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Fire for a 'Precise' Effect

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Mike Goldfarb over at the Worldwide Standard blog banged out an interesting piece today on the latest test in Iraq of an Excalibur 155mm artillery round.

Inside Defense reported the shot yesterday, though it occurred earlier in the month against an al Qaeda safe house.

The WWS quotes a few defense experts critiquing the operational test, some calling it a stunt and saying the precision-guided artillery round isnt much use when the U.S. has total air superiority.

This morning I spoke with Stuart Koehl, a military analyst at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Transatlantic Relations, who called the strike "a stunt, because they didn't have to use an artillery round, they could have used an airplane--it would have been a lot cheaper.In counterinsurgency this kind of thing is mainly irrelevant. If I really need the long-range indirect fires, I've got total air supremacy, I've got all-weather capability, I really don't need an artillery round when I could drop it from an airplane. It just makes a lot more sense to have something right there on the scene shooting from a much shorter range...a JDAM dropped from overhead is going to go right down the pipe, no matter what."

Except thats not exactly true. Aircraft are not always on station and sometimes if there are planes aloft, there arent enough of them or theyre tasked out to do other things, like search for IEDs.

But every forward operating base has an artillery battery and that battery has guys ready to pull the firing cord at a moments notice. The artillery fires are much more responsive and a precision-guided 155 round packs just enough punch to knock out what you need, leaving the rest largely undamaged.

As John Pike at Globalsecurity.org points out correctly

"If all I want to do is blow up one building, JDAM's just too much of a good thing."

Critics say the Army should be spending more time looking into a precision-guided mortar. But, thing is, they already are.

Infantry mortars are good for suppression and fixing the enemy. The 120mm mortar fits the bill for an infantry vehicle-portable precision fire platform for medium distances. If a soldier or Marine needs to knock out a specific room in the short range, he can use an AT4 or LAW.

Programs like Excalibur, however, could suffer from the time worn Pentagon practice of adding capabilities that boost the cost and make the thing more complicated and expensive that it needs to be. Army, Marine and Navy, for that matter cannon cockers need precision rounds just as much as the jet jocks do. And in a counterinsurgency, precision is everything.

-- Christian

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