A detailed Army Times report this week explains why after years of neglect during the "war on terror," the Army is getting "back to its big guns as it prepares for the near-peer fight".
Since 9/11 and the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, counterinsurgency warfare has taken center stage and drives US military preparedness and tactics. This means that what the army did best since WWII and throughout the Cold war — field artillery, or "the big guns" such as large arrays of Howitzers positioned along a conventional front — took a backseat while pinpoint counterinsurgency seek-and-destroy missions within an irregular battlefield terrain gained prominence.
Thus as the Army Times explains, "After nearly two decades of counterinsurgency warfare, the Army’s artillery and missiles — once the core of the modern Army’s way of land warfare — withered in quantity, quality and manpower."
But now, with a rising focus on the "Russia and China threats" over the past two years, the Army is once again emphasizing the return of its "fires" community and big guns capabilities.
In the words of the Army Times: That brings the fires community, from artillery to missiles to air defense, back to the forefront of what makes a unit effective and lethal.
Army leadership began to take notice of its dwindling capabilities in what was once a core area of battlefield readiness after military studies showed that Russian cannons have far surpassed the American guns in range.
The RAND corporation, for example, has noted that "Russian cannons have 50 percent to 100 percent greater range than current U.S. cannons".
The Army is now pushing to both exceed the range of that of its adversaries, and return its dwindled "fires" officer corps back to sufficient strength.
As the Army Times report explains, "To do that, the Army has embarked upon three tiers of focus, from upgrading old school artillery cannons, to swapping out its missile system to double the distance it can fire, and giving the Army a way to fire surface-to-surface missiles at ranges of 1,400 miles."
This includes upgrading US battlefield tactical missile systems, which the report notes is also behind Russian capabilities, and that "Even now, in the missile community, the strength of the firepower is roughly half of what it was during the Cold War". Citing an example, The Army Times identifies that "right now, Russia has the U.S. beat. Its SS-26 Iskander missile can reach up to 310 miles. That exceeds the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATCAMS, which goes to 186 miles."
And concerning long-range missile systems, increasingly in the news of late after over the summer Russia released a series of videos touting its "hypersonic weapons", and after US generals warned China is also on its way to deploying "unlimited range" hypersonic weapons, the Army is further seeking to jump start two related programs to keep pace.
Per the report: "For strategic ranges, the Army is looking to two programs — the Strategic Strike Cannon Artillery, which hits at nearly 1,000-miles, and the Strategic Fires Missile that can hit 1,400 miles."
With Russia once again considered a superpower "threat" on the world stage, and as some scholars have suggested the West in recent years initiated an unnecessary and avoidable "new Cold War", the US Army is attempting a return to its capabilities at the height of the Cold War years, where its artillery and tactical missiles could keep the clear upper-hand along a conventional front.
The Army Times continues:
When the United States faced an immediate near-peer threat in the then-Soviet Union, the ability to mount massive conventional fires as armor and mechanized units maneuvered around the battlefield was paramount. And the firepower showed it.
At the peak of the Cold War, Army formations could trade artillery and rocket barrages with their foes, confident that they could match or outrange them as the battle progressed.
Or perhaps this is just the latest way the Department of Defense can continue expanding its budget, fueled by a hyped "Russia threat".
But regardless, it's a sign that a new arms race is already well underway with Russia and China, and the Pentagon is seizing the opportunity.