Russia would ‘overwhelm’ Nato land forces
Senior British Army officer admits superior peer capability 'keeps him awake at night'
An AS-90 being used in 'Direct Fire' mode. Source: MOD
Underinvestment in artillery has left Nato land forces vulnerable to “devastating” capabilities that have been developed by high-end “near peer” adversaries, fears the British Army’s head of capability combat support.
Brigadier Simon Humphrey said budget cuts and an over-emphasis on low-end insurgency operations have left Nato forces at risk of being “overwhelmed in the early stages of a high-intensity conflict”.
“The military campaigns of the last 14 years have had a mixed effect on Nato’s artillery capability,” Humphrey told Defence IQ’s annual Future Artillery conference in London.
“Developments in precision fires and airborne target acquisition have been hugely positive,” he said. “But it has also spawned a range of middle and senior commanders who have not grown up understanding the effects that artillery must deliver to the battlefield when competing against a peer adversary.”
The resultant shortfalls include the scale, mass and range of existing artillery pieces as well as an inability to deliver a wide variety of effects, Humphrey said.
He added that the continued reliance on close air support – a capability that kept ground troops safe in Afghanistan and Iraq – was a “flawed assumption” for future campaigns.
While Russia was not explicitly named, Humphrey cited an unmatched network of Russian-owned systems – including the SA-6 ‘Gainful’ and S-300 ‘Grumble’ surface-to-air missile systems and a vast array of man-portable air-defence systems – that have been spotted along the eastern Ukraine border. Such multi-layered air defences impose a severe restriction on the ability of Nato and its allies to deploy jets or missiles, ensuring the enemy would seize air superiority, he warned.
Electronic warfare systems would also be used to deny, degrade and spoof GPS and C4I systems, while swarms of inexpensive unmanned air systems would be deployed for persistent fire.
An accompanying video presentation declared that “Nato’s rocket and gun platforms are outnumbered, outranged and outgunned by all their likely peer adversaries. The enemy would overwhelm our forces with greater range, volume and access to large-calibre munitions.
“A rocket engagement with a mix of sensor fuzed, thermobaric and proximity munitions against dispersed Nato battle groups would be devastating.”
In recent years, Russia has focused on developing high-intensity capabilities, while most Nato forces have been primarily focused on developing capabilities for counterinsurgency engagements that offer little to no threat of counter attack.
Humphrey highlighted the British Army’s effort to begin filling the capability gap by pursuing delivery of a 155 mm 52 calibre howitzer – common across tracked and wheeled variants – that will boast enhanced precision munitions. This will answer the immediate demand for kinetic effect.
Other upgrades will then take precedence, such as the multiple launch rocket system replacement and a new weapon locating system. However, many of the army’s anticipated acquisitions will not be fielded until 2030.
“The British Army has some important decisions to make on how we invest limited resources. There is acknowledgement now that we need to replace our indirect fire systems and we have a programme of change to develop and deliver off-the-shelf solutions with our industry partners.
“It’s not too late [to address the issue].”
Technology is not the only drawback for Nato. The US Army has witnessed inability among personnel to adapt to scenarios common in a contested environment.
Training sessions have revealed that many soldiers are unable to undertake fundamental tasks in a manual fashion – a skill they would need if digital systems were hacked or jammed. In many cases this has also led to manual equipment becoming neglected and in need of repair.
“We just issued a degraded operations paper to the force that specifically outlines the challenges of D3SOE (Degraded, Denied, and Disrupted Space Operations Environment),” said Colonel Heyward Hutson, assistant commandant at the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, speaking at the same event. “We’ve got to know how to use our advanced digital systems but also balance that with being prepared to fall back on hard sights, a map and compass.”