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The Future Of Field Artillery

Merging with air defense

1st Lt. Taylor Maroni

Faced with an uncertain future, the field artillery branch and the United States military as a whole must be prepared for anything. We can look at our branch’s past to see how it evolved to meet different challenges and analyze the effectiveness of the decisions that were made in response. We can focus on developing an understanding and building trust with the other branches of service in order to maximize the assets available for our mission. Once we know what we want our future to look like, we can begin developing new doctrine and adjusting the field artillery and air defense artillery job specialties as needed. In order to prepare for an uncertain future, we need to embrace new unit configurations, new equipment and new doctrine that embodies a bold and logical progression from our current standards.

Making the best possible decision going forward concerning the field artillery and air defense artillery branches may seem like a daunting task, but we can look to the past for guidance. By analyzing the decisions that were made and the nuances of the situations, we may be able to discern patterns that are applicable to today’s situation. The air defense artillery began as a part of the field artillery branch, and by 1958, momentum was gaining to split the two due to increasing technical and tactical differences. However, it was not until 1968 that the two branches were officially separated. The main argument for the split was that trying to teach officers both kinds of artillery prevented them from attaining the proficiency necessary in order to carry out basic functions in either specialty. Separation was finally achieved in 1968 mostly due to experiences in the Vietnam War.

“Combat in Vietnam required the officer to arrive as a proficient field artilleryman and not a hybrid field and air defense artilleryman. Army commanders in Vietnam simply did not have the time to train an air defense artilleryman to be competent in field artillery […] who had had insufficient training in the basic techniques.”1

If you apply the lesson learned here from Vietnam, you would assume keeping traditional field artillery and all other non-traditional (rocket/missile) operations separate would be the best course of action. However, in 2014, the Army decided to combine the military occupational specialties of traditional fire control specialists and their rocket counterparts. The argument of lack of Soldiers available and costs saved is similar to the reasons used to resist the air defense artillery becoming its own branch. While there might be short term benefits, it is important to consider the significant consequences it could have on future warfare.

In September 2014, Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Moriarty stated that most of the reasons for the change were based on career progression for Soldiers within the branch, as well as the opinion that traditional and rocket systems are very similar now due to the digital systems they use. “With all of our weapon platforms becoming digitized, the reliance and use of manual gunnery should be relegated to degraded operations only.”2

An important factor to consider should be how well fire control Soldiers can be trained in both traditional and rocket units, as well as in manual gunnery. A core tenant of the field artillery has always been the ability to perform degraded operations if the situation required it. I do not think that the need for manual gunnery backups will go away no matter how reliable the digital systems get. As things currently stand, it is already a challenge for new fire control Soldiers to learn manual gunnery as they do not learn it at advanced individual training, and now they will have to learn the rocket side as well.

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September-October 2018