Saturday, August 9, 2014

ISIS Artillery???

Per news reports Navy F-18s took out a single artillery piece in the vicinity of Khazir that was firing at Peshmerga positions in Gwier.   But where are the other 51 M-198s mentioned in the article above: Syria? Mosul? or still at the military bases abandoned by the Iraqi Army?  Does IS even have enough working prime movers to tow those captured M-198s around?  Can IS use them effectively – other than as an inaccurate city bombardment terror weapon? 

Can they even emplace and lay these guns in properly?  Gun safety?  What about the cannoneer's battle cry of:  <i>’Shoot, Move, and Communicate’</i>?  I don’t see them doing that well?  Perhaps Tarkhan Batirashvili</a>, AKA Omar the Chechen, one of the ISIS leaders can live up to that.

He reportedly was in Georgian Army recon during the Russo-Georgian War and relayed Russian tank column coordinates to Georgian artillery.  But that was only a five day war so how much experience did he get calling in fire missions?  And how good is he as a trainer and teacher?


But the bigger question is can they keep them in good working order?  Guderian has been quoted as saying that: <i>"The engine of a Panzer is as much a weapon of war as the main-gun."</i>  That is also true for modern weapons and is a problem for IS.  It will not be a small job for a ragtag bunch of jihadis to keep those captured M198s shooting and maintained in good working order (to say nothing of the captured M-1 tanks).  I doubt if the former Baathists who support IS have enough competent technicians and mechanics to undo any operator foul-ups making the guns inoperative.   There is no way these captured weapons are as maintenance free as the AK-47s and RPGs the militants are used to.

I am no expert on M-198’s or on artillery in general.  I have never been a cannon cocker.  My only association was years ago as an intel weenie with a USMC arty regiment that used the old M-114 155mm howitzers.  Even those, unsophisticated as they were, required a lot of daily and weekly preventive maintenance.

At a minimum: bore and chamber cleaning, ditto or maybe doubly so for powder fouling in the breech.  The  recoil mechanism, elevating and traversing mechanisms, hydraulic surge brakes also as I recall.   Fire control (?) - the M-198s have much more sophisticated fire control optics and electronics than the M-114 ever did.  How well will they stand up to the Caliphates sand dunes?  How critical is periodic borescoping?

Any insights from 13X’s, 08’s or other cannoneers?


  1. Oooops! Ignore my comment and link on Tarkhan Batirashvili. The Kurds claim to have killed him in action when ISIS tried to capture the Mosul Dam.

  2. Artillery is almsot all about supply, and IS doesn't have a real ammo supply. They do what usually happens with captured heavy weapons: Shotot ill captured ammo is expended, then discard them.

    Writing about IS/ISIS; I can just barely still withstand writing (in length) about how much I'm annoyed that an obvious (antipathetic) civil war faction is called 'terror group' all the time. I suppose one ought to call them by their primary occupation; it's a binational civil war party.
    All those horror stories about them which now make the rounds have zero credibility anyway; this kind of 'news' requires a couple post-war years of maturing till one can tell truth from propaganda.

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  4. Ammo resupply is a valid point and one I should have listed. I plead a senior moment.

    And you are right of course about the wolfpack journalists latching onto the horror stories. But then much of that is due to IS fighters posting photos and twitter feeds of executions and beheadings. Just a method I assume to make their own advance easier if they can scare off any potential opposition before the battle starts. They are advertizing. An ancient tactic used by the almost everyone to scare the enemy into submission. The Mongols, the Ottomans, and most if not all European nations did it during the middle ages. The choices were: 'Surrender now and we will be merciful, if you make us put you under siege, we will kill you all.' They just did not have the mass media capabilities available now. Didn't Caesar do it to in Gaul, to the Eburones

  5. Sven is correct that, barring a major change in logistics, ISIS will only be able to maintain a small amount of artillery.

    However, a little bit of artillery can go a long way.

    Recall the screw guns in NW India.

  6. Ael -

    As you and Sven say, the King-of-Battle does indeed have a big appetite. But the King-of-Battle also needs men around him that coax and coddle him and know how best to serve him. Gotta love Kipling, didn't he say about the screw guns: "It's only the pick of the Army that handles the dear little pets -- 'Tss 'Tss!"? I am not sure if the caliphate army runs gun crew drills. Do they have a Jean or Gaspard Bureau, or a Georg Bruchmuller standing by in the background. Who knows, Henry Knox was a seller of books prior to 1775.

    Those M-198s cannot go anywhere on the rough terrain where the screw guns went. Kipling also said about those guns: "They sends us along where the roads are, but mostly we goes where they ain't: We'd climb up the side of a sign-board an' trust to the stick o' the paint:".

    Screw guns or the modern equivalent is what IS needs. They should stick to rockets and light mortars or recoilless rifles or maybe something in the line of 37 to 57mm guns which I think I did see an IS propaganda photo of. Or maybe the 75mm pack howitzers that the Airborne jumped with and that the Marines dragged across the beaches during WW2.

    Meanwhile there is talk of a coup in Baghdad and Maliki's palace guard is taking up strategic positions in the city.

  7. I think you underestimate the ISIS military.

    They have glossy annual reports, metrics and have even caught the power-point disease.

    They clearly have a core of professional soldiers providing institutional structure.

  8. Ael - Good link, thanks!

    I concede that I could be underestimating the ISIS military. On the artillery question they may be able to recruit well-trained M-198 artillerists from the Pakistani, Saudi, Tunisian, or Morroccan Armies all of which have that particular howitzer in their inventory per Wikipedia. Or perhaps some of those repentant apostates mentioned in that ISW report you provided are former Iraqi Army gunners? I do believe the ISW conclusions that ISIS is conducting a phased and well-disciplined campaign. They certainly have the will to fight so far. And they will survive if the rest of Iraq cannot stop fighting among themselves (but that survival has nothing to do with their artillery effectiveness of non-effectiveness).

    On the other hand glossy annual reports, metrics, and power-point are not necessarily indications of future success. We have seen that to be true in our own military and in many US and multinational corporations that use those same tools to glorify the short term and shortchange the long term. In that ISW report the table on page 10 that quantifies the different types of Ops in each of the seven provinces reeks of the same old attrition BS that MACV staff put out under General Westmoreland. Where is the statistical analysis? Or is the producer of that ISIS document just accumulating numbers to impress?

    PS - I also note that the ISW metrics seem strongest in three particular areas that are also reminiscent of the 1960s – assassinations (1083), targeted attacks (1047), and IEDs (4465, they were called boobytraps back then in Vietnam). Those were the same weapons of the Viet Cong who were contained until the North Vietnamese Army stepped in. Does ISIS have a neighboring country sympathetic enough and willing to engage in conventional war for them so that they can take over all of Iraq? ISIS even seems to wear black pajamas similar to what the VC wore!

    PPS - I should have given a hat-tip and shout-out to the Defense and Freedom blog for a post back several years ago for my listing of artillery general Georg ‘Breakthrough’ Bruchmuller above. Thanks Sven.

  9. The thing that makes modern artillery work, mike, is the fire control system(s). The cannon itself is still fundamentally the weapon that was developed in WW1 with some upgrades such as nitrogen recoil cylinders. The actual operations and maintenance of the cannon system is something that any troop who isn't totally cack-handed can manage.

    The big change that has made arty more effective than its WW2 incarnation is improvements in fire direction. Specifically, a modern FO-FDC system can significantly reduce the size of the mean point of impact (MPI) circle. But this requires:

    1. A current meterological dataset to the max ord (highest elevation of the arc of the round's trajectory) of the round.
    2. Surveyed cannon location (horizontal and vertical)
    3. Accurate target location (usually done with a laser-type survey instrument)
    4. Accurate gun and projectile information (including things like barrel wear and projectile weight)
    5. Accurate propellant information (such a propellant temperature).
    6. And a means of incorporating all this information into firing data for the cannon (i.e. a digital calculation package).

    Don't get me wrong; you can use good old-fashioned charts-and-darts, TFTs and GFTs to calculate the firing solution. But you'll get a probable error (PE) in something like the hundreds of meters. THAT's what makes the cannons such ammo hogs. You have to do a lot of adjustment to get the fire-for-effect on target, and you have to use a lot of rounds in the FFE to get effects on target.

    If you're just lobbing rounds at a city? No problem. But trying to use the thing against enemy maneuver elements? Not so easy.

    So my guess is that the IS guys are using these like they did back when they were fighting for Saddam lobbing rounds at the Iranians; pretty much using the old-school methods that worked for Bruchmuller or the Soviet crews that did such a damn-damn on the fascist beasts. Not elegant, but it works, and as my old drill sergeant used to say "If it's stupid and it works, it's not stupid."

  10. Thanks Chief.

    Below is an interesting link re insurgent use of smartphone or tablet apps, commercial GPS, and Wikimapia or Google Earth to aid in directing mortar and arty fire. But I would guess that is not much more accurate than the 'charts-and-darts' method you mention especially if they do not have the correct firing tables. Google Earth in my neighborhood is about one block off kilter north to south - 80 meters I am guessing.

  11. Actually Chief, you can get pretty close with a quick registration mission.
    It would go pretty fast if you have a laser and a convenient target prominently located on a map.
    Simply shoot at the grid reference and then lase the target / impact smoke wherever it lands.

    All that met/propellent/barrel wear/survey washes out.
    if you don't have a laser, then you have to bracket it to get distance.

    Of course, you need to keep your corrections up to date (as the day goes on, temperatures/wind changes, etc.)

  12. The thing I think kills these guys, Ael, is not having much if any of that. I'm willing to bet they didn't capture (or if they did can't make work) any of the met gear. So, no met. And if you have to reregister every time the conditions change - new lot of ammo, new temp and pressure, wind speed and direction...then you're back to burning through a lot of joes again.

    It's not that you can't get's that you have one or the other; you have all the technical goodies or, as Sven noted, you have to haul an assload of projos around. I doubt they have all the tech gear and there's a reason to be skeptical that they have the logistical capacity to move the ammo.

  13. My other thought is that while it's not really difficult to fire an individual cannon, there are some tricks to coordinating firing cannon in groups, and that's what makes artillery so deadly.

    So I guess my overall take on this is the while these IS jokers may have cannon they probably can't be said to have "artillery" any more than having a collection of individual tanks gives one "armor"...

  14. You are correct Chief. Artillery is a technically demanding team sport.
    One could tell a *lot* by listening for 5 minutes on an arbitrary troop net.
    If you heard a disciplined call for fire, then a lot of ISIS preconceptions would need to be flushed away.

  15. And we have not heard from those M-198s yet. There are a number of possible reasons:

    Are they all in Syria? Could be if the Daash GHQ has figured out that if they use them on Kurdish areas or on Baghdad and its outskirts that they could be taken out by precision US airstrikes? At least three were spotted in Raqqah Syria in the caliphate victory parade. Four are seen on youtube going through downtown Mosul (It did not show any log or ammo trains following them). Not sure about the rest of the 52 reported captured?

    Do they have a team of smart guys sussing them out before they start instructing gun teams? Or maybe they have started training already?

    Did they take all 52 or just a few and sabotage the rest or maybe leave them in place until they feel safe in moving them? Or until they think they can capture more ammo?

  16. We love the fact that ISIL wants to use conventional military equipment and tactics. It works to our advantages because, one, we are better at it, and two, it makes them easier to target. The only reason ISIL would use this equipment is because the US is on the sidelines. We've already seen that just a handful of airstrikes was enough to get them to abandon (or at least reluctant to use) this equipment.

    From the perspective that threat equals capability and intent, I would argue that despite their level of capability (training in this case), you can disarm them by simply decreasing their intent or willingness to use the equipment.

    Of course, if you believe that this administration even went into that level of analytical thought when deciding to do these airstrikes, I have a bridge to sell you. You guys can't even begin to imagine the level of politics (mid-term elections coming up), micro-management and can-kicking that is going on today. The POTUS doens't want to know what is going on because he doesn't want to be forced to take action at this time. We literally have hundreds of service members (yes, boots on the ground) sitting in Iraq waiting for the POTUS to return from vacation so the National Security Staff can START discussing the next step based on the assessment that was complete BEFORE he went on vacation. DoD has been told to "squat and hold." So what does the military do? Prudent military planning, preparing for a range of options based on the assessment. This planning was considered offensive and dangerous by members of the aministration. It is a hostile environment to say the least, and I don't mean the Middle East.

  17. @bg - "...because, one, we are better at it, and two, it makes them easier to target."

    Agreed! Yesterdays airstrikes on Mosul Dam destroyed two Humvees, four APCs, an unspecified armored vehicle, and seven armed vehicles per Central Command. I am assuming the seven are one of ISIS's 'Toyota task forces' but the others sound like they were captured from the IAF.

    Which is one reason why they have not yet used those M-198s, at least in Iraq. They may yet use them in Syria against Assad or the PYD enclaves. That is if we do not provide airstrikes there, which it does not seem at this time we will do. But then maybe the Brits and French will as some online are pondering.

    By the way, those airstrikes on Mosul Dam happened just after POTUS returned from vacation yesterday.