Artillery in British Warfare

Artillery in British Warfare</p> <p>The History of the British Artillery is a tale of innovation, strategy and firepower. From the thundering of the rudimental cannons on the fields of crecy to the steadfast batteries at Waterloo and now to a multifaceted force

This article aims to describe the British Artillery from its humble beginnings to the modern force you see today and what the future holds in terms of innovation, training and doctrine.


Before the present artillery or future concepts can be described. The History of the British Royal Artillery must first be laydown, because it is this great foundation that the modern Royal Artillery was built on and what the Royal Artillery still looks back to with pride. The lessons, concepts and virtues the Royal Artillery have today were forged in the theaters of war by the brave soldiers who came before them.

Often historians argue on which battle the first Artillery piece was used but what they do agree upon was that the Artillery came to life during the medieval period. Where cannons were more magic and hope than science. This slowly changed and with countless technological advancements the Artillery took center stage on the field of battle. In 1716 The Royal Artillery was established. It revolutionized the concept of training, organization and the codification of the systems and practices within the Artillery. This formal establishment under royal decree was the springboard for further innovation which shortly after saw the formation of the Royal Horse Artillery which was the answer to the need of mobile firepower, able to react quickly to the ever changing battle field.

The Royal Artillery benefitted greatly from the wider technological innovations of the age and through countless development it entered the First World War with a myriad of platforms having cemented itself as battle winning asset. The Royal Artillery emerged from the trenches with a greater appreciation of the need for forward observation, integration with other assets and the importance of logistics. The Royal Artillery reached its peak with over a million soldiers during World War 2 where the lessons and tactics of World War 1 we further tried and tested. Further emphasis was put on reliable and speedy communication, integration and combination, the ability to deliver varied effects on a target and further logistical innovations and self-sufficiency.

By looking back and considering the path the Royal Artillery have walked since the medieval period to now it is easy to understand Sir Isaac Newton when he wrote ‘we stand on the shoulders of Giants’. The modern Artillery owe all it is to the efforts, innovation and the minds of the soldiers and officers who came before them. Even though it might look different the modern Artillery still hold on to the teachings and virtues that past Gunners fought to achieve.


The Modern Artillery is now a multifaceted organization who are able to Find, Fix and Strike the Enemy at range anywhere, in all weathers and at any time, in order to defeat the enemy. The Royal Artillery are everywhere across the battlefield, providing the British Army with its eyes, ears and firepower. Using high-tech surveillance devices and un-crewed aircraft, they find the enemy and monitor them before striking decisively. This is done by a coordinated use of our guns, rockets and missiles, the Army’s attack helicopters and other weapons, including fast jets, and even the guns of Royal Navy ships.

The Royal Artillery has 14 Regular and seven Reserve Regiments. They specialize in a number of areas which makes the Gunners one of the most diverse units in the British Army. Below is a brief description of these areas and the equipment that is held within them.


The area we all think of when someone mentions the ‘Gunners’. Artillery weapons include some of the most potent, sophisticated – and loudest – equipment in the British Army. Field Artillery guns and rocket launchers can bring massive firepower to bear onto an enemy position. We currently have the Archer, Light Gun and MLRS that can deliver this firepower.


In order to improve survivability, combat units must be able to cooperate effectively. ARCHER represents the next generation of wheeled artillery systems, built to keep up with fast-moving ground forces.

ARCHER Mobile Howitzer 6×6 is based on the successful Bofors FH77 field howitzer, consisting of an automated 155 mm 52-calibre gun mounted on an 6×6 articulated hauler. Striking the perfect balance between power and mobility by featuring long range precision, fast deployment time and a protected environment for the crew.

Light Gun

The versatile 105mm light gun is used by the parachute and commando field artillery regiments of the British Army. The light gun can be towed by a medium-weight vehicle or carried around the battlefield underslung by a Chinook helicopter. Royal Artillery L118 light guns are fitted with an automatic pointing system (APS), which enables the gun to be unlimbered and in action in 30 seconds. APS is based on an inertial navigation system, operated via a touch screen.


The M270B1 Multiple Launch Rocket System, firing the M31 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) munition, is the mainstay of the British Army’s deep and shaping fires capability. The system provides pinpoint accuracy, delivering a 200 lb high explosive warhead to its target with over twice the range of other artillery systems used by the British Army. The MLRS also represents the bulk of the Army’s precision fires capability, with the GPS guidance capability integral to the system and highly accurate beyond 70 KM. The weapon system is manned by a small crew of three Gunners and is mounted on a tracked armoured launcher, which is highly robust and manoeuverable.

Air Defence

Our sophisticated air defence systems and missiles allow our troops freedom to operate without interference from enemy attack. This is delivered through two systems.

Land Ceptor

It is replacing its predecessor Rapier. The land Ceptor is an air defence missile system comprising of three separate components: its radar, its command and control and its missiles. It can control the flight of 24 missiles simultaneously whilst in flight, guiding them to intercept 24 separate targets.

The Starstreak High Velocity Missile (HVM).

It is designed to counter threats from very high performance, low-flying aircraft and fast ‘pop up’ strikes by helicopter attacks. The missile, which travels at more than three times the speed of sound, uses a system of three dart-like projectiles, allowing multiple hits on the target. HVM can be fired from the shoulder, from a lightweight multiple launcher or from the Stormer armoured vehicle.

Target acquisition

This is the find function of the Artillery and one that is at the tip of innovation and technological advancement. It is forever looking into the future and how we can use the entire electromagnetic spectrum to find our adversaries. The main assets we currently hold for this specialism is the watchkeeper.


The Watchkeeper is an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) and is the British Army’s long range FIND capability and operates in all weathers with a combination of electro-optical, infrared and radar sensors. It is normally operated at the Divisional level but can be utilized by Brigade’s to gather vital information on the whereabouts of potential threats, non-combatants and friendly forces. Watchkeeper provides situational awareness at the highest level for British Army formations and can also be employed for target acquisition and information operations such as collateral damage assessment.

The Future

Predicting the future is like catching water but it is our role to be as prepared for the coming conflict and have the correct doctrine, assets and thinking that will grant victory in whatever lays ahead. Below are three areas where the Royal Artillery are adapting and planning for the Future.


The Archer is an extremely new Artillery asset that has bridged the gap left by the gifting of the AS90s to Ukraine. A move towards mobility, speed and technology. The Archer is a fully automated, self-propelled 155 mm howitzer designed for rapid deployment, with a firing range in excess of 50 km. Loading, laying and firing is handled from inside the armoured cabin, offering full protection at all times. With less than 20 seconds in and out of action for a crew of three or four, the Archer artillery system provides powerful and swift support – for every move. Designed and built by BAE Systems Bofors in Sweden, Archer has double the maximum range of AS90, greater operational mobility, greater availability and reduced time into action. Operated by 3-4 crew, it has a lower requirement for personnel than the AS90’s five, and benefits from a higher top speed of 70kph compared to the current 53kph.

Archer 6×6 boasts a fully automated, self-propelled 155mm howitzer gun designed for rapid deployment, with a firing range of 50km using extended range ammunition – a doubling of the AS90’s 25km range. Loading and firing of Archer is handled from inside the armoured cabin, with the unit able to be deployed into action in just 20 seconds and is ready to move after firing in the same amount of time. Archer can fire a number of types of 155mm artillery ammunition, including extended range and precision anti-armour shells. It can also fire eight rounds a minute and four rounds in a simultaneous impact-mode, meaning several shells are fired in succession with different trajectories so they hit the same target at the same time. The Archer Artillery System is in a class of its own with its ability to move and fire before an enemy can react. Its simplicity and impressive rate of fire make it a formidable opponent in battle.

Royal Artillery Innovation and Experimentation Team

Suburban streets are not the traditional home of heavy ordnance but that could change thanks to the Royal Artillery’s newly- formed innovation and experimentation team – 34 (Seringapatam) Battery. The Battery used to be responsible solely for training support. But now, thanks to the Future Soldier initiative, it is also charged with shaping the way the artillery will fight in the years ahead. Within this new role, all members of the Battery, are expected to have a questioning mindset, to be curious about how things are done and, more importantly, suggesting how they may be improved. As a result, some major rethinks of techniques, tactics and procedures are taking place. “The nature of warfare has become asymmetric – there is no defined front line with guns positioned at a set distance anymore,” says Battery Commander Maj Glyn Forster-Haig. “That means the speed with which we can fire and shift location, while remaining hidden and not engaged by the enemy, is more vital than ever. “We’ve been assessing splitting light gun troops in half and operating them like a soldier might do when providing a colleague with covering fire. That makes them more manoeuverable and harder to find. “It also means the crews have to fire twice as fast to provide the same effect.

“This is all part of our new role – to look at how we could use current assets to be more effective on operations.” With the unit drawing its workforce from across the Royal Artillery on two-to three-year postings, 34 Bty has quickly become a melting pot of ideas. The most promising ones are stress tested and put forward for alterations to tactics and doctrine across the regiments. One current priority is exploring how to operate Guns to maximum effect in urban areas. “For a long time we’ve trained mostly in the rural environment,” explains Maj Forster-Haig. “Yet every indicator is now telling us that future battle fields will be congested, contested, connected, urban or an urban-rural mix.” “However, for guns, which like space and the freedom to move, these areas carry a very high threat.” The challenges in managing Artillery Pieces in built-up areas with anything resembling a stealthy profile are immense. But being as discreet as possible really matters. “One priority for us is understanding how we can protect our assets,”. “It’s difficult to physically conceal a gun in an urban environment or disguise yourself against an enemy’s wide array of sensors.” “We’re looking at how we can use ISO containers, for example, to move about unnoticed, and how effective concrete-look tarpaulin covers or thermal cam nets are.” “During recent trials we’ve been assessing how to move and hide guns, and in the near future we’ll be practicing firing out of urban areas too.”

With intricate city streets slowing down a gun battery’s fire and manoeuvre tactics, the issue of communication speed has been high on the battery’s agenda. “We have been testing digital fires frequently because we are still largely dependent on voice,” Sgt Marin Redhead (RA).“It can take around 20 seconds to use the radio to communicate a mission, but that’s reduced to a fraction of a second when we use data.” The electronic footprint of a weapon system is also a point of vulnerability – and this is another area where data systems come into their own. “In reality, all artillery needs to do to be more lethal is to be around longer,” explains Maj Forster-Haig. “With near- peer opponents the major threat is counter-battery fires.” “As soon as we launch we’ll be unmasked, but even before that happens turning on a radio is like putting a huge spotlight on yourself.” “If you’re using voice comms you are turning that light on for a protracted period, but data systems allow us to send packets of information in a blink, and that information can be relayed from the observers directly to command posts at the gun line and on to the guns themselves.” The personnel of 34 Bty are already using the knowledge and insight they’ve gained through their innovation work to support experimentation and help develop new platforms. We are providing the scientists with the end-user viewpoint, so they can smell the cordite, feel the weight of the round, and talk to young gunners about how they operate these systems in real-time conditions,” adds Maj Forster-Haig. “It’s vital our equipment is soldier-proofed – it must be made robust enough for the challenges that operations and training present.” “Our people have areas of expertise that scientists just cannot acquire but really need, so we have to have an environment where ideas and challenge are welcomed, regardless of rank – and I think we’ve created that.

34 Bty have also been working on a further three key tenets for every deployment and exercise; deception, manoeuvre and concealment. Employing deception in the form of dummy gun positions and fake track plans has put a marked emphasis on making a habit of reducing their footprint in the field. Referring to the Principles of Defence, this affords the Battery a smaller physical presence and makes it more difficult to be detected by external ISTAR assets. The Bty now places a higher focus on utilising Artillery Manoeuvre Areas (AMAs) and moving discretely between positions when deployed on exercise. This has highlighted the importance of remaining flexible and adaptable when adopting firing formations. When reacting to different levels of threats that may be posed by any notional enemies, and adjusting defences accordingly, these practices have been employed to good effect by the Battery during both rural and urban exercises.

The Royal Artillery Innovation and Experimentation Team is the method of taking the concepts and thinking from the office and stress testing them in the field. Its hard work, training and testing of ideas are what will guide the Artillery with its TTPs and Doctrine into the future.

Deep Fire Innovation

The circa £2Bn Land Deep Fires Programme (LDFP) is modernising and enhancing the Army’s Deep Fires capability in line with the Integrated Review 2021 and Future Soldier Programme. The Chief of the General Staff has stated that modernised Land Deep Fires is one of his highest priority capabilities. Under the ‘One Launcher, Many Payloads’ vision, the UK’s aim is upgrade the fleet to deliver a state-of-the-art M270 A2 launcher. The intention is to transform the British Army into a more agile and lethal force with integration at its very heart. Nowhere will this be more evident than with the evolution of the deep fires units operating the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). The Royal Artillery Regulars of 26 Regiment and their Reserve counterparts from 101 Regiment currently operate the platform. They are to be joined by 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, which is switching from the Light Gun to become the Army’s second Regular deep fires unit by 2024.Together, they will provide the Service’s only all-weather long-range attack capability as part of the new Deep Recce Strike Brigade Combat Team.

Around 30 MLRS are currently in service, but this will be increased to at least 40 after the upgrade, with both 3 RHA and 26 Regt equipped with two batteries. The personnel of 101 Regt will provide a third battery to support warfighting operations. A small number of platforms will also be held back for training and research purposes. However, the Army’s sweeping modernisation plan isn’t just about quantity, it’s also focusing on quality. Over the next five years MLRS assets will be sent in small batches to the US military’s huge maintenance facility, Red River Army Depot in Texas, where they will be stripped out, the hulls refurbished, and a suite of cutting edge systems installed to replace existing kit. As a result, the Service’s long-range missile capability will be improved in virtually every conceivable area. “The entire fleet will be upgraded, making it more lethal and much better in every way”, explains Lt Col Chris Wild RA, Commanding Officer of 26 Regt. “The Army needs to ensure we are competitive against a near-peer adversary and some of our potential enemies have real range in terms of rockets and guns. To fight them and win we need the same. We have the edge when it comes to our soldiers, so now it’s time to enhance our kit.”

One of the – if not the – most important upgrades is to the load launcher module (LLM) and firing computer, which will be replaced by new versions. One huge advantage they will provide over the incumbent kit is the ability to fire a wide array of munitions, not just the M31 precision rocket and its extended 150km-range variant but weapons still in the development pipeline, such as the US precision strike missile which can hit targets around 500km away. “We can fight the deep battle now, but the technology we are going to get means we will be able to destroy targets at much greater range,” says Lt Col Wild RA.“MLRS gives us up to 84km range at the moment, but when it is upgraded this will be increased. “We will also be more interoperable, giving us the ability to fire a wider range of munitions helping us to fight alongside our NATO partners and allies.” “Work is also under way to allow the MLRS to fire a guided, medium-range, high precision Exactor-type rocket. That doesn’t mean we are phasing our Exactor, but it does mean we will have more tactical flexibility for deploying this kind of weapon.”

Another important component of the new module will be the speed at which it can be raised and manoeuvred into position. “If you receive a multi-target mission it can take a few minutes to input each set of coordinates and get the LLM to raise and move around,” says detachment commander Sgt Lee Morley RA. “But the new version moves much quicker power, so it will cut that time significantly. When upgraded, MLRS will be able to fire all 12 of its rockets in just 90 seconds. “That’s really important because it means we can fire and then move off quicker, which is vital for our survivability as the system’s capability means it will always be a high priority target.”

Other modifications include new, more fuel-efficient engines and running gear that give greater driving range. Composite rubber tracks will replace the current steel versions to lower noise levels inside and out and improve fuel consumption, while better armour and a modified, enlarged cabin will provide greater safety and comfort for those on board. These may seem rather mundane changes next to flashy supersonic long-range missiles, but for the crews that operate these beasts the changes can’t come soon enough.

Training in an array of environments will be high on the agenda once the new platforms arrive. “In order to be ready to receive this new equipment we are looking at how best we fight with it,” acknowledges Lt Col Wild RA. “With longer range weapons we can be more spread out across the battlefield and all the launchers can potentially engage on the same target at the same time. “We are looking at our procedures and doctrine to focus more on dispersal and constant movement – in soldier terms, that is ‘shoot and scoot’. “Our tactics were rooted in the Cold War era, relying on mass and the fact that the enemy couldn’t return fire quickly, whereas we now know they can. If we are all grouped together and static, we are going to get killed. “The challenges the detachment commanders will have is that in future they will genuinely be dispersed and on their own. They will need to understand the battle picture, how to navigate tactically and how to run a small team for extended periods. “Meanwhile, the challenge for the command post and battery commanders is to coordinate fire, sequence the resupply of ammunition, manage the battlespace and operate with other units all across a larger area.”

Other training has also been high on the agenda “We need to improve troops’ navigation skills,” Maj Manning explains. “Our annual training includes navigation, of course, but moving around in the dark, under the pressure of combat, in a large noisy vehicle is an entirely different world. “We must get better at that if we are to fully exploit the potential of the upgraded MLRS and we are also looking at using it in the urban environment, partly because it is stealthier on rubber tracks. “We will look at everything from communications to questioning what the cam and concealment requirements are, to the impact of the asset on the local population, the management of firing points and moving around once you’ve launched. “Even the demands of the logistic resupply chain are much more complex in an urban area and among people”.

The upgrade of the MLRS has greatly enabled The Royal Artillery to refocus and look at how it will plan and coordinate its deep fires differently in the future. This will then allow future doctrine to be produced and tested to continue the Royal Artillery’s strive for innovation and advancement.

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