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24 February 2010


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Thank you. This site's supply of military information & knowledge based on experience is greatly appreciated.

The Twisted Genius

Tyler, thanks for taking the time to prepare this. I think it's a great primer on mortars and indirect fire. I am disheartened by your observations on commanders' reluctance to use their organic mortars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my day we were always admonished to keep the crew served weapons manned no matter how short handed we were at the company level.

I also don't understand why a commander would want to rely on air assets which he doesn't control and may or may not get at a critical time for his fire support. Using one's wholly owned mortar section seems like a more logical first choice. Given that pilots are loath to share airspace with artillery and mortar rounds, perhaps higher headquarters are reluctant to do the necessary coordination to ensure that air assets (including resupply and medevac) can be used at the same time as indirect fire. Do you have any thoughts on this?

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

That's an excellent piece on mortars and indirect fire in general by Tyler. However, I looked in vain for references to the M-10 plotting board, aiming stakes, lensatic compass, and those good U.S. Army binoculars. Is the 60 mm mortar now in the T.O.E. of the weapons platoon?

Referring to the general trend of comments concerning the "Battle of Marjah", r.o.e., and the action in Kunar Province described by Jonathan Landry. First, given the purpose of our operations in much of Afghanistan and the nature of the fighting, which seems to be almost entirely skirmishing against lightly armed and elusive
guerillas, I think the rules are appropriate in much of the country. But, then, there's the problem with rules. That doesn't mean they're appropriate everywhere.

I have some questions and comments about the action, described by Landry, last September. Given that the force was a mixed marine and army group of NCO and officer advisers, along with some Afghan police, they didn't have (and wouldn't be expected to have crew served weapons. So, no mortars. Also the fire support arrangements seem to have been in the nature of an informal agreement. At the same time as their engagement, one of those outposts in a nearby valley was, according to Landry's account, under a heavy attack. My question is who had priority of fires and was any artillery in direct support of he expedition in question? If not, and it seems not, isn't it possible that supporting fire was not available because of loose and informal arrangements and the absence of a field order specifying fire support, rather than having been denied because of r.o.e.?




THX. An interesting and appreciated read, providing good background for this article, involving 81mm mortars: http://www.warisboring.com/?p=4085

In this case (not a major battle) there seemed to be no hesitation to use mortars, or call in air strikes, even with a group of reporters observing.

Bob Bernard

Cost always enters in. A gps guided 155mm round costs about $85K and a dumb 155 round about $500.

If you are firing at an area target, you would want to use the dumb rounds. The reduced accuracy would result in better coverage of the target.

GPS guided rounds can hit 10m of the target and dumb rounds have a circular probable error of about 200m.

I don't know if gps guided rounds fall under different rules of engagement in Afghanistan, but they should.


Twisted Genius,

Thank you.

Once while at National Training Center, we were hit by a Multiple Launch Rocket System. The commander was told to get rid of a certain amount of personnel as casualties. "I'll get rid of my ash and trash. Mortars, FOs, stay here," he said.

Needless to say, it was endearing to here him arguing with Charlie Company's CO and battalion mortars to shift fires over and receive repeated denials.

I honestly believe that many officers are influenced by what they see on TV over and over again. That of helicopters and jets acting in a CAS role, with a captain hunkered down calling in fire. The fact is that many captains just aren't interested in their mortar sections.

This is exacerbated by many battalions moving to an "arms room" concept, with all the units mortar infantry being assigned to battalion, and being parceled out to the company. The main proponents of this seem to use the argument "Ranger Battalion does it this way, so should we." I don't see any real advantage to this system, and the CO tends to distrust his mortars even more, since he does not even take a hand in their training.

Finally, I believe that perhaps the fact its an officer flying the helicopter as opposed to an enlisted man, may have something to do with it as well. That's just speculation on my part though.


I did leave those out, and you're right that explaining how the mortar is "aimed" would have been a great help, since it seems like so much wizardry ("I can hit those guys over those mountains!") to the casual observer. So mea culpa there.

When I left the Army, the 60mm mortars were a squad sized element in the company, except for those who adopted the "arms room" concept I mentioned above.

I can't comment too much on the rest of what you posted, except that "informal" agreements tend to break down when the shit hits the fan. Why so many commanders are willing to leave behind their indirect crew served seems to be prevalent in the Army though. They wouldn't be so willing to leave behind their weapons squad, I think. Perhaps an issue at the
initial training level?


The GPS mortars I mentioned were not built into the round. Instead the gun itself was GPS guided.

So with these high speed, incredibly accurate weapons, mounted in Strykers, what did the battalion ended up doing with them once we were in Iraq?

They pulled the guns out, lined the bottom with kevlar blankets, and used them as troop carriers.

Ladies and gentlemen, the new Army.

William P. Fitzgerald III

Thanks for all the info.
I was being my facetious self when I mentioned aiming stakes, plotting boards, and things, as I surmised that there must be new gizmos in the system. GPS Mortars! I sounds like an infantry company no longer has a weapons platoon. Is that so?




An interesting read, good job.

You think that in trying to reduce errant airstrikes, a solution would be to put more empahasis on mortar teams with patrols.



I believe only the Rangers use the weapons platoon now. Light machine guns were part of a weapons squad, assigned to each platoon. The anti tank element and mortar element were each grouped into the HQ platoon, before the AT element was ripped apart and given to the line platoons. The 60mm mortars were part of the HQ platoon, in the end.


Yes. I think that no matter what DoD flunky you get standing up there talking about the "accuracy" of 500 lb laser guided bombs to reporters, it is still a bomb. You drop it on a block, you're ruining a lot of people's day.

You use a 60mm mortar on "delay", you're going to punch through the ceiling of the building and blow up inside the room.

I think if commanders were more willing to invest more interest in their mortars, they wouldn't end up being pinned down waiting on air strikes b/c they left their tubes back in the FOB.

We could get the guns set up and send rounds down range inside of three minutes. That's setting up the system, running out poles, and plugging in the elevation and deflection. You have to have a shit hot fire support team, but it can be done.


Plus, outfitting and equipping a mortar section probably costs as much as one laser guided bomb. Or a whole pallet of mortar rounds.

So perhaps that has something to do with it as well.


Last comment, I swear.

A 60mm mortar system can also be hand fired on charge 0 or charge 1. Anything above that and you're risking a broken hand or accuracy (you can fire it with a belt if you must.)

My CO in Iraq was shocked you could use it this way. He was more shocked that I could put rounds on anything he pointed out on the range reliably. So you have commanders not understanding the capacity of the weapon systems beneath them. Always a problem.


Just a dumb civie question, but is it 'indirect' fire in the sense that the target is not acquired by the person firing, rather the FO?

SAC Brat

Being a math and physics enthusiast I am always amazed at the precision required to hit targets you can't see, targets that are moving (particularly naval targets) and barrage techniques such as walking barrages as well as what is required to coordinate indirect fire with ground movement. I've read and heard numerous accounts of creative forward observers being considered artists with their imaginative application of fire support.

My grandfather had been in the signal corp in France and would tell us about how some German soldiers had some fun with him by using artillery to shoot off the top of the telephone pole he was working on. That may be why his buddy and him, as musicians later on, liked to play Ocktoberfests in the 1970/80's so they could end the evenings by playing a fast paced medley of beer hall songs and seeing how many of the old boys forgot themselves and jumped up and threw salutes at the end.


My artillery experience was from 1967. We used M109 Howitzers (unit originally had split trails). We spent the bulk of our time in base camp firing H&I's with occasional direct support missions. We generally registered the guns once a week and could generally hit a 55 gallon oil drum out at about 8k on the first or second shot. Generally within 50 meters the first shot. Our biggest accuracy problem was that the maps and picto maps did not have good ground control (sometimes being off by as much as 800 meters). All of our firing data was calculated from firing tables and a plotting board. I believe WPFIII mentioned circular probable errors. I never encountered that terminology. We did have range probable errors (which of course were much greater than lateral or deflection errors (which were quite small with the M109's when we first got them).

FADAC was just coming into use back then. The guns were using collimaters instead of aiming stakes.

I imagine that artillery now uses centrally managed fires (originating and calculated at the battalion level or higher).

I'm curious about what range a dumb 155 shell has a circular probable error of 200 meters. Must be a gun. I remember a 175 mm was lucky to gt within 800 meters out past 24k.

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