In November, while visiting the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Europe, I received a briefing on the performance of the Russian army in Ukraine. In a perfunctory tone, the young intelligence briefer recited the details of the July 2014 Battle of Zelenopillya, in which a single Russian artillery “fire strike” almost destroyed two Ukrainian mechanized battalions in a few minutes.
I couldn’t help imagining a U.S. armored battalion subjected to a similar fire strike. I realized then that Ukraine had become Russia’s means for showcasing what might happen if we ever fought a firepower-intensive battle against it. “You know, guys,” I mused in the moment, “this is the first time since the beginning of the Cold War that an American war-fighting function has been bested by a foreign military.”
This revelation was all the more disturbing because artillery firepower has been a centerpiece of U.S. land warfare for almost a century. At Normandy, the Germans had nothing good to say about the quality of U.S. armor and infantry. But they feared U.S. artillery. The Germans could not mass fire across unit boundaries. But an American invention, the coordinated-fire “time on target,” could bring hundreds of guns to bear on a single target, delivering thousands of rounds simultaneously. The effect on the Germans was devastating.
During the Gulf War, the Iraqis most feared what they called “steel rain.” The “rain” consisted of hundreds of thousands of flashlight-size bomblets stuffed into artillery shells and rocket warheads. U.S. counter-fire radar, mated to multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), smothered Saddam Hussein’s much-vaunted artillery in a massive series of day-long barrages. The Iraqi artillery never again posed a threat to our troops.
The Ukrainian experience serves as a deadly analogue for what might happen to U.S. artillery should we fight the Russians or a Russian surrogate. New Russian firepower systems now outrange ours by a third or more. They have improved on our steel-rain technology by developing a new generation of bomblet munitions that are filled with thermobaric explosives. These munitions generate an intense blast wave of exploding gases that are far more lethal than conventional explosives.
A single volley of Russian thermobaric steel rain delivered by a single heavy-rocket-launcher battalion will annihilate anything within an area of about 350 acres. (end of excerpt)
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