From the beginning of human civilization, the use of various long-range weaponry has existed, allowing hunters to attack their target from a safer distance. That quest has gone from throwing stones, to the catapult, to ancient Chinese rockets and primitive cannonry that shook the walls of castles, all the way to modern computerized field cannons and rockets that suppress vast territory in lethality unknown to warfare previously. Modern artillery is composed of self-propelled platforms that fire shells and rockets to towed field cannons that continue the age old role of traditional artillery. On the horizon, directed and kinetic energy could alter the abilities and lethality of artillery from land, air, sea, and even space. While artillery is still an important component of modern warfare, it is rarely represented in science fiction. In this blogpost, FWS will going over the basics of artillery and its confused role in science fiction. Please note that while mortars are classified as artillery, FWS will be covering mortars in their own blogpost in the near future.
Before We Begin...
I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to all FWS readers and followers for their patience on the massive delay with FWS. Not only was the subject more complex than I originally expected, but the return of my 11 month old foster daughter to her bio-mother ripped me and my family apart emotionally and I needed to grieve, repair and drink. With the subject of artillery being more complex, I decided in the interest of time to reformat this blogpost as more of a survey over artillery than an exhaustive examination. If you are interested in a more in-depth perspective than here is a link to the US Army Artillery Field Manual FM 6-50.
What is Artillery and What is the Combat Role of Artillery?
Basically, Artillery is a system of direct and/or indirect fire from mortars, cannons, rockets, and possibly directed-energy that fires a number of munition payloads to support in the field units in either defensive or offensive operations. These varying types of munitions range from smoke, high explosive, shrapnel, cluster bomblets (sub-munitions), and even nuclear. Artillery can take various forms as well, from heavy field guns, massive naval cannons, mortar tubes, railroad-based mega-cannons, self-propelled tank-like vehicles constructed around rockets or cannons. In the near-future, artillery could be space-based, or using directed-energy or new kinetic-energy weapon systems.
The Classification of Artillery
When it comes to breaking down artillery into its categories it is divided up by: the means of transporting the artillery to the battlefield, what it fires, and its purpose on the battlefield. At the basic level of classification we have what the artillery system is firing and in today's armies, that is either rocket or shell with many variations of warhead munitions. Next comes the means on how the weapon systems is transported to the battlefield. Artillery can be a towed system where the weapon systems are moved by animal, ground vehicle, or aircraft and these batteries cannot move or re-position independently.
Artillery can also be an self-propelled weapons platform that has the artillery piece constructed into a vehicle, aircraft, or even naval warship. There could be future interpretation of mobile artillery that could have these systems being stationed onboard space warships, in orbit as a satellite, or mounted onto a walker mech. This also can be either rocket or cannon as well. When it comes to purpose, the role of artillery seems simple on the surface, but some artillery is solely setup for air defense work, defending the coast or firing interceptors to counter into ICBMs. With the vast amount of munitions available to artillery crews, a single battery can lay down various types of fire depending on the situation, strategy, or timing.
Common Artillery Terms
- "Fire for Effect"= (FFE) This often used artillery term is used to order the battery emplacement to fire a full barrage of their guns on to the target to blanket the target with fire to accomplish the mission or effect, like suppression or destruction. This is not a barrage that is fired until rounds are exhausted or the in the field units order a halt of fire. The battery fires and then waits for an “repeat” request from the field units. This artillery term that is used liberally in sci-fi books and games (HALO: Reach).
- "Battery”= This a group of heavy support fire weaponry that fires shells, rockets, or even laser beams as a collective entity for coordinated fire. It can be ground-based, space-based, or even sea-based artillery.
- “Howitzer= This is a term applied to a short barreled artillery piece that uses small propellant charges for steep angle of decline. Lower velocity and shorter range. This word’s roots are muddled and are traced back to either German or Czech words. Howitzer is also commonly used for any artillery piece.
- "Danger Close"= This is a popular term used in fiction, and it general informs the audience that the shit has hit the fan and you are calling in heavy fire support in close proximity to your position. The normal distance is about 600 meters for the Danger Close call.
- "Crew Served Weapon"= This term is applied to any weapon requirement more than one soldier to operate. This can include heavy machine guns, artillery guns, mortars, and even massive naval artillery. Some AAA system, like the kinetic and directed-energy CIWS are larger weapon systems that can operate without human intervention.
- "Gun Ready"= This is used by the artillery crew to indicate that their gun or guns are ready for fire. This was used in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III to inform the player that the 102mm Howitzer on their AC-130 is loaded and ready.
- "Fire Discipline"= This the board term for directing artillery fire language.
- "Gun Laying"= This is a term applied to aiming an artillery piece or mortar and is a general term applied to various adjustments with more specific names.
- "Indirect Fire"= This is primary use of artillery, to fire shells at an target(s) that are not directly in front of the battery and normally a good distance away. This requires the battery crews to use azimuth and elevation to dial in the target along with information pointing to the possible location. Artillery spotting teams, UAVs, UGVs, in the field units, and even satellites can be used to direct or indirect fire.
- "Direct Fire"= This shots delivered onto a target that is point-of-aim (direct line-of-sight) of the cannon. Rare in artillery usage and could be only use for directed-energy artillery systems.
- "Rounds Complete"= This is used to inform the involved units that the number of shell/rounds allocated for the target have been finished, ceasing the bombardment.
- "Destructive Fire"= This is the call to destroy the target(s) in a specific grip, this can impact the time of fire and the type of ammunition used.
- "Line of Fire"= This is imaginary line that is created by the direction of barrel of the artillery cannon , used for position and fire direction.
- "Time on Target /Time of Flight"= This is the ETA for incoming fire and how long it takes the shells/rockets to reach the target location. At times, this is used to clear the airspace corridor of friendly airborne units or tell the friendly units to get their green ass out of the fire zone.
- “Fire Mission”= This is the request to ready a battery for action, and prelude to coordinates and ammunition requirements for the unit in the field.
- “Suppression”= This is when artillery is used to deny or harass the enemy from counterattacking, moving, or accessing an area/equipment. This often is used in conjunction with an assault or movement of friendly forces.
- “Final Protective Fire”= This is a fancy term for a prearranged artillery barrage of covering fire to protect the withdraw of field units from intercepting enemy units.
- “Time of Fire”= I am not sure how “official” this term is, but I’ve seen it a few time in World War One fiction. For what I remember, “Time of Fire” is an older term and used to detail the duration of time that the battery will be firing onto the target area. In the World War One stories, the artillery battery would bombard the target area, then at the appointed time, the artillery would stop, and the infantry would go over-the-top.
Modern Military Artillery
Throughout the history of organized warfare there has been great change in how warfare is conducted and by what. However, some traditions remain the same, and the central concept of artillery has remained a staple of warfare for over 400 years. While it is not a winner of wars by itself, it is key ingredient for success on the battlefield then and now. With the advancement of computer technology, the Cold War, and the mechanization of modern warfare; artillery has grown in the last sixty years to include more importance on computerized aiming systems, GPS, self-propelled artillery vehicles, laser target designation, and guided rockets. Modern artillery is faster, more accurate, more deadly than previous generation...however, it is struggling for combat space and utilization due to advancements in close-air-support (CAS). However, modern large-scale warfare is not waged without the use of these big guns to support in the field units.
The Field Artillery Team
When conducting indirect fire operations, the prospect of getting it wrong and either landing fire on the wrong grid coordinates or harming friends/non-combatants is a risk. To prevent this and obtain accelerate data, the is an entire team developed to the operation of the field artillery battery. At the foundation of the team is the Recon/Advance party whose job it is to scout a location for the entire artillery team to operate out of. Many considerations and requirements must be met prior to the field artillery team to embark on the Herculean task of relocation. This is a critical part of the entire operation, because if the location is poorly chosen, it could led to the entire field artillery team to be ineffective or wiped out.
Once the team is setup, it is up to the Forward Observation team to find the enemy, relay coordinate data, and observe the effectiveness of the bombardment. The FO team relays their information to the Fire Direction Center, not the artillery gun crew. In battlefield conditions, FO teams can be blocked from gauging the fire and locating the targets, and the field artillery team relays on in-the-field units to call in coordinates and gauge the effectiveness of the salvo. When it comes to plotting, tasking of the field guns, and putting all of the information together; that is the job of the Fire Direction Center (FDC). Here the plan comes together, the math is checked and rechecked, and then fire orders are given to the guns. While this seems like a lengthy process, it can be accomplished rather rapidly once all of the pieces of the field artillery team.
The Fire Support Base (Firebases)
Physical Placement of the Field Guns
Firing For Effect: Shot Placement and Target Location
When the plan works, the artillery falls on the heads of the enemy, and the field units can achieve their objectives. Get it wrong, and the rounds fall on the friendlies, handing victory to the enemy and ruining trust in the Combined Arms team. Nothing is worse for the artillery unit to know they committed rounds to the wrong target and hurt or killed friendlies. Helping the situation is technology, of course. The old days of a compass and a map are nearly gone with laser designators, GPS, and UAVs helping coordinator fire and targets. All of this means more effective impact on target and not on friendlies
Artillery vs. Close Air Support
Self Propelled vs. Towed Artillery
There are two main gross classifications in modern artillery: towed and self-propelled. This naturally sparks a debate about which form of artillery is better. When it comes to positives of towed artillery over self-propelled, it is lighter, cheaper, less mechanic complex, air mobile, and able to be deployed with light divisions for greater fire support. Some claim that towed field artillery guns are more all-weather capable than SPA. However, towed artillery guns do relay on trucks or helicopter to move them when the armor or mechanized infantry moves up beyond the range of the guns. If no transport is available to physically move the guns, than the artillery element is stuck at that location, which can put them at greater risk for counter-battery and infantry attacks. This is where self-propelled artillery shines.
A battery of cannons can be easily moved and re-position as the tactical deems it and they are harder to counter. When it comes to SPA disadvantages over towed artillery it is mostly due to the reliability of the engine propelling the gun and availability of fuel resupply in the field, along with SP guns are more expensive than traditional towed field guns. Some say that the recoil energy causes greater wear and tear on the SPA systems than towed. Of course, SP guns, like the M109, require less manpower to operate and are quicker to setup and fire than towed, especially if you consider the South African G6 wheeled SPA can fire five shells just a minute after movement. The debate rages on, but the both are still needed on the field of battle and both bring their own "favor" and ability to the overall tactical environment.
Rocket Artillery vs. Gun Artillery
In another question/debate often raised when discussing artillery, which is better: rockets or gun artillery? One of the iconic images of the Second World War was racks of rockets launching a hail of awesome destructive power that pounded targets and beaches. While "dumb-fire" rockets are still around but the world of rocket artillery has moved to more guided systems allowing for more precise targeting. Rocket artillery has the ability to blanket an area with massive heavy fire in shorter amount of time than gun artillery and at a more rapid rate of fire than gun artillery. However, rocket artillery can shoot it load faster than an gun battery, leaving the rocket battery empty and needing resupply, this puts gun artillery with greater sustaining fire rates.
Often rocket SP artillery platforms, like the US Army MLRS, is able to receive resupply in the field, but those reload times are longer than gun artillery batteries, and there is less variety of warhead munitions than gun artillery. Consider that a battery of field artillery guns can have at their fingertips a number of warheads and can adjust elements of those shells, like the fuse and powder loads. This availability of ammunition allows a gun battery to bombard the target area longer, leading to greater target saturation and suppression. The downside to that, is that rockets are quieter, but does generate more heat blooms than gun artillery, and has greater "shock-and-awe" factor when hailstorm of rockets pound their position. The grim effectiveness of the US Army MLRS during the Gulf War was told in the faces, casualties, and testimony of Iraqi POWs.
When it comes to costs, gun artillery is cheaper all around when you consider comparing self-propelled rocket artillery platforms and not the older truck towed dumb-fire rocket artillery. One chief advantage of rocket artillery often stated is the lack of recoil over gun artillery. While hotly debated, recoil is a major consideration of gun artillery causing SP gun artillery platforms to be non-mobile during firing its mission, allowing for less maneuverability and greater exposure to counter-battery. The counterpoint is that gun artillery is more accurate than rocket artillery as a general rule...that could change. Helping the gun artillery accuracy is the ability to field fire observation teams, which rocket artillery does not. When it comes to The bottomline is that since the vast majority of artillery branches around the world use both, that they both have a place and function on the modern battlefield to justify their maintenance and development costs.
Types of Artillery
When most people think of artillery it is often the classic field cannon with soldiers loading the breach and laying down a thick rain of shells, but one of the early applications of artillery on a wide-scale was as naval weaponry. Not only useful for ship-to-ship engagements, but these cannons could be used to support ground units in invasions, as seen in the island hopping campaigns of World War II. Of course, naval artillery is not just support weapon system for invasion, at one time; naval warships pounded each other with long-range guns in slug matches of epic proportions. While the massive 16inch guns of big-gun WWII warships that fired shells the size of VW Beetles is gone, the new rapid fire 127mm naval guns of the US Navy are able to provide anti-ship and land support capability at a range of about 20 miles. The real naval artillery of today’s navies is guided missiles with guided shell technology and railguns being explored. Naval artillery continues onward into battles in outer space with a futuristic version of shipborne gunnery seen in science fiction, like Battlestar Galactica.
During the Cold War, NATO and the Warsaw Pact developed low-yield (about 100 tons of TNT) nuclear shells that could fire from field artillery cannons. The idea behind these insane sounded weapons was to use these in the same role as tactical short-range nuclear weapons, against large formations of enemy targets. These were conceived when atomic/nuclear weapons were thought to be the answer to future warfare situations; as well as to counter the numerical conventional force advantage of the Warsaw Pact over NATO. As crazy as all of this seems, these low-yield nuclear weapon shells were tested and could have been issued to battlefield units if the need arise, especially if the Soviets had invaded West Germany.
One of the largest land-based artillery systems was the Railway gun of the first and second world wars. The utterly massive cannons were often surplus naval artillery from the heydays of Dreadnought and the Battleship, where slug matches between dueling naval artillery where still commonplace. Due to the limitations of military vehicle towing capabilities, these titans of artillery were hauled on the heaviest mover of men and equipment: the railroad. This means that unless there were already tracks perfectly laid out to the correct firing site, new track had to be laid for the gun. This was just another expense associated with railroad artillery, adding to the massive monetary costs, manpower, and resources.
Close Infantry Mobile Fire Support Artillery (Assault Guns)
Artillery from the Skies
Self-Propelled Gun Artillery (SPA)
One of the issues with artillery cannons is that they are heavy and require a great deal of support material and personnel. Adding to the issues of deploying field artillery is the rapid pace of modern land warfare due to mechanization. While field guns being towed by military trucks is one answer to the artillery keeping pace with the assault force, another is Self-Propelled Artillery/Gun pieces (SPA/SPG). The idea of mounting cannons on a mobile platform has been around prior to the development of automobiles and trains, like the camel-mounted Zamburak mobile artillery of the 19th century and the train artillery of the Boer Wars; it was the First World War when the proper SPA were developed.
Rockets are nothing new to the world of artillery, and have been an integral part of artillery since ancient times. Rocket artillery is a fixture of warfare since the days of ancient China and has been used in some of the most iconic battles of history, like Waterloo. World War II would see the advent of military heavy-duty trucks being the foundation for self propelled rocket artillery batteries that unleashed a fury of rockets down on enemy positions. Rocket artillery has also enjoyed a strong naval tradition with naval warships mounted ranks of rockets to bombard beaches for the Pacific island campaign of World War II and even the War of 1812.
Towed Field Artillery Guns
Mech-Propelled Artillery Platforms
One of the most common futuristic artillery systems used in science fiction is the orbital directed energy platforms that rein down killer light at cities and superhuman biker-punk teenagers. The laser beam needed for such devastative power is on the order of 40 megawatts. Particle beams could also be used, but the most viable is the “rods from god” kinetic projectiles from orbit to strike planetary targets. While it seems that space-based artillery would be the ultimate high ground, there are already in-service missiles systems that can take out satellites, along with intra-orbital kinetic interceptors. These could be good system for providing off-world colonies with some artillery support, just in case space pirate show up or hungry killer insects.
Planetary Defense Artillery
One futuristic application of artillery could be closer in spirit to coastal artillery: planetary defense artillery batteries. Instead of defending our coastline, these massive artillery batteries would defend our planet from incoming invasion fleets. Sci-fi has some fine examples of this concept, like the RDF Grand Cannon, and I had these with an older sci-fi universe I developed from age 6 to 18. In that universe, settled worlds were granted planetary artillery bases manned by government personnel and defended by the colonial garrisons. While each colonial world was entitled to at least one, it often depended on the size and importance of the colony. One artillery base was often a sign of a newly founded colony, while a dozen or more where a sure sign that the government valued this world. Specialized assault units were created to disable or destroy these artillery bases prior to full-scale planetary invasions. I had several stories centered around these special spaceborne assault units. We will discussing these space-drop operators next month. This speaks to the grim effectiveness of these artillery defense bases against orbiting hostile warships.
At its simplest concept, artillery is the ability to hurl a heavy projectile at great distances to strike targets. For more close engagements that involve direct fire, cannons firing grapeshot could sweep and maim infantry. Simple kinetic projectiles can be effective, but when explosives were added to the mix, it became Thor's hammer to pound the enemy. The transition from simple kinetic projectiles to explosive warheads altered artillery shells being a delivery system to import various payloads to their unlucky targets. Modern artillery projectiles are normally found in the 100mm to 200mm range with most NATO nations using 105mm and 155mm shells. The most common artillery munition payload is high-explosive (HE) that is a mixture of 39% of TNT, 60% RDX, and 1% of an binding wax agent.
One of the great advantages of gun artillery is the ability to mix-and-match warhead loads, fuses, powder loads, along with having a number of munition payloads to choose from during combat operations. In the United States 155mm artillery shell inventory, there are some 34 different types of payload types ranging from practice rounds, smoke, tear gas, area-denial munitions, many high explosives variants, and white phosphorus. Some of these munitions can be mixed to increase lethality or to layer abilities, like generating smoke followed by mines. During the Battle of Fallujah in 2004, it was reported that US Marines were mixing WP with HE to hit buildings.
This being the 21st century, technology has altered payloads in the lethal and nonlethal variety. Area Denial Artillery Munition (ADAM) and Remote Anti-Armor Munition (RAAM) are ways for artillery to lay down the hate on an area. ADAM are 36 M74 anti-personnel mini-mines deployed by the M692/M731 155mm shell to non-hardened surfaces and allow for an varied hours long minefield. Due to the destructive and cruel nature of mines being leftover from previous conflicts, ADAM mines can be effective for only four hours to an maximum of 48 prior to self-destruction. Then there is Remote Anti-Armor Munition (RAAM) that are a nasty form of anti-tank artillery that has an 155mm shell is packed with nine mines designed for taking out tanks on non-hardened surfaces.
"Shoot-and-Scoot" and Counter Battery Artillery
Where shoot-and-scoop is best used is by the more mobile self-propelled artillery platform and some SPA systems have developed around rapid fire salvos technology, followed by movement within a minute, like the South African G6, to increase survivability. Counter battery comes in many forms, from traditional artillery pieces using radar to locate and return fire, to systems closer to the naval close-in weapons systems. These type of counter battery are more akin to AAA or CIWS than traditional forms of counter battery and could be completely automated. These systems can intercept incoming artillery fire (shells or rockets) via 30mm rounds, interceptor missiles, or even laser beams. These current and next generation systems certainly blur the lines between defensive weaponry and counter-battery.
The Future of Artillery
dying branch” of the combat arms. They also went on to say that if the problem is not fixed of bleeding away personnel, underbaked training, and young officers not being put into the artillery branch soon, the entire artillery branch could be seriously damaged with problems “too many to overcome”.
Can Rail and Gauss KEWs be Used for Artillery?
Can Directed Energy be Used for Artillery?
Artillery and Off-World Warfare
Using Starship Artillery Within the Planetary Atmosphere
The Iraqi' Project Babylon
There is one thing you can say about the 3rd Reich…they thought in grand terms. There were projects on the drawing boards that eclipsed conventional thinking at the time, and one of those mammoth projects that actually saw the light of day was the Schwerer Gustav. The name comes from the designer and the German word for heavy. Only two were completed with one under construction at the end of the war. Firing 800mm shells, this was a railway artillery gun of unbelievable proportions, demands and costs. Coming in at 7 million Reichsmarks and 1350 tons, it took 250 soldiers three days to assembly the damned thing after an additional 2,500 soldiers were used to lay down track to get the artillery piece into position.
Nazi Germany's The V-3 Hillset Supeguns
The Artillery Suppressor?! What the Frak?
Science Fiction and Artillery
The relationship between artillery and science fiction is not a strong one, with appearances of traditional artillery being rarely seen. It largely depends on the media format we are talking about if artillery even makes an appearance. For the most part, there is a simple lack of live-action sci-fi artillery, with Star Wars: TESB planetary ion cannon, the Clone artillery cannons in Star Wars: AOTC and the JSDF laser artillery trucks in those old Godzilla movies being some of the rare examples. Books, anime, RTS games, manga, comics, and tabletop war game simulations are where the bulk of sci-fi artillery is seen and used. This is likely due to the inclusion being simpler than developing SFX shots or models of a visual production.
The Colonial Marine/US Army M292 Self-Propelled Artillery from the ALIENS universe
Artillery from the Warhammer 40K universe
Most know the darkgrim world of Warhammer 40,000 for its terrifying aliens and massive super-soldiers in heavy powered armor, but there is an entire army, the Imperial Guard, with all of the combined arms....including artillery. There are both self-propelled and towed artillery platforms with all manner of projectiles. The most common is the massive "Earthshaker" artillery cannons that fires an 132mm shell at at maximum distance of 40 kilometers. It comes with a towed form and an platform variant that are designed for standard artillery roles and siege warfare. In addition to the Earthshaker is the heavier and slower firing Medusa siege gun, which is too heavy for the Centaur utility vehicle and requires the Trojan vehicle.
The EDF Mobile Rocket Artillery from the Red Faction Universe
Portable Light Artillery Directed Energy Cannon from Alien Legion
Republic Self-Propelled Heavy Artillery Turbolaser (SPHA) from the Star Wars universe
At the opening battle of the Clone Wars on Genonsis, the new Grand Army of the Republic launched a massive Combined Arms attack that included the Rothana Heavy Engineering Self-Propelled Heavy Artillery Turbolaser Walker. This 12 legged walker could only be transported to the battlefield via the Acclamator class Assault Ship. Unlike the walker tank, the SPHA could not be halted to the front via an carrier variant of the LAAT/i tactical transport. These were used throughout the Clone Wars and even recycled by the Galactic Empire. While powerful and available in several variants that mounted missiles and mass drivers along with being able to move under its own power, it was slow and required a great deal of power for movement and firing the cannon. Without support, the SPHA could be overwhelmed and destroyed. Worse of all, it was barely portable due to its bulk, requiring the heavy-lifting capability of the Accelamator class to get it to the front. It is one of the few futuristic artillery pieces seen in a live-action film, but is one of many in the SW films. Sadly, there is no Lego set of this behemoth.
The COG Hammer of the Dawn Satellite-based DEW system from Gears of War universe
The v-150 Planet Defender Ion Cannon from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
This surface-to-orbit planetary defense artillery cannon is a rare example of live-action sci-fi artillery. This expensive piece of hardware was used to disable incoming warships to allow for the planetary defenders to organize themselves or evacuate the planet. Why would the Rebellion favor the less-than-lethal ion blasts to normal high-energy lethal directed energy is that the ion blasts works more effectively and quickly than pounding incoming warships with laser bolts. In some ways, the v-150 cannon was the "soft-kill" option and was traditional space combat weapon used to knock important targets and disabling warships to buy time.
The uses of the ion cannon were expertly explored by the 1990's space flight combat simulators X-Wing and TIE Fighter. Several times, you were instructed to use your ion cannons to knock a shuttle or ship to allow VBSS operations. In the 1980 film, the Rebels use the v-150 to disable incoming Star Destroyers allowing rebel transports to slip the grasp of the Imperials and escape the defeat on Hoth. In one fantastic scene, an Rebel transport is escaping Hoth orbit with bolts erupting from the cannon back on the frozen surface striking an Star Destroyer. Several toy interpretations have been released of the iconic sphere cannon, including a mini-Lego version and a "Hoth Ion Cannon" playset from the short-lived Star Wars Micro Collection toyline from Kenner that came out and died in 1982.
The "Plasma Bugs" from the Arachnoids from Starship Troopers (1997)
One of the few examples of alien artillery is the Plasma bugs from the 1997 live-action SST film. Biological engineered lifeform on Klendathu, the Plasma Bug was a multi-role organic weapon system that was used for anti-air, planetary defense, and artillery. They can strike at Terran starships in orbit or at ground targets in a ground artillery role at a minimum distance of 1 mile and at the maximum distance of 5 miles with an impact radius of 30 meters. Due to the method of fire, turning their abdomen sections to the sky, they must be directed by an Brain Bug via a network of Arachnoid scouts and spotters. One of the advantages of the Plasma Bug was its ability to "shoot-and-scoot" easily, however, the Plasma Bug was too bulky to avoid M.I. artillery and airstrikes completely. In addition, given that these are biological weapons platforms, Plasma Bugs have been observed "running out of ammunition" so to speak. This is a very rare example of organic artillery, especially considering it is an major live-action film.
The Japanese Self-Defense Force Maser Artillery Cannons from the Godzilla Universe
The 1.4 FD P-Tower and DF.9 DE Light Artillery cannons from SW: TESB
Artillery can be used for offensive and defensive operations, and during the Battle of Hoth, the Rebel forces defending the base were outfitted with several directed energy light direct fire artillery cannons used for anti-vehicle and anti-infantry work. The dish-emitter 1.4 FD P-tower anti-vehicle and the DF.9 anti-infantry cannons put up a good fight against the heavy Imperial armored assault, and were translated in toys in for the normal figures and the short-lived "Micro-collection" from 1982.
The Covenant Type-26 "Wraith" Mobile Artillery Vehicle from the HALO Universe
One of the strangest tanks in military sci-fi is the Covenant Type-26 "Wraith" armored anti-gravity vehicle. Much like much of the Covenant weaponry, the Wraith tanks uses a powerful plasma projector that can be used for direct or indirect fire roles, allowing one single platform to occupy two battlefield roles of SPA and MBT like the Terran Siege Tanks from Starcraft. While less effective in tank-vs.-tank engagements than the UNSC Scorpion MBT, the Wraith is a scourge to UNSC units. The main armament is an low-velocity 35cm plasma mortar that fire a burst of crackling plasma energy encased an EM sabot that when impacted upon the ground or target, it bursts in a bubble of superheated energy that engulfs any targets in an 20 meter radius impact zone. Over the course of the bloody Covenant/Human War, the Type-26 was modified and altered, but never could best the M808 MBT in a single engagement. Throughout the HALO games, the Wraith tank was a pain in the ass and if ignored, you could be easily killed by an slow-moving blob of plasma.
The Heavy "Laser" Cannon from Star Trek "The Cage"
In the original 1966 pilot for Star Trek: TOS, called "The Cage", the Enterprise in 2254 under Captain Pike was lured to Talos IV by an distress beacon from an older Earth colony mission 18 years ago. Once on the creepy surface of Talos IV, the land party is fooled by the powerful Talosians mental ability and then captured. The crew attempts to free the captain by using a powerful directed energy semi-portable cannon powered by an power transfer from Enterprise to blast open the aliens' underground base. The effort fails...sort of. This is the only appearance of Starfleet artillery besides the grenade launcher/mortar seen in "Arena". There was an non-canon semi-portable "photon cannon" seen in the FASA non-canon TNG Officer's Manual from 1987 that drew inspiration from the laser cannon in "The Cage".
The UEG "Grand Cannon" Planetary Defense Reflex Artillery from ROBOTECH/Macross Universe
When the Earth was united by the "Visitor" advanced alien spacecraft that crashed landed on Macross island in 1999, the newly formed United Earth Government hastily put into motion a plan to defend the Earth against the more advanced alien forces. While the re-construction of the SDF-1 was visual symbol fo the the heavy investment into Robotechnology by the RDF there was also the secret project at the covert base in Alaska that was began in 2002: the Grand Cannon. Powered by Reflex furnaces that rested deep underground and constructed at a massive expensive with the barrel of the weapon being miles deep into the Earth, it is no wonder that it took nearly ten years to construct the base. By 2010, there were no less than four Grand Cannons under construction, including one on Luna.
It was only fired once, during the Zentraedi invasion of the Earth in 2010 when 4.8 million alien warships under Supreme Commander Dolza folded into Earth space to put an end to the threat posed by the Terrans and Breetai's fleet once and for all time. During the space battle and planetary bombardment, the Grand Cannon was fired. The massive Reflex energy beam swept the heavens, melting away loyal Zentraedi warships like snowflakes in a blowtorch flame.
It is estimated that single firing of the Grand Cannon from Alaska destroyed about 800,000 out of the 4.8 million Zentaedi fleet, and this allowed the SDF-1 the opportunity to assault Dozla's command base. Alaska base and the Grand Cannon were destroyed by an overwhelming alien counter-attack that not only leveled the surface base, and crippled the weapon, it also leveled most of Alaska territory along with it. Only two survivors were recovered from the base: Lisa Hayes and T.F. Edwards. If the UEG had the time to complete the other Grand Cannons, it is estimated that the majority of the alien fleet would have been destroyed, and possibly saving the Earth from the apocalypse visited by the alien bombardment along with billions of lives. Later examination of the failure of the Grand Cannon to fire more than once rest in the central strategy of these planetary artillery defense batteries: there was to be more than one. The Alaska base Grand Cannon was to work in concert with other Grand Cannon located on Earth and the Moon to hit the enemy space force one after another of crushing directed energy artillery fire. While one cooled down from its firing, another Grand Cannon would fire, covering the other bases. In direr crises, more than one could have been fired in salvos. However, time ran out for the Earth, and only one was online when the doomsday alien force came.
The Terran Siege Tank/SPA from the Starcraft Universe
The Self-Propelled Artillery from the B5: GROPOS wargame
The RDF HWR-01 M.A.C. II "Monster" from ROBOTECH: Macross
The first ROBOTECH series, Macross, is packed with all manner of mecha, transformable or not. As I mentioned above, the non-transforming mecha of the RDF, the Destroids, are not the hero mecha of the 1st Robotech War, but no Destroid is more disrespected than the titanic MAC II "Monster" artillery mecha. This one of my favorites mecha from ROBOTECH and I even had the Matchbox plastic/metal interpretation. The power of this colossus is the four 406mm (15inch) KE autocannons that offer crushing fire and the most powerful portable weapon system in the RDF and weighs in at 285.5 tons when fully loaded. During the 1st Robotech War, the RDF fielded a number of mecha and the largest was the MAC II Monster.
While slow moving, it packed massive offensive power and thick armor caused the RDF to task the MAC II with being an SPA. Part of the reason behind the role as an SPA was due to its inability to carry more than 10 rounds per artillery tube, causing the Big Green Monster to be tied to a supply source. The other part of it being classified self-propelled artillery is slow speed when compared to the other Destroids and especially the VF Valkyries. This slow speed, massive bulk, and lack of active defensive systems caused the MAC II to suffer high loss rates. To help with this, the four 406mm KE cannons were switched over to heavy particle cannons. This altered the role of the Monster from SPA to an direct-fire mobile artillery platform that was used during the Zentraedi Malcontent Uprising. When it came time to develop new mecha for the Robotech Expeditionary Force, the MAC II was upgraded to improve upon its design by retaining its massive firepower, and increasing it's maneuverability.
Towards the end of the life for this iconic military SF show, we see the writers and creators channeling the War in the Pacific during World War II in the April 20th, 1996 episode of Sugar Dirt. Here, the United Earth Forces are mounting a serious planet-hopping strategy to counter the gains by the Chigs, and one of the targets needed for the war effort is the planet of Demios, specifically, the airfield where a bloody battle was fought at the beginning of the war. Prior to the major planetary invasion, the United States John F. Kennedy class carriers are moved into range for their 1.2 gigawatt laser pulse cannon to bombarded the AO to soften up any defenses and enemy position. This is interesting example of starship-based artillery used to engage planetary targets in support of ground operations. This is only time we would see this heavy cannon in action...the series was cancelled just two episodes later. thanks for that, FOX!
The Main Battery of the BSG-75 from the Rebooted Battlestar Galactica universe
Next Time on FWS...