Is NLOS Worth It?


I always sort of roll my eyes when I look at the defense authorization bill each year and see Sen. James Inhofe's successful attempt to cordon off the Non-Line of Sight cannon developed by the Army's FCS program from any budget cuts -- kind of reminds me of the JSF alternative engine.

Instead of parochialism, it all really boils down to whether the Army needs a replacement for the Paladin mobile Howitzer gun. And I reluctantly come out on the side of "yes."

I'm going to excerpt Greg Grant's excellent story from DoD Buzz today and draw your attention to a comment made on the story -- really a comment about a comment:

As we reported the other day, the Armys $200 billion Future Combat Systems modernization program looks likely to suffer some big hits when the defense budget is finally wrapped some time later this month. Rumors of FCS doom have its champions in Congress, chief among them being Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., vowing to fight for the perennially troubled program.

Dear to Inhofes heart, and his constituents, is the Non-Line Of Sight Cannon, originally part of FCS. It was given its own budget line by Inhofe in an effort to fence it off from possible cuts to the larger program. Why? Well, Oklahoma is home to Ft. Sill, the Armys artillery center for one thing and NLOS-C builder BAE Systems kindly said it would produce the cannon in Elgin, Okla. Inhofe has included language in past defense bills telling the Army to build a number of prototypes and rapidly move NLOS-C into full-scale production.

The NLOS-C is a continuation of the Armys Crusader mobile howitzer program that was unceremoniously cancelled by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld; many of the parts used in the NLOS-C were originally designed for Crusader. It is intended to replace the Paladin 155mm self-propelled howitzer, and is optimized for long range counter-battery fire on a conventional battlefield. In a statement released by his office this week, Inhofe said: To say that FCS and the NLOS-C are designed for a conventional war is narrow-minded and overlooks the reality that the systems that FCS will replace are being used on the battlefields today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over the past eight years, battles in Afghanistans road-less and mountainous terrain have certainly demonstrated the need for organic fire support to light infantry, but of the mortar variety, or perhaps a lightweight mountain cannon, not a large, tracked mobile howitzer. In Iraq, the Armys Paladins spend their tours of duty parked in the motor pool as the red legs go off to patrol as motorized infantry.

The Paladin is more than adequate to give the Armys maneuver formations mobile fire support if they square off against an enemy mechanized army any time in the near future. To counter insurgent mortar and rocket fire in Iraq, air strikes from fixed wing or attack helicopters have proven more responsive and accurate than artillery fire, if for no other reason than the air space must be cleared before artillery can fire, an often lengthy process.

And here's what commenter Cole said:

To add to what Armywonk said, I will quote Stryker Radar from another post who apparently is an artilleryman with 3 Iraq tours and a strong belief in FCS:============================================how is the NLOS-C worthless in todays fight? Can it sit on a FOB and fire in support of troops? Yep. Can it fire GPS guided projoes? Yep, has that one cover also. Can it fire counter-btry in support of C-RAM? Yep, got that one also.

The real question is this: Can the Paladin do what the NLOS-C does? Load at any elevation? Auto-load from the on-board magazine by the push of a button from the Section Chief? Shoot a Zone 4 mission without dropping the spades? Drive around the battlefield on just battery power alone? Can the Paladin send a computer generated PTM to the AFATDS at the PLT/ BTRY FDC, BN FDC, and BDE FECC level saying whats wrong with it and what maintenance assets it needs?===========================================I will add that Mr Zaloga is not an engineer, but a history major. Considering that a far lighter M-777 somehow manages to fire 155mm rounds without beating itself to death, I question his credentials to claim the FCS NLOS-Cannon wont be up to task. Did you catch Stryker Radars mention about not putting the spades down and still being able to fire?

Next, the primary mission is not counter-battery as Mr. Grant implied. It is a primary BCT-support indirect fire system. Indirect fire is historically the greatest killer on the battlefied and there is no reason to believe that trend will not continue in future warfare.

It exposes a two-man crew to far less danger than the 5-man crew in a Paladin. When equipped with all around active protection and future sloped underbody armor counter-IED kit the system will ensure cannoneers greater survivabilityand serve as a near-common basis for other manned ground vehicle systems essential for future warfare.

Finally, to add to what Armywonk mentioned on SOF forces, we continue to see heroic battles between extremely small SOF units and larger Taliban forces. Why do we feel the need to make our SOF fight so outnumbered and heroically while severely outnumbered. The Iraq surge showed, as will the Afghan one, that you need adequate force on the ground. SOF alone doesnt cut it.

I tend to agree with him. I think mobile, high powered organic fire support is the answer to greater distribution of operations. I fell in love with CAS back in the early Afghan war days, but have grown more bearish on it since I've seen it more and more in action and the ground and really question its accuracy and, particularly, its response.

But, and be sure to read the rest of Greg's story, I do see what Zaloga is saying about weight, recoil and the physics of the problem. Does anyone remember the problems with the Stryker Mobile Gun System?

-- Christian

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