't take soldiers long to figure out that that's not a good way to do business if you want to stay alive."
New technology "allows us to cut that wire link from the fire direction center, which limited how far we could disperse the howitzers on the battlefield," Sherman said.
Technology also increases speed. The Paladin's top speed of 38 mph makes it slightly faster than the M109A3, Sherman said. "We have beefed up the engine and transmission. We put some new technologies an onboard fire control system, onboard positionnavigation system, radios. We put improved ballistic protection on the howitzer and onboard prognostics and diagnostics to help us diagnose when we have a problem."
The Army is fielding Paladins while the nextgeneration howitzer, the Crusader, is being developed. "We're about two years away from a prototype system," Sherman said. "The first unit fielded will be early 21st century."
The Crusader will be fully digital, fully automatic. The rate of fire will increase from the current four rounds per minute to 10 to 12 per minute. "With this rate of fire, a single howitzer will be able to deliver four rounds on a target that impact nearly simultaneously something which takes a platoon to do now, Sherman said.
The Crusader will be faster. Its 1,500horsepower diesel engine is expected to deliver a top road speed of about 42 mph enough to keep up with an M1 Abramsequipped maneuver force. "We haven't ever been able to do that," Sherman said.
The Crusader will change the way the field artillery fights, Sherman said. "In the past, the crew's main focus was on the physical delivery of the fires. They load and fire the weapon. With the Crusader, timely, accurate fires are a given; the system takes care of that.
The Crusader is also going to allow the crew to be more "situationally aware," he said. "They're going to know exactly where they are on the battlefield. They're going to know where their sister howitzers are, where the resupply vehicles are, where the enemy is. That allows them to fight the system (the Crusader) and keep it alive on the battlefield."