Let’s talk about artillery shells

Now, when we first did the validation database the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, one of the fields we had to fill in for each division, and corps, and army was on the tons of ammunition used each day by four types.



This was because the combat models that were supposed to be validated using this database were used in part to determine the number of shells needed for a predicted upcoming war. Back in 1987, when we started this database, it was a war in Europe versus the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Now, my history with the Concepts Analysis Agency (CAA), later renamed the Center for Army Analysis (still CAA), goes back to 1973, when it was founded in Bethesda, MD. I was in my junior year in high school, my mother had just been promoted to a school principal and my father had just finished his three-year assignment in the Pentagon. My mother did not want to move again, so, my father found another assignment in the DC area. This was with the newly forming CAA in 1973. He had just happened to have finished a master degree in Systems Analysis from USC, so was nominally qualified.

My father was working over at manpower in the Pentagon, under Col. John Brinkerhoff. They all reported to General Donn Starry (who I did have the pleasure of meeting). Those two transferred together over the CAA, with Col. (Dr.) John Brinkerhoff taking over a division with my father as his assistant. I therefore started hearing stories about CAA combat models in 1973 based upon my father’s hands-on experience. One of the stories he told was that the model tended to fire the longest-range weapons first as units were closing. This made the 8″ Howitzer very valuable. In fact, so valuable, that the best wargaming strategy was build an army of 8″ Howitzers and destroy the Warsaw Pact before they could ever get into engagement range. Obviously, there were a couple of flaws in that wargame.

But, the suite of models, some of which are still in use today, was used to determine the ammunition requirements for the U.S. Army. Therefore, a validation database needed to address these issues. The same fields also existed the Kursk Data Base (1993-1996), which ended up never being used to validate a combat model. It was used to create a big-ass book.

Anyhow, CAA combat models did determine our ammunition requirements until the end of the cold war (22 or 25 or 26 December 1991 when the Soviet Union fell). They were also used to determine the requirements for the 1991 Gulf War. According to the story I heard in a meeting, CAA provided the Army general staff with the requirements for the Gulf War. The general staff doubled the figures CAA gave and then we stacked every dock in the Gulf with ammunition. Luckily none of Hussian’s missiles hit those docks. At the end of the war, it turns out we shipped at least ten times the ammunition we needed. As this was old dumb munitions dating back to World War II, it was cheaper to destroy them there then ship them back, which is what we did. Don’t have a count of what was destroyed in the Gulf, but guessing it was millions of rounds. 

After that, I do not know what OSD PA&E or CAA or the U.S. Army did to determine ammunition requirements. We no longer had a neatly canned scenario like the Fulda Gap. We no longer had a clear enemy. How much ammunition is needed is driven by both the combat model used (which tends to “run hot”) and more significantly, the scenarios used. If all the scenarios used a four-day combat scenario (like the Gulf War) then one will end up with very different needs then if one is planning for a 90-day or 180-day war (or three-year war in the case of Ukraine). I have no idea what scenarios were used, and it is probably classified. But, the end result, is that our production of ammunition over the decades since 1991 has dropped considerably while a lot of our reserves were destroyed in the Gulf.

This, of course, harkens back to a complaint I have made over the years, which is that we tend to focus on the missions and wars we think are most likely now, and not the entire spectrum of wars and conflicts that we can see are possible if one looks wider and deeper into history. Clearly, we were not ready for extended war in Ukraine, and this is not the first time in recent times we have not been properly prepared for certain conflicts. I do discuss this issue in America’s Modern Wars. 

P.S. The West is underestimating Ukraine’s artillery needs – Defense One

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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