What should fire support be able to do with regard to the enemy's abilities? What will the future operational environment look like? What types of impact and effectiveness will our forces need on the battlefield? And how can advanced technology help the armed forces to meet future challenges? These are questions that concern armed forces and industry alike.
MBDA Germany has developed solutions for these requirements. It has not only drawn on in-house expertise but also on the valuable experience of the user community. All project considerations were based on the outstanding importance of artillery in combat. This type of branch remains a key to success in almost all land operations. Due to its enormous firepower, short reaction time and long range, it poses a constant threat to the enemy. And it will remain that way - provided that the artillery systems can keep pace with the new scenarios of future battlefare.
Increasing complexity in the operational area
What will these battlefield scenarios look like? Experts assume that the complexity of today's military conflicts is likely to increase in the future. The battlefield will become more complex: while in urban environments and obscure terrain forces will have to deal with static and mobile targets, it will also be necessary to avoid unintentional collateral damage. The complexity is increased by own manned or unmanned air and ground systems in the operational area.
The planning of fire missions, for example by airspace management/deconflicting, is already highly complex and sometimes very time-consuming. However, time is a decisive factor when fighting the enemy. The strong networking of the various branches of the armed forces and their applicable rules of engagement in multinational operations further complicate planning. In addition, increasingly powerful air defence systems are being deployed. Experts anticipate a steadily growing number of modern air defence systems which have a direct impact on the air support of ground forces. In this context, operational planning in the area of "Suppression of Enemy Air Defence" will be of particular importance for the Joint Fire Support Elements (JFS) of the German Armed Forces. Another feature of future battlefields will be more powerful electronic countermeasures that interfere with GPS or similar navigation solutions. Corresponding experience from current conflict and crisis regions such as Syria, the Crimea or even the Baltic region is evidence of these developments.
Fire support in the area of operations
Against the background of these developments, experts predict a capability gap in the foreseeable future. In order to be able to use the advantages of indirect fire support in future missions, several conditions must therefore be met. Firstly, future indirect fire support must have scalable high-precision weapons ("one shot, one hit") that cause only minor unintended damage. On the other hand, these weapon systems must be able to be deployed in an extremely short reaction time and beyond current range bands. Ranges of more than 150km are targeted for divisional/corps artillery. Fire support thus offers the combat forces a greater chance of survival. The own forces are protected by the effect of the JFS and their own early reconnaissance can be prevented. These conditions are also part of MBDA's guided missile project.
Advantages over existing systems
Ground forces can only be effectively supported by air forces if enemy air defence is suppressed or eliminated. In principle, the use of guided missiles in the JFS area, in conjunction with the air force, promises a significant increase in capability for the armed forces as a whole. This applies in particular to the precise engagement of high-value targets deep in enemy territory.
In order to be able to engage targets, the ammunition mix of the systems introduced has so far been modified. In particular, ammunition-specific guidance kits for gun artillery systems such as Excalibur and Vulcano, as well as rocket systems such as GMLRS, are used by the troops. With a look to future mission scenarios, however, this approach is only of limited use. One of the reasons is that the airspace is under heavy strain as the target distance increases. This is due to ballistics and the limited agility of artillery ammunition with guidance kits. As a result, air forces can only be deployed to a limited extent.
Compared to currently used munitions, guided missiles offer decisive advantages. This is particularly true when precision, pinpoint and small area targets have to be engaged over ranges beyond current range bands. The approach to the target area can be planned as required in direction, altitude and range, up to omnidirectional target approach. The airspace can thus be used efficiently, since it is possible to guide flights close to the ground independently of other airspace users. Guided missiles are also able to quickly and safely fly around occupied airspace. Furthermore, measures to reduce signatures make a significant contribution to mission success.
At the same time, guided missiles can be used to engage short-range and very-short-range targets. This offers the advantage of limiting the number of different systems.
Moreover, current warhead technologies already make it possible to achieve a scalable effect that minimizes unintended collateral damage. This opens up new possibilities in the area of fire support. The effect of the ammunition can in some cases be adjusted or scaled until just before impact, depending on requirements. This enables impact planning that reduces unintended collateral damage.
All these functions make fire strikes possible that would otherwise not be effectively carried out. The high precision of artillery guided missiles simplifies operations, reduces the risk of unintentional damage and reduces mission costs.
Author: Peter Heilmeier, Head of Sales & Business Development and Member of the Executive Board MBDA Deutschland GmbH