PRECISION HELPS SHAPE U.S. FIELD ARTILLERY FUTURE
By Scott Gourley
20 Jul 09. With the release of last year’s “Return of the King,” concept, it was clear that the United States Field Artillery recognized the challenges of current operations as well as the unintended consequences of secondary and tertiary effects. Specifically, the cumulative effects of persistent conflict – including repetitive non-standard missions, modularity, and expanded lethal and non-lethal skill sets, had led to a force that was out of balance with its “core proficiencies” and non postured for the future.
While early progress has been made in some areas, a recent “annual report card” assessment on the “State of the U.S. Field Artillery” by Major General Peter M. Vangjel, Commanding General, U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, highlighted a continuing problem dubbed “25 / 75.” Simply stated, the realities of persistent conflict have allowed just 25 percent of field artillery units to retain and refine their core field artillery competencies.
“Right now the field artillery isn’t as expert as they were before,” Vangjel observed at a recent joint service Fire Support Symposium hosted at Fort Sill.
In response to this concern, “Return of the King” was crafted last year to help regain those individual and collective core artillery proficiencies in an era of persistent conflict and beyond. The incremental recommended solutions offered a range of recommendations on near term and far term actions focused in three key areas: rebuilding the field artillery experience base; re-establishing training capacity; and restoring senior field artillery leadership oversight.
The Current Backdrop
While Vangjel summarized a range of initial accomplishments and remaining challenges across these areas, other speakers focused on the budgetary and materiel realities that are helping to craft “the way ahead” for the U.S. field artillery within broader U.S. Army operations.
As an example, Major General Dave Halverson, Headquarters, Department of the Army (G-8), began his own “way ahead” Fire Support Symposium presentation with a brief review of senior leadership intent, as contained in excerpts from President Obama’s 22 May 2009 speech at the U.S. Naval Academy as well as Defense Secretary Gates’ FY2010 Defense Budget Recommendations.
From there, Halverson offered several items of program guidance provided by the Defense Secretary. These included: Halt or delay production on systems that rely on promising, but as yet unproven technology while continuing to produce – and, if necessary upgrade – systems that are best in class, that we know work; Develop a vehicle modernization program designed to meet the needs of the full spectrum of conflict; Where different modernization programs within Services, exist to counter roughly the same threat or accomplish roughly the same mission, we should look more to capabilities available across the Services; Shift away from the 99% “exquisite” Service-centric platforms; look more to the 80% multi-service solution; Incorporate the experiences of combat operations into modernization plans; Develop a portfolio – a mixture of weapons whose flexibility allows us to respond to a spectrum of contingencies beyond the horizon; and Spin-out technologies will be fielded to all Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCT).
Taking the items one by one, Halverson offered, “We really need to look at technology levels [and] where they are in the programs so that we can really make good investments. And we really have to be honest with ourselves in saying, ‘Can they deliver in time or not?’ Because if it’s ‘not,’ it will cause the program to ‘slip to the right.’ And those types of programs are not good investments.”
The need to focus a vehicle modernization strategy “designed to meet the needs of the full spectrum of conflict” highlighted one of the new realities of modern military planning. Specifically, while the formal “spectru