An Overview

Work To Be Done

The U.S. Army's experience in Vietnam showed that developments and refinements in Army doctrine, organization, and materiel must help to realize the maximum effectiveness of American fire power in future conflicts. A major effort of the Army will continue to be devoted to fighting a conventional war because the greatest threat to national survival is recognized as coming from the Soviet bloc and Warsaw Pact countries. Priority must go to training, organizing, and equipping U.S. forces to fight on the terrain of fully developed countries against a sophisticated, armor-heavy enemy. But placing emphasis on preparing for one type of war will not necessarily preclude preparing for others, since many of the important needs of the Army in the areas of field artillery materiel and doctrinal development are equally applicable to the armor-heavy conventional war and to the counterguerrilla threat.

The primary emphasis of U.S. field artillery in training will be on survival on the modern battlefield, planning fires more quickly, and shooting faster because the gravity and intensity of future combat will require immediate response. To suppress enemy fires immediately will, in the long run, better accomplish the mission of close, continuous, and timely fire support to the maneuver forces. As discussed in Chapter V, the success of U.S. artillery fire at Khe Sanh, where rounds were "on the way" in forty seconds, is ample testimony to this fact. In Vietnam the field artillery, for reasons cited in earlier chapters, was not always responsive. While the Army may again be required to operate under strict rules of engagement, it is also developing new techniques, doctrine, target acquisition equipment, and extended range weapons, and is reemphasizing the fire support mission as a vital part of the combined arms team. All of these new developments have one purpose-to make field artillery responsive. The field artillery was often accused of being too slow and unresponsive in Vietnam because to achieve the accuracy demanded in many cases, double and triple checks were cranked into


the fire support process. The more checks, the more rules placed on the system, the longer it took to get a round off. Thus, some of these accusations were justified, but now training is designed to achieve the best of both worlds-faster response without degrading the concern for safety and accuracy. This training is applicable to a counterinsurgency or to the conventional, mid-intensity conflict.

Target acquisition is another excellent example of the meshing of U.S. Army needs in counterguerrilla and conventional warfare. Field artillery experiences in Vietnam underscored the fact that developments in target acquisition organizations and materiel through the 1960's had not kept pace with developments in weapons and mobility systems. Two general historical examples from Vietnam illustrate this point. First, American survey equipment was unequal to the task. In order to conduct a detailed survey with the means available, survey teams were required to bring control unusually long distances from questionable survey control points over insecure terrain. Even when these obstacles could be overcome, the means used were unresponsive to the needs of the many firing batteries that moved continuously, often two or three times in one day. As a result, survey personnel took shortcuts to obtain position and direction, although the shortcuts lessened accuracy. The requirement for similar rapid moves exists on the modern battlefield, conventional, armor-heavy, or otherwise. Second, the field artillery was deficient in locating enemy mortars, rockets, and artillery. The sector of scan of the 1950-era radar, the MPQ-4A, was unacceptably small. The Army had no radar designed to track low-trajectory projectiles, and the equipment available to vector on enemy firing positions by sound ranging was obsolescent and consequently never used effectively in Vietnam.

Much has been done to correct these target acquisition deficiencies. Advances in survey equipment and follow-up position determining systems indicate that the field artillery's requirement for fast, accurate survey is on the way to being solved. Needs have been stated for new countermortar and counterbattery radars, and the Army is in the advanced phases of the equipment development cycle for the new radars. Also being developed but not yet in the inventory is new sound ranging equipment that will be easier to emplace and will be faster and more accurate in determining enemy target locations.

Even while U.S. ground troops were still fighting in Vietnam, some promising developments occurred in target acquisition. A new moving target locating radar, the AN/TPS-58 (RATAC) was introduced to replace the AN/TPS-25. The RATAC, which


has a longer range and a wider sector of scan and is easier to emplace than its predecessor, proved quite effective though its availability was limited. Perhaps more important than the RATAC was the employment of several types of unattended ground sensors. Though the over-all effectiveness of unattended ground sensors was difficult to assess, the concept proved workable and has prompted follow-up development.

While target acquisition systems are being developed and refined, the Field Artillery School has been conducting studies to determine those organizations that can best employ the systems. It is generally conceded that the present organization, which centralizes most of the target acquisition assets at corps artillery in the field artillery target acquisition battalion, is no longer adequate. While in some situations corps artillery will have a need to control a system whose coverage is wide and deep enough to serve the entire corps, in many other situations such centralization will inhibit the responsiveness of fire support. A sizable target acquisition capability at the division artillery and direct support battalion levels is needed in order to acquire and destroy targets at lower artillery levels in response to more localized needs on the modern battlefield.

In tactical operations planning Vietnam showed that the importance of the fire support coordinator and the forward observer to the success of a battle has expanded significantly over the past decade. The mobility of U.S. forces has advanced to a point that in any future conflict, whether a small-scale insurgency or a high­intensity war, the situation on the battlefield most likely will be fluid, with continuous night and day operations. No longer can the Army depend on the neat phasing of operations that permitted the luxury of detailed advance planning for employing maneuver forces and their supporting fires. Planning will be ongoing and in reaction to the circumstances of the moment. Moreover, the weapon systems available to support ground troops have proliferated over the years, as have the types of ammunition for each system. Fire support coordinators, particularly at the lower levels (maneuver battalion and brigade), will have to be chosen from the very best field artillery officers available. They and the forward observers with the maneuver units must bring decisive fire power of the right types and amounts to fulfill the needs of the ever­changing situation on the ground. On the modern battlefield they must know at once what fire support is available, how to get it, and how to employ it. They must be able to coordinate each of the various fire support means available to them so that they


obtain the maximum effect from all. Through it all they must keep direct support battalions fully informed about what the supported maneuver forces are doing on the ground.

Despite the challenge that modern warfare presents to the fire support coordinator and the forward observer, neither can be given the training time required to learn their duties on the job. They must be trained and prepared to assume full duties immediately upon arrival in the combat theater. When the system is operating correctly the ground commander, knowing how to use fire support, can concentrate on the plan of maneuver, confident that his fire support coordinator and the forward observers will arrange the necessary fires to support the maneuver plan with minimum supervision.

The field artillery community has recognized the increased importance of fire support coordinators and forward observers and has taken action to insure that both will be fully qualified to assume their duties in the event of war. The program of instruction on fire support coordination for the field artillery officer advanced course and the instruction given lieutenants in the basic course on duties of the forward observer have been expanded to include more practical training in a more realistic environment. Fire planning is also being streamlined and will be realistically based on priority, not on quantity of targets.

We expect the high density of aircraft on the modern battlefield to require that air space usage be carefully coordinated. Vietnam exposed the overlapping control of usable air space, for the field artillery was given the mission of controlling air space over battle areas because it seemed a logical extension of its duty of coordinating fires. If the field artillery fire support officer coordinates the activities of all supporting fire in the target area, he is in fact coordinating the use of air space. The argument is valid so long as the air space coordination responsibilities of the fire support officer are limited to the target area. But this was not in fact the case. These responsibilities most often included a large area of operations and involved the issuance of advisories to administrative air traffic as well as all other air traffic entering or traversing the area. In Vietnam the artillery liaison sections, particularly at maneuver battalion and brigade levels, devoted a large portion of their efforts to controlling, or managing, air traffic, sometimes to the detriment of the primary duty for which they were organized and equipped-the coordination of supporting fires. At present, studies are being conducted to determine how this matter might best be resolved. Over the long term, air space management


may be automated, and the Army is attempting to determine exactly what is required of an automated system before materiel is developed.

Overshadowing the whole problem of managing air space are service missions and functions that recognize the Air Force component commander as the air space manager in a combined environment. In practice, the Air Force has allowed the Army to manage air space over the battle area. Still, there is no assurance that the Air Force will be able to operate in future conflicts as it did in Vietnam.

In materiel, the requirements for upgraded artillery weapons in a conventional war conveniently overlap the requirements for artillery weapons in a counterguerrilla war. In Vietnam, weapons with longer ranges were needed to mass fires and to provide increased area coverage, just as they will be needed in a conventional war on the modern battlefield. Also, lightweight artillery contributes as much to the strategic mobility of airborne forces as it does to the tactical mobility of airmobile forces in either a conventional or counterguerrilla war. Both types of force will be well served by the new towed models of 105- and 155-mm. howitzers, which are in advanced stages of development. The new weapons will be close to the same weight and will have the same reliability but will shoot considerably farther than those they are to replace.

These, then, are the major areas on which the field artillery is concentrating its attention to prepare for future conflicts, regardless of the type of battlefield on which it is called to fight. In retrospect it is apparent that field artillery units initially sent to Vietnam were not always properly organized to accomplish the job before them. Major internal reorganizations and major changes to operating procedures were often required. This is no criticism of the state of preparedness to fight in Vietnam, for the U.S. Army was trained and its forces were organized to fight in a conventional war. There was no time to reorganize, and, even if time had been available, the Army had little counterguerrilla expertise within its ranks. Uncertainty of exactly what was to be done or how to do it resulted.

Vietnam provided valuable insight into how American forces might best fight and be organized to fight in future counterguerrilla operations, and detailed tactical field artillery lessons are available.

The challenges peculiar to counterguerrilla warfare for the field artillery may be addressed by doctrinal and organizational studies to determine how best to employ weapons effectively. These


studies are relatively inexpensive, so the eventuality of another insurgency can be prepared for despite a redirection of priorities or budgetary restrictions.

The Field Artilleryman's Performance

Vietnam underscored certain doctrinal, organizational, and materiel insufficiencies that have been mentioned earlier. They are being corrected in the postwar period. It must be noted, however, that these insufficiencies did not prevent field artillerymen from carrying out their mission.

In every modern war the performance of the field artillery forward observer party has surpassed the most optimistic expectations. Vietnam was no exception. There an observer party generally consisted of only two men-the forward observer, who was most often a lieutenant but sometimes a junior noncommissioned officer, and a radio operator. Americans had in Vietnam the smallest forward observer party of any army in the Free World. Numerically, these parties represented a small part of the total field artillery force, but their number belied their importance. They were responsible for traveling with infantry rifle companies and calling for and adjusting indirect artillery fires in support of the companies. The forward observers were, therefore, the key to the proper functioning of the entire field artillery system-a responsibility that in many armies is fulfilled by the battery commander.

Vietnam presented unusual problems to the forward observer. Thick jungle foliage frequently obscured his observation and thus made difficult the adjustment of fires and determination of position. In the Mekong Delta, where observation was good, the land was often so flat and unvarying throughout that position determination was difficult. The forward observer used a number of tricks to support the infantry: he requested spotting rounds when his location was in doubt; he adjusted with smoke before firing high-explosive ammunition to insure the safety of ground troops; when in dense foliage, he adjusted by sound; and he continuously sought out vantage points-hills, rocks, trees-that would allow him to observe supporting fires.

There can be little doubt that the forward observer succeeded in supporting the rifle company. The very esteem in which he was held by the infantry is evidence enough that he got the job done. As in the past, the infantry valued artillery support so much that it was hesitant to move without its forward observer or beyond the range of its supporting cannons. If the forward observers had done nothing more than provide supporting fires, that would


have been enough; most often, they did more. They commonly navigated for the company, directed the fires of organic infantry mortars, and assisted the company commander in numerous other ways. On occasion the forward observer, by virtue of his rank and the absence of other company officers, found himself second in command succession to the company commander. Vietnam reinforced the reputation of American noncommissioned officers and junior officers as the maneuver company commander's strong right arm.

Field artillery fire support coordinators at all maneuver levels from battalion up also deserve recognition for a job well done. The complexities of coordinating supporting fires on the modern day battlefield in general, and in Vietnam specifically, have been discussed earlier. There can be no doubt that tremendous demands were placed on fire support coordinators, especially those with the maneuver battalions and brigades. In addition, they were short on doctrine applicable to their situation, they were hampered by rules of engagement and necessary clearance procedures, and they were required continuously to coordinate air space usage. Yet they met the challenge superbly. They quickly learned the capabilities of each type of available weapon system, how to get it, and how to orchestrate its employment with other weapons on the battlefield.

During offensive operations, the fire support officer with a maneuver brigade or battalion often traveled with the maneuver commander. Most often the two, in addition to any subordinate commanders or staff officers the maneuver commander elected to take, orbited the battlefield in a command and control helicopter, a control method not likely to be used on the modern battlefield. The commander supervised and controlled the maneuver of his forces. The fire support officer, normally a field artillery captain, brought fire power to the battle area in support of the ground forces. He bore heavy responsibility for an officer of his rank. His job required that he think and act calmly and precisely, yet quickly, under intense pressure in response to the ever-changing situation below.

Artillerymen with firing units did a superlative job in providing continuous, and with the Military Assistance Command rules of engagement, responsive, support to ground forces. Their use both of existing mobility systems and of the fire base concept allowed firing units to follow and support forces with the same high quality support accredited to the field artillery in the past. Field artillerymen had experience in moving by road convoy and, as expected, did it well. Still, the environment increased the dangers


to convoy movement and necessitated more detailed preparations than previously had been required. Roads had to be swept of mines and secured in advance, and personnel had to be thoroughly rehearsed in counterambush procedures. More impressive than their ability to move by convoy was the field artillerymen's ability to follow maneuver forces by helicopter and boat. A practiced direct support artillery battery could move by air quickly and efficiently. With only a few hours notice, battery personnel could break down their position and rig all their weapons, equipment, barrier materials, and ammunition for sling loads to be carried by helicopter. Combat loading was practiced so that when the first weapon arrived at its new position, equipment and ammunition would be ready to fire at once. The ability to move and support by boat was particularly noteworthy because the equipment used was simply never designed for that purpose. The development of U.S. riverine artillery involved a series of equipment and operational innovations, each one resulting in greater efficiency.

The most common term to come out of the Vietnam war was "fire base." The fire base was not a defensive outpost but an integral part of an offensive effort. Once the field artillery firing unit was moved and positioned, the establishment of a carefully planned fire base allowed the unit to stay in the position. The fire base provided protection for firing units, even in the most hostile regions. If a firing unit was brought into position in the morning, by nightfall overhead cover had been constructed, the infantry defenses had been prepared, infantry and artillery defensive fires had been integrated and rehearsed, and mutually supporting fires from distant fire bases had been planned and fired. These defensive preparations insured that the firing unit would always be effective when called upon to serve its function of supporting offensive operations with indirect fire.

Normally the fire base was the forward command post of the maneuver battalion. The men of the firing units were quick to adopt new schemes to bring responsive fire support to the infantry from their established fire bases. New procedures in the fire direction centers and at the weapons permitted the rapid shifting of fires with no loss of accuracy and little loss of time.

Field artillery commanders at all levels demonstrated flexibility and imagination in the performance of their mission. Much of the field artillery had been organized to fight conventionally. As a result, changes in organization and procedures had to be made at all levels to accommodate the situation. At the battery, fire direction centers were augmented with additional men and equipment to provide for decentralized operations and to permit firing units


to occupy several separate positions. At direct support battalions, it was often necessary to organize additional firing batteries to provide the coverage required by maneuver brigades whose area of operations might cover hundreds of kilometers. At all battalions, many of the maintenance, supply, and administrative activities of the batteries were centralized and supervised so that battery commanders were relieved of many of those responsibilities. At higher levels, commanders were given new responsibilities such as base camp defense, which required internal reorganization of headquarters. Changes to operating procedures often required a corresponding organizational change, which could only be accomplished by use of assets authorized by tables of organization and equipment. Thus, when battery fire direction centers were increased in size and capability, personnel and equipment were taken from other sections within the battery or provided from the existing assets of the parent battalion. Or, when an additional firing battery was added to a battalion, it was organized from personnel and equipment taken from each of the other batteries. This ability of artillery commanders, restricted by tables of organization and. equipment, to accomplish necessary internal reorganization to meet the situation was impressive.

The field artillery advisers in the early years of the war must also be recognized. Theirs was the lonely task of "advising" officers and men who had been in combat for years, They worked long and hard to teach the Vietnamese how to employ American weapons. They were often frustrated in the early years by the relative inefficiency of the Vietnamese artillery and the great reluctance with which their advice was sometimes accepted. That these were common complaints of the French advisers with the fledgling American army in the 1780's made them no less frustrating in the 1960's. Still, over the years the adviser's efforts achieved results and the South Vietnamese artillery at the time of the U.S. withdrawal had officers and men with the requisite knowledge and equipment to do the job.

Effective performance from individual field artillerymen is certainly required if the entire system is to be effective but offers no assurance that the system will be effective. An assessment of field artillery performance cannot be made in isolation from the rest of the Army. The field artillery was an integral part of total U.S. combat power, all working toward the successful completion of a single mission.

The most professional army that the United States has ever fielded was sent to Vietnam to help a faltering nation repel an insurgency. Time after time American soldiers met the enemy


on the battlefield and defeated him soundly. They pushed him from hamlets and villages, pursued him across the countryside, drove him from the highlands, and finally followed him into his sanctuaries. They bought time for the South Vietnamese to build their armed forces and bring their government to their people. It is true that American forces did not destroy the enemy; he could not be destroyed, only repulsed, because of the boundary limitations and manpower restrictions that were imposed. But Americans left Vietnam a stronger nation with the requisite know-how and equipment to do the job.

In all of this, the field artillery contributed significantly to the successful completion of the Army's mission. It helped ground forces repel the enemy and followed the ground forces in pursuit. It aided in the protection of hamlets, government installations, and lines of communication and held the enemy at bay while the South Vietnamese government worked with the people to better their lives and gain their support. It also helped build and strengthen the South Vietnamese field artillery to a point where it is capable of providing the support needed by its army. That is what the field artillery set out to do.


page created 13 March 2003

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