LONDON – The British Army has a critical shortage of artillery and faces being overwhelmed and defeated in any potential future conflict with Russia, one of Europe’s leading thank tanks has said in a report released Nov 27.
“The UK’s ground forces are comprehensively outgunned and outranged, leaving enemy artillery free to prosecute fire missions with impunity. This must ultimately fix and suppress British guns and maneuver elements, and thereby lead to the defeat of UK units,” the Royal United Services Institute research paper warned.
“If conventional deterrence is to remain a key component of the UK’s national security strategy, then the modernization of its fires capabilities should be a top priority,” said the report.
Jack Watling, the RUSI analyst responsible for the report, said the British might have to reconsider their ban on the fielding of cluster weapons if the Army wants a credible presence on any future battlefield with a potential high-end opponent like Russia.
“The UK must either retain a sufficient stockpile of anti-armor, area-effect munitions and enough mass to suppress infantry with high explosive, or must reconsider its commitments to the Oslo Treaty [banning the weapons], and procure cluster munitions,” said the research paper.
Neither Russia or the United States are signatories to the treaty and both could be expected to deploy such weapons widely in any future conflict in Eastern Europe or elsewhere.
Even allowing for the fact that technology has improved the reliability of cluster weapons, any move to exit the Oslo Treaty would likely spark a major controversy here.
Watling though said it is “simply a question of whether the UK, as a country, is likely to be in the center of that exchange [between Russia and the US] and can protect its own forces.”
“Without appropriate munitions, British forces will simply be outranged, outgunned and thereby defeated in detail,” said the think tank report.
The British Ministry of Defence was asked for a comment but simply said, “The UK does not stand alone but alongside its NATO allies, who work closely together across air, sea, land, nuclear and cyber to deter threats and respond to crises.”
But the RUSI paper was less than flattering about NATO fires capability as well. It highlighted wider alliance deficiencies where “forces have tended to significantly underestimate the quantity of firepower needed to enable ground maneuver without prohibitive casualties, when fighting in complex terrain.”
In a statement accompanying the release of the report RUSI highlighted the scale of the capability shortage problem facing the British.
The cornerstone of the British military's entire fires capability runs to only two regiments of 24 aging AS90 155-mm, 39-calibre, self-propelled howitzers. Its 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade can each field just two batteries of six 105-mm light guns. And the UK’s Multiple Launch Rocket System is issued with a GPS-guided rocket with a unitary warhead, which is inaccurate in the face of extensive Russian GPS jamming, is unable to course-correct and so cannot reliably engage dynamic targets, and has 85 km range, as compared with 120 km for Russian systems.
By contrast a Russian motor-rifle brigade alone fields an organic fires compliment of 81 artillery pieces, ranging from 152-mm and 203-mm self-propelled howitzers to 300-mm, multiple-launch rocket systems, the RUSI study said.
As a minimum, analysts argue, a credible British fires capability would need to include: a battery of antitank guided missiles per battle group; a battery of self propelled 120-mm mortars per battle group; at least 72 155-mm, 52-calibre self-propelled howitzers with anti-armor, area-effect munitions; and a regiment of multiple-launch rocket systems with a compliment of anti-armor, area-effect munitions, plus long-range precision fires.
The report said such a force would need to be supported by a robust, data-centric command-and-control system and capable logistics.
“At the tactical level there is a need for antitank, guided missiles to be self-propelled. The Light Gun [105 mm], which is outranged by all adversary artillery systems, difficult to protect on a fragmented battlefield and with a large logistical tail, should either be mounted on a vehicle, or if this cannot be achieved within weight restrictions imposed by airlift, replaced by self-propelled 120-mm mortars," said the report.
For all of these platforms there is a need to retain sufficient stockpiles of ammunition to sustain operations,” said the research paper.
The British do have a mobile fires platform procurement program in its early stages with several potential suppliers like BAE Systems, Nexter, Kraus-Maffei Wegmann and Hanwa Defence all showing interest following the publication of a request for information in April.
A manufacturing contract is not expected to be ready for signing until 2024.
At the same time as RUSI released its report, German munitions experts Rheinmetall announced it had set three new distance records for indirect fire during tests in South Africa.
At a test fire event on Nov. 6 three new maximum effective range records were set using various guns, the company reported.
A G6 howitzer with a 52-caliber gun achieved the longest range ever attained with a conventional 155-mm artillery round, reaching 76 kilometers, while the 52-calibre gun of a PzH2000 self-propelled howitzer lobbed a shell 67 kilometers. Finally, a field howitzer with a 39-caliber gun attained a range of 54 kilometers.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.