05 June 2012

Sound Off! Lightweight Fire Support!

What's the lowest level that mortars belong in force?
What's the highest level that mortars belong in force?

By: Brant


Brian said...

Lowest level: platoon, 60mm, 1 tube per platoon
Intermediate level: 81mm, 8 tubes in one group of two sections (which leapfrog on the advance so you always have 4 tubes ready to fire)
Higher level: 120mm, brigade, at least one battalion of 24 or more tubes.
Highest level: 160mm, division, at least one battalion of 24 or more tubes. (the Israeli Army still uses these, on an SP carriage).

The Soviets still use a 240mm mortar that can fire a small nuclear warhead.

Mortars belong EVERYWHERE. They are cheap, easy to use, the ammo is easier to manufacture, the fragmentation's better, more playload per round, plunging fire, man-portable, mobile, quick to set up.

What's not to like?

Thug 5 said...

As a former 11C40, I am not sure I agree, but my knowledge is dated - I like the idea of the 60MM at platoon level, but the weight burden is taxing on the soldier. I would have looked at more mortars at Company level like we had in the Cavalry - Perhaps a 6 gun, 81MM section, to provide closer, more immediate support. 60MM mortars are out weighed for close in support by the M203 et al, and one gun fails to allow you to mass fires. In addition, because the 60 is so close in, the gunners are under the pressure of direct fire and likely will have more issues in aiming and firing than their M203 Gunner competition.

At battalion and mech/motorized infantry companies, you cannot beat the power of the 120MM. A kill radius comparable to the 155MM howitzer HE round, and the locality and accuracy of immediate support. As Brian says "what's not to like?"

Above Battalion I don't see the need - Give the brigade a howitzer company or two for indirect fire support and be done. Same for division - only more.

Mortars will always be limited by range - 6,000 meters covers the Battalion but typically not much more. In addition, compare it with the maneuverability of the Paladin like systems and you are outmatched when running and gunning. The M1064A3's can almost keep up with M2/3, M1s and Strykers, but when you have to lay in the guns every time - that 30-90 seconds is critical, when the artillery guys just roll in, aim, and fire, based on gyros and gps. (I will add that the M1064A3 might have added the ability to lay more dynamically, but I am betting the HMMWV/trailer variant is still primitive in contrast to the Paladin-esque guns.)

I do miss my mortars tho - High angle hell!

Brian said...

I was speaking from my experience as a former R23A in the Canadian Army. We did not have the M203, and I believe still don't. We mostly used the platoon 60mms to lay smoke during quick attacks, but in sustained defensive operations we were supposed to group them under company control and put them on bipods (I never saw the bipods though).

120mm are great, but they are not conveniently man-portable as the 81mm are. But not an issue if you have vehicles handy.

I'm all for giving battalion and brigade commanders as much firepower as possible, as the division echelon may wither away in the future.

Thug 5 said...

Yeah - the 203 and its newer version at the squad level gives you a lot of close in support, but certainly not as much as the 60mm. I think if you had more power at company and battalion in the form of a mounted, dedicated gun platoon for the rifleman, you could offset the soldier load. I remmeber reading that the dismounted mortarman carried about 200 pounds of gear in sustained dismounted operations. If we can field local 81MM mortars to the company you could reduce that gear and keep them wheeled.

Where is it a real issue is in mountain operations, but in the jungle and desert, a good maneuver plan and a good fires plan at CO level could really work this. Humping steep mountains does kill my method of approach, so naturally, mine is not a one-shot approach.

Perhaps the solution in mountain terrain is 2 sections of 81s - one to maneuver and one fixed that leap frog, to keep pace with the line platoons, and you could move the dismounted 81mm section up the hill after the light guys have moved forward close to max range.

To be truthful though, I never used the 60mm as I was never assigned to true dismounted opns, but I just struggle with the idea - given the pace you need to keep in maneuver.

120 at BN and higher is critical, as you should definitely have wheels/tracks in the operation - the companies will outpace the range of dismounted 81 guys.

Feeling like a mortar nerd now.

Brant said...

"Feeling like a nerd now."

Fixed that for you

Brian said...

@ Thug 5, the usual method for the infantry battalion on the advance was to have one group of four 81mm tubes ready to fire, while the other group moved to the next position. This was in dismounted mode so it took a while for the front rifle platoons to reach the range limit of the 81mm. Of course in mounted operations everything is much faster, so you really would need artillery or SP mortars to cover you.

The way we used the 60mm in the dismounted rifle platoon was that one guy carried the tube along with his rifle, with another guy to carry a half-dozen rounds or so, with other rounds scattered throughout the platoon. Usually we carried smoke. When the platoon came under fire, the platoon commander could order quick smoke on or near the objective to mask it while the rest of the platoon maneuvered or waited for artillery to hit it, if we had such available. Again, a platoon in LAVs or IFVs would not only have armour and high speed, but accurate long-range firepower to suppress the enemy. So the 60mm tube would probably end up sitting forgotten in a corner of the platoon commander's track, at least until they dug in somewhere...