GPS Artillery

Excalibur Unsheathed in Iraq

Guidons, Guidons, Guidons! has a post on the first operational use of the 155mm Excalibur GPS-guided artillery rounds in Iraq and notes

I never fail to get a laugh out of these guys who say, “why do we need this or that, we’ll have a jet do that.” People who say things like that have never tried to get a jet when you really need one.

Speaking of guidons, I’m looking for a cavalry-type guidon for a local Boy Scout troop that I volunteer for. Where’s a good place to get one made with our troop’s number on it? Guidons are unapproved by the BSA but I want one for outdoor activities when the large official unit flag would be overkill.


  1. MO, was the first hit I saw. I didn’t see any cav guidons, ie, red and white, but it seems they’ll make it for you however you want. As for the rest of it- artillery is traditionally known as the King of Battle. If a gun now wields Excalibur, I guess an M109 is the new King of England.

  2. Thanks GL. I emailed them. I get the feeling that a lot of folks don’t see artillery as the King any more, and I can see why they might think that. But just like the lively discussions about why many still believe that air support won’t always get traditional naval surface fire support jobs done, I think it’s safe to say that many of the boots on the ground would like to have some big guns ready to let loose in the event that air support won’t be there for half an hour. There’s no doubt that air can do many many things that artillery (or battleships) cannot, but the ability to repeatedly fire on a moment’s notice is worth a lot, isn’t it? With JDAM-like accuracy, arty can all of a sudden cut out a lot of air requirements, saving some cash, keeping some helicopters out of harm’s way, and freeing the assets to provide additional support in areas that arty cannot reach. Many will bitch about the cost of an Excalibur round vs. a standard 155mm round, but how many folks are bitching about the cost of a JDAM kit vs. the cost of a Mk-82, -83, or -84? No one, because it’s worth it. The diff is that the JDAM was replacing more-expensive guided weapons, so the cost looked like a savings. But we’re using them in many cases as a replacement for dumb bombs (look at the percentage of guided weapons compared to the dark ages of Desert Storm and Allied Force) and it’s still worth it. Same will go for artillery if it works as advertised.

  3. How much do these things cost? How much more than regular rounds? More or less than Copperheads? Seems like a waste of money to me. If the Army had equipped their spotters with laser designators, they could put precision artillery or airpower on a target. The Army and Air Farce can’t work together so it never happened – instead they build more gold-plated bullets.

  4. Actually, the JDAM isn’t worth it in many cases in Iraq. The computer in an F-18 can put an unguided iron bomb with a few yards of a target if the target is illuminated with a laser designator.

  5. MO, Yeah, same old story- different tools for different applications. Howevermany bombs an F18 or AV8 can carry, an artillery battery can put out alot more firepower at several disparate locations (360 deg) at something approaching simultaneity. Oh, and out to about 30 k’s to boot. And until the ammo runs out. Do you have any numbers regarding the expense of fighting an attack plane for, say, an hour? I mean, the fuel to get to the bad place, maneuver once you’re there, and fly home; the cost to maintain an hour’s worth of combat flight; training (at least) one pilot to do all this stuff well… I dunno, I think in terms of raw dollars the grumpy old howitzers and crews, even with magic bullets, come out way ahead of jets as far as the direct fire/CAS mission goes. You think so?

  6. Bram: I don’t have the exact number in front of me right now. It’s far less expensive than Copperhead, though. (Or at least said to be.) I’m all for fancy air support, guided, unguided, and UAV. The biggest problem seems to be that there are never enough planes or UAVs to go around. This sort of thing A) means you don’t have to wait for a plane and B) means the planes can be in other places, meaning others won’t have to wait for the planes you freed up either.

  7. GL: Yeah, the operational costs of flying planes is a killer. Worth it, but a killer. With enough guided arty, suddenly you either don’t have to fly as many planes, saving cash and extending service lifes, or you free up the planes to be in other places that wouldn’t have got planes without guided arty around. It definitely seems to me that, in the long run, you’ll come out financially ahead by using GPS artillery where you can instead of planes. Finances are important, but when you can save a bit of green and actually be as good or even better in fighting terms you’ve got a winner. I can’t speak specifically for Excalibur, but the precision-guided artillery concept seems like a winner.

  8. Also, at about 100 lbs of explosive the excalibur is much more precise in its terminal effects than a 500 lb bomb. That’s really important when taking out a house in a neighborhood where you would like the neighbors not to hate you. The military art is not just violence for violence sake, but carefully calibrated violence to achieve certain objectives…’politics by other means’. BTW, this is also one of the driving reasons for the 250 lb small diameter bomb (note: STILL bigger boom than excaliber)

  9. Thanks for the trackback… I can tell you from personal experience in Iraq that iif you’re looking for just CAS to do it, there are plenty of times where you will have to wait…and waiting isn’t what we can do a lot of the time. That’s why they call them time sensitive targets. Weather any weather was the curse of the copperhead…which is why it was never used in great numbers…that and it was expensive. As for guidons…try this lady, she does a lot of business in the Fort Hood area. Diana’s Flags and Guidons

  10. Laser designators are not a panacea for all situations. Trust me on this, I’m a retired 13F (no not a damned gunbunny). For aircraft it’s the same problem as mentioned, they’re not always available, have the right munitions or able to acquire. For laser guided artillery munitions there’s limitations on range, munition glide path etc. etc. (yes I’ve designated for such munitions). As far as coordination well that’s something that been lacking forever and it’s not just the Army’s damned fault either. I’ve always said that if you could somehow strap a sidewinder onto an Army Forward Observer the Air Force might consider talking to him. As far as normal artillery rounds being adjusted using laser range finders etc. Even with fully updated METs and precision registrations in advance you don’t want to do this if you’re concerned about collateral casualties and damage. This new round fills an important requirement.