Monday, October 16, 2006

US Army Artillery Fights for Relevance



Fort Sill, Oklahoma

After a century of being considered "King of Battle," men known as "cannon cockers" are facing extinction. US preeminence in controlling the air, and smart bomb technology that allows remote controlled missiles to hit specific windows in targets has called into question the need to continue to field expensive, heavy weapons with maximum range of 18 kilometers, and limited smart technology.

Previous attempts to stay relevant have faced international condemnation. For example, traditional high explosive rounds (HE) have been replaced with Dual Purpose, Improved, Conventional Munitions (DPICM). These rounds, from the Family of Scatterable Mines (FASCAM), were a huge improvement over HE, but left dud munitions about the size of golf balls that have a rude habit of exploding when picked up by unsuspecting civilians.

The outrage and press caused by this collateral damage reduced the military's willingness to use DPICM, and many artillery units have been deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan without their guns. Some are being converted to military police, civil affairs, and other specialties considered less lethal, but in great need.

Enter the artillery response: 155 mm DPSMRE Shell, and RPDPSMRE (rocket propelled) go 18 and 22 km, respectively, and have eliminated dud ammunition. Considered by proponents to be the best shell for current actions involving nation building and humanitarian relief, these rounds cause much less infrastructure damage, but do deliver the punch necessary to create reliance on US presence.

The Dual Purpose, Scatterable Meal Ready to Eat shells will be in the Army inventory shortly. Delivery of the first meals is expected to occur in the Sunni Triangle in December (a technical glitch by the prime contractor failed to remove pork MRE's from the shells, delaying deployment by 4 weeks). Uniform changes for artillery soldiers authorizing a change from the current black beret to chef hats is expected in 2007.

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