Doing More with Less

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Figure 1. The Austrian armed forces plan to introduce UAVs.
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Figure 2. Options of artillery ammunition to precisely combat the target.
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Figure 3. Employment of intelligent ammunition as compared to conventional ammunition.
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Figure 4. Deductions for Austrian armed forces’ reconnaissance and artillery
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Figure 5. Command process in a reconnaissance and artillery unit.
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Figure 6. The local population is a significant information source.
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Figure 7. State-of-the-art equipment is the precondition for task accomplishment. (Photo courtesy of Austrian armed forces)
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Figure 8. Field HUMINT personnel on the one hand and technical equipment on the other are most effective when they are used in combination.

The change in the geostrategic environment within the past two decades and the present and future challenges of the modern battlefield with various state and non-state actors poses great challenges to many armies, especially those in the Western world. Despite radical cuts in defense budgets in the past years, the build-up and expansion of effective military capacities in the Austrian armed forces must be the precondition for fulfilling future security-political tasks, forming the basis for an effective and credible foreign and security policy.

One of the ways Austria has approached its defense challenges has been to integrate the artillery and reconnaissance branches into one unit. The Austrian armed forces have done this since 2009. In combining command and control (C2), reconnaissance and effect into one system, the “reconnaissance and artillery battalion” is a substantial pillar of military-intelligence collection and of ranged fire support in combined-arms warfare. Some innovative approaches show possibilities to further develop the reconnaissance and artillery battalion with a view to the future and to the unit’s increased usefulness, despite decreasing resource levels.

First, some preliminary notes and basic information on terrestrial tactical reconnaissance and indirect ranged fire support are necessary.

Information-gathering, tactical reconnaissance

The principles and fundamentals of military information-gathering and terrestrial tactical reconnaissance are:

  • In all military operations, information superiority is an essential criterion for conducting operations successfully.
  • Gaps in information-gathering have direct adverse effects on the quality of every measure of leadership and, therefore, also on the effectiveness and security of the employed soldiers.
  • Thus, the battle for information is decisive in planning and conducting military operations.

In the current peacetime structure of reconnaissance and artillery battalions, military information-gathering is limited at the tactical level (brigade and below) to ground-based field human-intelligence (HUMINT) personnel.

We know from international operations that effective intelligence requires the integration and use of diverse means and sensors with evaluation devices for information-processing and distribution. At the tactical level, in particular, it is important to rely on diverse assets to gather information.

Every reconnaissance means is designed for a specific operational spectrum and has, therefore, its respective strengths and weaknesses. Only by way of a balanced mix of these means can a satisfying coverage be ensured. The interaction of technical reconnaissance means with personnel who contribute reconnaissance results based on interrogation or observation on-site is decisive. This aspect acquires a particular significance, especially in asymmetric conflict scenarios.

Information-gathering at the level of terrestrial tactical reconnaissance with the help of a sensor mix has established itself as the international standard, including at least the following means:

  • Ground-based field HUMINT;
  • Radar-based reconnaissance of the battlefield;
  • Ground-based aerial imagery reconnaissance (unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs));
  • Information-gathering by way of field HUMINT personnel in combination with
  • An evaluation cell for task control, the establishment of the picture of the situation and distribution.

Further development

The possibilities to further develop terrestrial tactical reconnaissance in the reconnaissance and artillery battalion are:

  • Build up and expand evaluation capacities/cells (training courses available already at the Land Forces School);
  • Establish field HUMINT platoons (currently only existing at the Austrian International Operations Command;
  • Expand the operational spectrum of ground-based field HUMINT by way of training in specific operational techniques/field HUMINT teams and rapidly implement protected multi-purpose vehicles, type Iveco (protected against weapons effects);
  • Build up capabilities for ground-based aerial reconnaissance (unmanned aerial systems for the reconnaissance branch are being procured); and
  • Maintain capabilities for radar-based reconnaissance of the battlefield (one sensor is currently still available).

Indirect-fire support

The principles and fundamentals of ranged indirect-fire support are:

  • The artillery, as a combat-support branch and in combination with reconnaissance, C2 and effect, is a substantial carrier of ranged fire support.
  • Irrespective of weather conditions and the time of the day, one’s own artillery may combat enemy high-value targets anytime at an early stage and, in this way, influence the enemy’s planned intention and operations from the outset in an indirect manner.
  • Thanks to the capability of precise ranged effect, the artillery significantly contributes to the protection of one’s own forces by preventing duel situations and collateral damages, which are likely to cause heavy losses.
  • In operations in which combat action is not to be expected – i.e., peace-support operations –organizational elements of the artillery support in their second-role function as required.

Although the reconnaissance and artillery battalions – by way of the self-propelled howitzer M109A5OE – have a state-of-the-art and internationally recognized cannon, and although the Combat Next Generation C2 and weapons system will soon replace the Electronic Artillery Fire-Control System – resulting in another clear enhancement of quality – the field of ammunition equipment is still marked by an urgent backlog. To be able to continue optimally supporting combat troops in future, modern and complex scenarios, the employment of semi-intelligent and intelligent ammunition types is absolutely necessary and, in the end, more cost-effective as well.

Employing semi-intelligent and intelligent ammunition as compared to conventional ammunition types means that for the same effect:

  • The amount of grenades is lowered by 30 percent to 90 percent;
  • The amount of artillery pieces is lowered by 75 percent to 85 percent;
  • The effective costs are reduced by 40 percent to 60 percent; and
  • The risk regarding collateral damage is significantly lower.

Fire support

The possibilities to further develop indirect ranged fire support in the reconnaissance and artillery battalion are as follows. A change in the ammunition equipment toward precision artillery ammunition results in these advantages:

  • A firing platoon equipped with precision ammunition is in the position to replace 1 1/2 self-propelled howitzer batteries. Therefore, the number of pieces per reconnaissance and artillery battalion can be lowered from 16 to eight self-propelled howitzers M109A5OE, which entails a significant savings potential in the field of logistics.
  • The capabilities build-up for the reconnaissance and observer organization in support of combat troops is to be safeguarded by way of joint fires, the first fundamentals of which are already in place at the Land Forces School and the Aviation and Air Defense School.
  • Objective-oriented training of organizational elements of the artillery (especially in the firing-position area) in a support function within the framework of non-kinetic operations in defined secondary roles, such as a tactical psychological-operations team (TPT), a tactical camera team (TCT), civil-military cooperation (CIMIC), a liaison and observation team and a liaison and monitoring team.

Nature of reconnaissance and artillery unit

The multi-facetedness of the reconnaissance and artillery battalion is derived from its tasks:

  • The reconnaissance and artillery battalion is a small-unit type and an organic element of a brigade employed and commanded by the brigade.
  • The reconnaissance and artillery battalion’s mission is to support combat troops and the higher commands to which they report in national and international operations, within the framework of combined-arms warfare, as well as in operations in which combat action is rather not to be expected.
  • The reconnaissance and artillery battalion, as a composite reconnaissance and effect unit, is in the position to carry out terrestrial tactical reconnaissance and to provide artillery-fire support for combat units.
  • A reconnaissance and artillery battalion’s C2 organization, in implementing the tactical decision-making process, is capable of using synergies in linking relevant sub-steps of the intelligence cycle with sub-steps of the targeting cycle. In this way, not only the planning and C2 of reconnaissance assets are improved, but also sensors and effectors in particular, are linked in such a manner that their combined combat power and effectiveness are a multiple of the mere sum of their individual capabilities.

Deductions for reconnaissance and artillery battalion

In terms of the strategic basic orientation of the future armed-forces profile F2 “enhanced cooperation,” we can make a number of deductions regarding the reconnaissance and artillery battalion.

In general, the reconnaissance and artillery battalion is in a position to support nine of 18 military-strategic task settings of profile variant F2, including contributions to the picture of the situation and kinetic and non-kinetic combat support. This is shown by examining the support provided on behalf of a battalion-sized task force within the framework of a stabilization operation and a robust separation-of-parties operation within the framework of a European Union battle group (EUBG).

In the February 2012 issue of the Austrian Land Forces School’s journal Exempla Docent, a deputy battalion commander of a combat unit published an article dealing with experiences gained in a peace-support operation in northern Afghanistan, confirming the findings established in this article.

Stabilization operations and separation of parties to a conflict are among the most demanding international military operations to be conducted by an Austrian battalion-sized combat unit. What tasks a combat unit must fulfill and what requirements a reconnaissance and artillery unit has to meet in such a scenario is briefly described, following.

Stabilization operations. The tasks of a battalion-sized combat unit (infantry battalion) in a stabilization operation (area of responsibility: 40 x 50 kilometers, medium-threat spectrum) include:

  • Protect the local population, international organizations and non-governmental organizations;
  • Protect areas, buildings and lines of communication;
  • Show military strength to deter irregular activities;
  • Disarm irregular forces;
  • Defend refugee camps; and
  • Attack inferior irregular-infantry forces.

Separation of parties to a conflict. The tasks of a battalion-sized combat unit (mechanized infantry battalion) in separating parties to a conflict (attack more than 20 kilometers, capture of an objective: 2x2 kilometers) include:

  • Attack a conventional opponent to separate the parties to the conflict and take control of a demilitarized zone;
  • Interdict parts of the area to prevent re-entry into the demilitarized zone;
  • Delay an opponent who is superior in conventional combat;
  • Attack irregular-infantry forces;
  • Defend military facilities; and
  • Protect areas and buildings.

Reconnaissance and artillery unit. The requirements placed on a reconnaissance and artillery unit in support of a battalion-sized combat unit in a stabilization operation or to separate parties to a conflict are:

  • Contribute to the C2 process of the higher command, in particular as far as the implementation of the intelligence and targeting cycles are concerned;
  • Perform wide-ranging reconnaissance of the area of operations with all available partial capabilities of terrestrial tactical reconnaissance to provide a picture of the situation that is as accurate and up-to-date as possible;
  • Provide “actual intelligence” to support all movements and safeguard all protective and monitoring tasks;
  • Make a credible show of force by deliberately demonstrating the available kinetic means of force, including exercises and live-firing;
  • Provide general support of the combat unit by providing situation, target and post-strike reconnaissance as well as ranged fire support, both in the preparation and conduct of combat operations (i.e., attack, defense, delaying action and protection).

At one glance

The modern battlefield is extremely varied, demanding a comprehensive approach and multiple employments of civilian and military capacities. Especially in view of dwindling financial resources, the reconnaissance and artillery battalion is well suited to support the broad spectrum of future military operations in terms of reconnaissance, C2 and effect. Most of the development needed to enhance the unit’s performance can be implemented already now and at low costs.

There have been enhancements in evaluation and analysis capabilities, the implementation of field HUMINT platoons at the reconnaissance and artillery platoons, and the build-up of non-kinetic secondary-role capabilities (TPT, TCT, CIMIC) for organizational elements so far exclusively defined as kinetic.

Also, the change in ammunition equipment toward precision ammunition not only increases accuracy and effectiveness, but also the assertiveness vis-à-vis the parties to the conflict and the self-assurance of one’s own soldiers.

(Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published in the Austrian military publication TRUPPENDIENST, March 2013 edition, published by the Ministry of Defense, Vienna, Austria. Republished with permission from TRUPPENDIENST.)