Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has devolved into a stalemate of artillery attrition not seen since World War I. Still, the conflict underscores a lethal reality in delivering and defending against “long-range fires”: Anything not in constant motion is dead, including “long-range fires.”
“It’s very, very hard to kill mobile land-based, long-range ‘fires’ hiding in the clutter, and I think that’s an important thing” validated by the Russian–Ukraine war,“ U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George said during a Sept. 19 ”Strategic Land Power Dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
Mobility and flexibility in deploying and defending against missiles, rockets, artillery, and air-delivered ordnance—collectively referred to as “fires”—are among the lessons the U.S. Army is gleaning from the Ukraine war, according to Gen. George, who is awaiting Senate confirmation to be Army chief of staff.
‘Loitering Munitions’The war has exposed the need for varied capacities in the Pentagon’s missile and rocket stocks, including the need to reinvigorate Stinger missile production, develop a more robust cruise missile, coordinate air defenses, and train to defend against drones, U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said.
“There’s the offensive side ... of drones: using them for sensing, using them potentially to drop kinetic payloads,” Ms. Wormuth said. “But I think we also have to be thinking about the defensive side of that, and I think one of the lessons learned of Ukraine is that fires [are] going to be very important, but we’re going to need to probably have organic air defense [drones] with our fires so that they can protect against drones.”
That “organic air defense” for missile and rocket launchers includes drones that kill drones, she said.
Defending against unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), drones, or “loitering munitions” aided by artificial intelligence are among the lessons the military is learning from the war in Ukraine, Gen. George said.
“Loitering munitions, I mean, the battlefield is changing, and how we are changing with it is going to be important.”
Army training to defend with and against drones has already resulted in tactical changes by missile and rocket troops, he said.
“Everybody’s seen, everybody’s watching, what’s playing out in Ukraine,” Gen. George said, offering a “concrete example” of how the war has changed army training.
“We’ve had a brigade combat team that just went into one of our training centers and realized that you can’t have a bunch of vehicles with a bunch of antennas and tents and all of those things—you’re not going to survive in combat,” he said. “So our command posts are becoming much more leaner, low signature, much more mobile.”
One thing that has also emerged from the war, he added, is “just how well U.S. equipment works and how effective it is in combat.”
‘Hiccups’ And ’Bumps’Sustaining and refining that edge in fires is one of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) six modernization priorities identified in 2017 by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Ms. Wormuth said.
“When you think about 2040, probably what you'll see will be notably different than what we’re seeing today, although the roots, I think, are already starting to form,” she said, and those include “much more ubiquitous use of unmanned systems, of autonomous systems, of systems using artificial intelligence. I think by 2040, we will see multi-domain operations in full bloom.”
Ms. Wormuth said she feels “very good about where the Army is on our modernization program,” which she described as “its most fundamental transformation in 40 years.”
“We’re moving away from the systems that we designed in the ‘80s to a bunch of new systems.”
Unlike the other military branches, “the Army doesn’t have the luxury of just focusing on air defense or just focusing on ‘fires,’” she said. “We have to do all of those war-fighting functions, and hence, all of our six modernization portfolios, I think, are very important. We’re making good progress.”
The modernization of the nation’s air and missile defense programs, including software and hardware, is occurring in a dynamic environment of constant innovation, Ms. Wormuth said.
“One thing that’s worth everyone remembering is that when you are trying to develop as many new systems as quickly as we are trying to do in the Army, there are inevitably going to be hiccups. There are going to be bumps in the road, and you know, we’re seeing some of those bumps, but we also ... most of our programs are going very, very well, and I think we’re on the right path.”
One fly in the ointment: “Our relatively flat budget and making the difficult decisions between how much of the enduring systems that we have, like Bradley, like Abrams, like Black Hawk—how much of those do we continue purchasing and producing versus putting money into R&D and procurement for new systems?”
Gen. George said: “What we’ve kind of learned over the last couple of years is we’ve actually got to start to get to a point where we actually rotate and are moving a little bit quicker. So the other things that we’re talking about, how do we build things that are open architecture, that are more modular?
“Those are the things that we talk about, that I think we have to continually adapt and why we really talk about continuous transformation because I think that that’s where we need to be focused.”
‘Fires’An example of fires that are mobile and deliver a wallop is the M142 high mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS), the long-range, precision rocket launcher produced by Lockheed Martin mounted on a five-ton M1140 truck frame.
The HIMARS provides long-range precision fires and is difficult to target because of its size and mobility.
Ms. Wormuth and Gen. George compared the modernization of the Pentagon’s fires capacity to not just having many arrows in a quiver, but many different types of arrows in a moving quiver.
“Things like PrSM are going to have a lot of utility in a European conflict, potentially, whereas some of the later increments of PrSM, mid-range capability ... that allows us to hit maritime targets and mobile targets on the ground, have a lot of value” anywhere, Ms. Wormuth said.
Gen. George said another emphasis is developing a long-range hypersonic missile with ranges beyond 1,000 miles.
“There [are] several increments that are coming, a medium-range capability and then long-range hypersonic weapon,” he said.
“[Long-range hypersonic weapons are] not something we’re going to be shooting at just any old target but, for you know, truly, truly distant targets and very time-sensitive targets,” Ms. Wormuth said. “I think, you know, we can add another arrow in the joint force quiver because, obviously, the Navy and Air Force are going to have missiles with that kind of capability as well.”
Gen. George said all systems need to have interoperability capacity with other systems and munitions. HIMARS is a good example of that, he said.
“How do we update the missiles inside of that, which can be more cost-effective? And how we can rapidly get that into our force?” he said.
“Really, what you want to provide for commanders that are out there in the fight are a range of options to get after attacking the A2/AD [anti-access/area denial] bubble that would be out there,” he said. “You want to have all those arrows in your quiver.”
Ms. Wormuth said she thinks the Army has a good portfolio of fires capacities, noting that the range includes the Army’s extended-range cannon artillery that can deliver ordinance 40 miles to long-range hypersonic weapons that can strike targets thousands of miles away.
But more needs to be done “in an environment where our adversaries have the standoff capabilities that they have,” she said. “Certainly, in the case of the pacing challenge of China, the ranges they have on their munitions are formidable. You know, it puts a premium on us developing systems that have much longer ranges.”
Air and missile offense and defense will require “Stingers, Javelins, Navy SAMs (surface-to-air missiles), all the way up to Patriot,” according to Ms. Wormuth.
‘New Truism’ Confirms Old RealityCSIS President John Hamre, noting that the presentation was the first of the center’s new Strategic Land Power Forums, said the “new truism” in fires warfare is drones, which also provide information about the enemy.
But, he said, one thing remains the same: A nation needs an army.
“One of the few advantages of being an old fart in Washington is that I’ve lived through 45 years of people saying we’ve had the end of land power,” Mr. Hamre said. “I’ve listened to that for 45 years. And now we’re watching this obscene war—there’s no other word for this obscene war launched by Russia against Ukraine—and we now come to realize the fundamental reason why you have an army.”
An army ensures—and is an expression of—a nation’s sovereignty, he said.
“It’s about how you exercise your sovereignty. You don’t do that in cyberspace. You do that on the ground,” Mr. Hamre said. “Isn’t that becoming a powerful message to us again?”
“Land is the domain where people live,” Ms. Wormuth said. “You know, we have not yet figured out how to get to Mars. We have not yet figured out how to live underwater. So people live on the land. The sovereignty of nations is generally decided on land, and land power as a result, I think, remains extremely relevant today.”