12 September 2019

FWS Armory: Mortars

Over the last several decades, the genre of military science fiction has exploded in popularity across all forms of media. During this time, all manner of weapons systems have been imagined, retrofitted, and redesigned to fit the future battlefields of their creators’ imaginations.  Despite the vast weapons featured in these far off futuristic armories, there is one weapon systems that is rarely featured: the mortar. Mortars has been a foundation tool of warfare since first being used in the Siege of Constantinople in 1453 that extends to all modern battlefields that are still smoldering to this very day due to its ability to be a form of more flexible and portable heavy firepower. In this article, FWS will be exploring and explaining the mortar, its lack of presence in Military SF, along with the few examples in science fiction.

Why is an “Mortar”?

A metal tube, some shells, and some math are the hallmarks of one of the most deadly and effective indirect fire weapon systems on the modern battlefield. Designed to support offensive and defensive operations, the mortar and the soldiers that feed her are critical to the success of operations that date back to the First World War. The mortar weapon systems does indeed comprise of a simple-looking metal tube, shells in a variety of lethal and non-lethal payloads, and the crew itself to not only muzzle-load the tube with all manner of shells, but also to adjust that tube with math and field intelligence to lob those shells onto the enemy positions with the correct ballistic trajectory.
Unlike its bigger brother, the field artillery cannon and the more sexy close air support aircraft, mortars are controlled by the soldiers that are actually in the shit that understand the local conditions in both the human and geographic terrain. In addition, the soldiers themselves can get the mortar thudding rounds down range faster and easier than calling in CAS or an artillery strike. Mortars can also be an important psychological weapon that can reap real-world battlefield gains in that enemy soldiers may abandon a position once the steel rain falls in. The enemy would then know that their enemy has this area dialed in and not to be there.   

Use of the Mortar on the Modern Battlefield
The modern mortar has been with us since the first "modern war": World War One. This indirect fire system allows for the bombardment of trenches that could not be reached via conventional artillery cannons. Every war/conflict since then has included mortars on both sides, and despite advancements in armed drones and CAS, the mortar is still thumping out shells down range. The basic use of the mortar in the current battlespace is to deliver rounds on enemy targets in both defensive and offensive actions via lethal and less-than-lethal munition types. For example, mortars could be used to break up an enemy formation with high-explosive shells that drive the enemy away, kill/wound them, or cause them to seek shelter all while troops move onto the enemy position.
Mortars allow for chaos to ensue, soften up the resistance that friendly forces will encounter. With skill and good intel,  mortar teams can be used as a psychological weapon and drive enemy infantry and light vehicles from a certain position towards another that benefits the friendly units. One video called this tactic: "sheepdogging" the enemy. Another psychological warfare tactics is the use of a few shells to make the enemy think you have more guns than you do, causing them to reposition or to postpone an attack, giving your forces more time. Also, nonlethal rounds can be used to drop in a smoke screen to deceive the enemy and allow for your forces to maneuver while the enemy is under smoke. This not only obscures the infantry, but also makes the target area for aircraft and/or otehr targeting systems.

The Different Types of Mortars

Stokes Mortar
During the first year of the Great War, a British civil engineer by the name of Sir Wilfred Stokes developed the first modern mortar that was man-portable with the invention of the "Stokes Mortar". Designed to help out in the trench warfare of the time, what Sir Wilfred Stokes actually did was revolutionize the mortar and bring it into the 20th century and beyond. This is the mortar and its operation are at the forerunner to all modern light mortars used today.

Gun Mortar
These are an interesting hybrid indirect and direct fire weapon system that is not as popular as the classic mortar, however, it is the system used by the futuristic AMOS system that is fitted to APC/IFV chassis. This is due to gun mortars being breech-load rather muzzle loaded allowing for auto-loading and loading from inside of an protection of an armored vehicle.

Spigot Mortar
These are an oddity of the mortar world that instead of a muzzle-load drop shell loading technique, the Spigot Mortar has a spike instead of a tube. These were more seen in World War II. One of the advantages of the Spigot Mortar over the conventional mortar is that Spigot Mortars are lighter weight. Some examples were the English Blacker Bombard and anti-tank PIAT. One of the cooler Spigot Mortars is the "hedgehog". Used on the deck of World War II era British and American warships, 24 Spigot Mortar shells could be launcher all at one time as a counter to the deadly U-Boat attacks.   

Naval Mortar

While it seems odd, there is a long history of using mortars on sailing ships all the way back to the 14th century via the "Bomb Vessel". These bow-mounted mortars were designed to bombard land-based fixed targets, like forts and cities. Why these bomb vessels did not use their naval gunnery is due to the fact that mortars were the only weapon that could lob explosive shells at the time. If you are thinking of the concept of a spaceborne bomb warship, they are traditionally named after volcanoes. Due to their limited role, limited use in the general navy and expense, bomb vessels were not common and were phased out by the American Civil War. 

Mortar Carrier/Self-Propelled Mortar Platforms

Due to the effectiveness of mortars and their weight, some armored vehicles and light utility vehicles have fitted with a heavier mortar has their primary weapon. These mortar carriers or self-propelled mortar are normally based around APC/IFV like the M113 or the Stryker (in the form of the M1129) and carry mortars in the 81mm to 120mm range along with some smaller 60mm mortars for dismount use. The largest mortar carrier still in service is the Russian 240mm mortar that is just crazy big. Not all Mortar Carriers are based on armored personnel carriers, like the IDF Merkava MBT that has a 60mm mortar as a secondary weapon system and even some light military utility vehicles are used as mortar carriers as well like the Toyota Hilux or Land Cruiser. 

Siege Mortar
At one time, mortars were important element of siege warfare on fortifications and urban areas go back to 1453 all the way to the 2nd World War. The primary purpose was to lob explosive shells over the fortifications and unleash chaos on the fort, trench lines, or city, allowing for either surrender or soften the objective for assault. Not only were the siege mortar a offensive weapon system, they were also a psychological one as well. The mere sounds of indirect bombardment can break the mind and will of the defenders. Due to their size and mission, the siege mortars of the US Civil War were transported to the battlefield via rail or animal, assembled, then operated for months as seen in the bombardment of Vicksburg and Petersburg. Given the expensive and difficulty of moving these siege mortars off of the battlefield, some were lelt or broken down rather than formally moved and stored. 

Seacoast  Mortar
Related to the siege mortar was the even heavier seacoast mortar that was part of the traditional coastal artillery defense systems. During the American Civil War, there were 10-inch and 13-inch seacoast mortars that were used to bombard ships and landing craft to the degree that even ironclad vessels were not safe from incoming seacoast mortar shells. The 5,000+ lbs 10-inch mortar could throw a 88lbs shell out some 2,000 yards with the much heavier 17,000lbs 13-inch mortar could throw its nearly 200lbs shell out some 4,300 yards. I believe that some of these seacoast mortars were taken out of the coastal artillery positions and retasked for urban siege work by the Union Army. Seacoast mortars were phased out by the time of the 20th century.   

Nuclear Mortar
For a time, the idea of atomic artillery was a thing among the Soviets and Americans with all manner of crazy applications of atomic and nuclear muitions in a field artillery role during the Cold War that was all the way to "Davy Crockett nuclear recoilless rifle. While field artillery cannons did have nuclear shells, there was a Soviet 420mm 2B1 "Oka" self-propelled mortar and the 2S4 "Tyulpan" 240mm self-propelled mortar that could fire atomic shells. These were phased out,but one wonders at the effectiveness of such weapons and reminds me of the opening scene for the Starship Troopers book.

Given the mechanical simplify of the mortar weapon system, some rebel, guerrilla, and terrorist groups have fashioned their own mortar system using mortar shells and other homemade munitions. Given the skill at manufacture, the lack of training, and the range of shell quality, the accuracy is poor...at best, resulting in civilian causalities.   

The Different Sizes of Mortars

Weighting in at between 18 to 45 lbs, the light mortar is the most man-portable of mortars. This lighter weight and portability comes at a price of being smaller in range and explosive payload to the most current usage light mortars being in the 60mm shell size range

Coming in around 80lbs, the medium mortar is the “middle of the road” between the light and heavy mortar weapon systems for range and payload. This projects an 81mm shell, but does allow the weapon system to still be man-portable. 

At the top end of the typical mortar seen in modern warfare is the heavy mortar system that fires between 105mm to120mm size shells. These are the largest explosive payload that has shells over 20lbs and the mortar system itself can weight in over 300lbs. In addition, they are the longest range of mortars, but they are far less man-portable, if even. Most are moved around the battlefield via ground and air transport. Given their offensive power, they are more akin to a junior field artillery piece and have been highly effective in engagements in Afghanistan.

The heaviest of all mortars were the siege mortar. While not always recognized as a “size” classification by some sites, I felt that they deserved their own mention here, especially with the use of the term in science fiction (I’m looking at you 40K!). These are an archaic form of mortar that can trace its roots back to the origin of mortars and were used up until the 2nd World War. Often the size of the siege mortar was expressed in inches and weight of the explosive projectile, not in millimeters as today. Often being the heaviest type of mortar, they were hauled to the battlefield by beast of burden or rail with some assembly required once they arrived. These were long-haul mortars that could not be broken down and moved easily and at times were left at the conclusion of battle due to the cost of moving them and then destroyed in place. A version of the siege mortar was used for coastal artillery.

The Current Battlefield Use of Mortars
Since the First World War, mortars have been used and they continue to be used by all military organizations and guerrilla forces around the world. Why? Mortars offer heavy indirect firepower to the soldiers on the ground and at the moment of contact, as we have seen in operations in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, they are cheap to make and operate. For the most part, the use of mortars on the modern battlefield is the same as it always has been and it is likely to be for awhile coming.

The Mortar Shells

Much like conventional field artillery, hand grenades, and tanks; the mortar crew has options with their munitions payload that can be lethal or nonlethal that breaks down to four general types: High Explosive, illumination, smoke screen, and practice. For the most part, the HE shell destructive power is based on the size of the shell and the explosive compound used with some shrapnel mixed in due to the shell casing. Some HE shells have white phosphorus mixed in for high destructive capability. Illumination shells are used to help the attack force, reacquire the enemy position, or blind or confuse the enemy. These parachute allow for 50-60 seconds of illumination on the order of over half-a-million to one million candlepower. With the advent of night-vision technology, illumination mortar shells can now be IR to allow the friendly NVG wearing soldier to see their enemy without the enemy being aware. Another classic use of the mortar is to lay down smoke to obscure your movements to the enemy or mark the target for CAS or artillery strikes. Most smoke shells use white or red phosphorus. During the training process, new mortar crew members use training/practice rounds, like the US Army M879, M880, M68 and the recent M931.

The Mortar Crew
According to US Marine and US Army standards, the typical mortar will be run by a team of three to five. At the level of five, you have a squad commander, gunner, assistant gunner, and two shell loaders. This can be slimmed down to three to four or even one in the case of Staff Sgt. Christopher Upp during a Taliban attack in A-Stan in the summer of 2007. At the head of the mortar crew is the squad leader that supervises all functions of the weapon system and the team serving it. The actually aiming of the mortar is handled by the gunner and assistant gunner, who punch in data, alter the position of the weapon by fine or gross adjustments in deflection and elevation. Feeding the weapon with ten pound shells of various munition types are the ammunition bearers. In addition to lying in the shells, they are tasked with pulling security for the crew, filing sandbags, driving the vehicle along with helping setup and breakdown the mortar.
With an effective team and the position of the enemy zeroed in, the rate-of-fire is about 15 shells per minute per tube. One of the other tasks of the mortar team is to transport the mortar and the ammunition to its firing position, which is a real bitch given that the US military’s M252 81mm mortar system weighs in at about 120lbs and each 81mm shell is an additional 10lbs! Each piece of the M252 can be around 30lbs a piece that all of this as to be considered when moving the mortar. When it comes to the heaviest mortars on the modern battlefield, the 120mm variety, they can weigh in at over 300lbs, complicating logistical considerations for the mortar crew.

The Future of the Mortars
In the short-term, the future mortars will be improved guidance technology, reduction in weight, and improvement to the payload. Down the road in more of a science fiction setting, the future of mortars could be launched via magnetic coils, like a Gauss gun or as William S. Frisbee suggested in his excellent article, that futuristic mortars could be magazine-fed. Adding to these designs, I added mortars into my own writing as an automated weapon system that was controlled via the soldier’s onboard computer system.
I imagined an automated weapon platform inside the wire that could be adjusted via remote control and fired from a central location or from an soldier with the proper access codes. One future mortar I have envisioned for a unfinished book was slaved to an MULE-like beast-of-burden robot that accompanied the infield unit. When they came under fire or mounted an assault, they had a portable field artillery system right there at their fingertips that did not have to haul. It is possible that some of the mission of mortars could be taken over by armed drones either in the air or ground, but there will still be a need for indirect fire that laser beams or plasma bolts cannot fulfill.

Counter-Mortar Systems (C-RAM)
It could be assumed that incoming mortar fire has no counter save for not being hit and/or running out of the impact zone. However, there does exist Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar defensive systems or C-RAM. The current C-RAM system is a land-based Phalanx close-in weapon system that uses awesome M61A1 rotary 20mm cannon that is slaved to a whole host of sensors  This is very similar to the naval CIWS, but is moved around the battlefield via the M916A3 military truck and served by a crew of four. This system has been successful in countering incoming fire and there will be a land-based directed energy 100kW laser version in the future by the Raytheon Systems that will be much like the naval DE CIWS that is be depolyed.   

Can You Really Use Mortar Shells as an Improvised Hand Grenade? 
Yes...at one time. In the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan during the Battle of Ramelle, the mixed unit American defenders use M2 60mm mortar shells like hand grenades as the battle goes south. This is a dangerous move and only done in desperation,but there actual accounts of US soldiers using 60mm mortar shells as grenades during the 2nd World War. This could be done by striking the impact fuse and tossing at the enemy before it blows up in your hand. From articles I've read. this could have been done at the time and current mortar shells cannot be used in such a fashion.   

Toy Mortars?!

When I was growing up, the term toy mortar often referred to ones packedin with those wonderful Green Army Men, die case toy soldiers, and models...but in the 1960's an American company called Remco Industries made an full-on "Marine Raider long-range mortar launcher". When I saw pictures of this things, I said dear sweet baby Jesus. This Remco toy mortar launcher would fire plastic mortar shells at a distance of around 20 feet via springs and you could even buy more mortar shells for $.50 a set! This toy is consider rare today and sells in the $350 to $400 range. For the modern junior stormtrooper, NERF, under their NFStrike line has released a foam NERF mortar launcher that can fire the "shells" at 15 to 20 feet. Another toy mortar from a toyline that attempted to replicate the success of GI JOE was Coleco’s Rambo Force of Freedom line that had a 81mm mortar designed for the 6inch figures! Patterned after US M29 mortar, the RAMBO 81mm mortar was designed for the SAVAGE enemy forces and even came with several mortar shells that fit down the tube.

Why is There a Lack of the Mortar in Sci-Fi?
Often, FWS devoted this digital space to the relationship between science fiction and the subject at hand, and never truer is that than with the forgotten mortar. It is shocking the simple lack of mortars in the realm of science fiction, and it does not matter if it literature, video games, or tabletop wargames…it is all the same, the mortar is left out in the cold for the most part. So, why is that? FWS went on to social media and what the common consensus was are what follows. Sadly, Mortars are just not sexy as other weapon systems. Part of this exists because, simply put, they are not as fearsome weapon system. Mortars appear to be a simple metal tube rammed into the ground to the majority of the uninformed and they are not as dynamic or as fun as other forms of artillery.
After all, do you want your main space marine hero dropping shells down a tube or kicking alien ass behind the controls of an exo-suit with flamethrowers and plasma cannons blazing?  So much of military sci-fi hardware focuses on gunships, mechs, Big Fucking Guns, and powered armor rather than on more traditional (and proven) weapon systems. This applies directly to the lonely, but deadly mortar. FWS reader Trevor J. Conners added this: “Use of a mortar is about 90% math, 9% carrying the damn thing, and 1% actually blowing things up. That's just not all that exciting for most viewers or readers. It's why Spec Ops: the Line gave you this cool parachuting drone that let you just aim the shots”.  Of course, some of the lack of inclusion could be chalked up to a simple lack of knowledge about mortars on the part of the general public. FWS reader Trevor J. Conners added this: "most writers lack the experience to really understand the importance of combined arms. Most will research one thing really well (infantry, fighters, naval vessels, etc), and focus almost exclusively on that. Trying to combine multiple aspects of combat requires another level of research and commitment.
Helping to obscure the mortar and its role in modern warfare is the lack of appearance of this critical indirect weapon system in more current settings. For example, a few popular military-themed video games feature the mortar. Some, like Call of Duty 3. Spec-Ops: the Line, Gears of War 2 and Battlefield One, have indeed featured the mortars as a playable element, but when Call of Duty moved into the future, there were no mortars. When it comes to films, a number of World War II and Vietnam movies do feature the mortar...but, not in any science fiction films. Creators of sci-fi may understand that mortars are in older conflicts, but without the mortar being connected to modern war or future war scenarios in popular media, it can allow the mortar to escape their imaginations and its inclusion.
One of the great terms that I learned was from one of my father’s foreman in the foundry was “futured-upped”. The foreman was complaining about a new of piece of equipment that contained a keyboard and screen. Upon examining the new very expense piece of 1990’s machinery, the foreman said that they had just “futured upped” the machine and he was unimpressed. That term stayed with me and it can applied here when discussing mortars in science fiction. Let us consider the American M-16 assault rifle that was developed by Eugene Stoner around 1959 and adopted by the US Armed Forces as the standard rifle in and around 1969. While the weapon was improved over the decades, it remained mostly the same weapon until the early 1990’s. Improvements in aiming and lighting systems allowed for new attachments to be mounted to the aging platform. By the time of the War on Terror, the newly developed Colt M4 assault carbine had all manner of new technological devices to assist the performance of the weapon designed back in the 1950’s fitted to the 5.56mm assault carbine via rail systems. This means that the aging M-16 was “futured-upped” into the dawn of the new millennium: the M4.
The retrofitting of current weapons with futuristic technologies is common in sci-fi, as we saw with the AKM in Elysium and COD: Infinite Warfare. It is much harder for sci-fi creators to image retrofitting futuristic technologies being added to the mortars of today. This adds into the overall lack of attractiveness of the mortar to sci-fi creators. As FWS reader Travor J. Conners observed: “Most sci-fi authors are opting for the most high tech stuff. Artillery is mostly orbital, with rods from god being a favorite anymore”.
From the FWS FB page, reader Trevor J. Conners came up with some good points. He said that: “Mortars are very impersonal. Character relays coordinates, and then someone off screen kills the enemy in a way that isn't as satisfying as watching the hero kill the bad guy. Conversely, if a good guy has to die, you want a named main character bad guy to do it in a personal way. It's harder to do a revenge subplot against a guy way off screen that Artillery is sometimes called the King of the Battlefield. To quote Napoleon, "God fights on the side with the best artillery". The trouble with having good mortar support is that if you have artillery dominance, odds are you're winning the battle, at least in conventional warfare. Meaning that if you have good artillery support, the characters aren't in nearly as much of a pickle, making their fight less dramatic. Viewers love a battle that appears hopeless."


The Starfleet and Gorn Mortars from ST: TOS Episode “The Arena” 
In one of the best episodes of the original series, "Arena (1x18)", Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other target practice crew members beam down to an Starfleet outpost on Cestus III. Faked communications lured down key personnel from the Enterprise, and when the landing party beamed down, the outpost was in ruins and most were dead. Quickly, Kirk and company come under Gorn mortar bombardment. With only hand phasers and taking incoming, Kirk runs to the outpost armory and brings an Starfleet "photon launcher" mortar system. Kirk makes adjusts me to a series of controls on the tube from information given to him my one of his crew, then launches a small blue sphere-shaped munition that is likely an anti-matter charge or a low-yield nuclear device.
The single mortar sphere was launched at a assumed Gorn position at 1200 meter away, and even then it seemed to be more danger close than a typical 21st century mortar. A comically bad explosive effect was rendered and the Gorn were beaten back. This first season episode would be the only appearance of a , Federation mortar has been ever seen or even mentioned in the entire series runs of the various Trek TV shows or movies. So, why is this mortar or "photon grenade launcher" in the 1967 episode at all? The script was penned by Gene L. Coon, who is one of the founding fathers of the Star Trek universe, gifting the Trek universe with much of the ideas and concepts that the entire fictional universe is constructed on.
However, his "photon launchers" did not gain any traction. It is likely that World War II veterans, like Coon, added in a realistic element to the 23rd century without much thought. The mortar itself is only on screen for a few minutes and it appears to be a fashioned prop or borrowed from a prop house that dealt in military props for the many military-themed movies at the time. However, there is no hard evidence or information. Until the era of the internet, it was not much discussed or referenced by Trek themed RPGs. Some sites online have called out the fact that the under-powered Gorn mortar blast impacts were nothing when compared to the Starfleet mortar. Shell after shell rains down on the landing party with Kirk and Spock surviving blasts within two meters (in reality, both actors had permanent hearing damage from these blasts), while a single Federation blue mortar sphere lays waste to the Gorn mortar position or at least drives them away.
Then the use of the mortar is over, and until DS9, we do not see another mortar-like weapon in Trek. So, why is there a mortar in "The Arena" at all? There is so very little information on photon grenade launcher seen in the show that it is difficult to know, but I have a theory (surprise). Since the generation that made the original series was heavily populated with veterans due to World War II and Korea, it made sense to include some like a mortar into the script without much thought, where it would be much strangler today with the establishment of Trek lore and tradition. It just was needed for the script and thus, it was so, and then it was not. While this is indeed odd, it makes more sense when you consider that Star Trek was still establishing the universe in which the characters lived...and this very episode established some of those traditions. Also to be considered is that Trek has a history of this. In the very first episode of TOS, "The Cage", there was the massive "laser" cannon, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", introduced the phaser rifle, and ST: Insurrection  had Federation rocket launcher...not to mention the armed Starfleet off-road assault dune-buggy in Nemesis.  

The Covenant vehicle-based Plasma DE “Mortar” from the HALO Universe
While the UNSC uses a very standard MBT throughout the various HALO games, the alien bastards of the Covenant has taken a different approach with their anti-gravity Type-26"Assault Gun Carriage" known as the "Wraith" to UNSC personnel. Until like a Terran conventional tank, the Type 26 uses an plasma directed-energy mortar as its main armament with some models having crew-served plasma DE rapid-fire cannons as well. While it seems that the UNSC Scorpion MBT would have the advantage in the realm of armored combat, the Wraith's indirect fire mortar system is quite deadly and able to destroy or cripple with one clean impact.
However, the main gun is slow to reload and has a lower hit probability than the Scorpion KE main gun. On the battlefield, the Wraith's mortar allows for the Covenant forces to bombard enemy forces, softening them up for a main assault, or even lay siege to an installation or urban center. The interesting about the Wraith anti-gravity tank mortar is that it represents the ONLY directed-energy, non-shell, mortar systems that I could locate. I believe that the reason that Bungie designed the Wraith tank so radically different than the UNSC Scorpion tank was to keep the Covenant using mostly direct-energy weaponry and the UNSC kinetic-energy weaponry. Still, it being a mortar is as a bold choice for Bungie to make for the Covenant.     

 Colonial Marines Mortars from the ALIENS: Colonial Marine Technical Manual 
According to one of the finest military science fiction technical manuals of all time, it mentions that the Colonial Marines of the 2150's also have a mortar system for conventional land warfare on atmospheric standard worlds in the form of the M402. Here is the text from page 85 of the 1995 manual by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood: "The M402 Multiple-Launch Mortar is a 70-kilogram (including at least one magazine) man-portable artillery weapon primarily used by the United States Colonial Marine Corps in an infantry small unit support fire role. The mortar utilizes an 80-mm twin-tube design, automatically fed from a ten-round rotary magazine. The weapon can be aimed and fired by a remote command handset, either singly or in volleys firing each tube sequentially. All ten rounds can be volley-fired in under eight seconds.[As part of their organic support weapons, the standard Marine rifle platoon is equipped with one M402 mortar.Though it can be carried (by at least three Marines) and fired in the field, the M402 is also commonly carried by the M572 Armored Mortar Carrier, which usually carries up to 200 rounds and can autoload new magazines in under six seconds." Some fans have developed miniatures of the M572 APC variant and even the M402 itself for tabletop warfare games.

The Mortars of the Imperium of Man from 40K
Everything in the grimdark future of 40k is always just that more insane than their real-life counterparts. The standard firearm of the Space Marines unleashes .75 inch shells, the starships are heavily armed Gothic churches, and they have revolver mortars and mortars with four barrels. In the battlefield of the 41st Millennium, mortars are used for siege warfare, anti-infantry work,but their shells not effect more heavily armored foes, like the armor of space marines and chaos marines. In addition to the normal Imperial mortar, there are heavy mortars used for siege operations that can only be towed to the battlefield along with the multi-barreled monsters. The oddest mortar of the Imperium of Man is the Mole Mortar of the Squats that burrows underground to strike targets...yeah.    

The COG Mortar from the Gears of War Universe
Certainly, one of the most celebrated military sci-fi video game franchises recently has been Gears of War. The first game was groundbreaking and something different to the Post-HALO Military SF video games other than Mass Effect. In the 2nd and 3rd Gears of War video games, the powerful man-portable COG mortar that fired self-forging fragmenting imulsion sub-munition system that after the shell was fired out of the mortar, bomblets rained down on the enemy in a violent steel rain. Even the Locust Horde ran from the path of death and destruction the COG mortar could laydown. With the hate that this thing could lay down, the Locust Horde did capture these mortars and turned them back onto their creators. Given that we are talking about the Gears of War universe, the mortar can, of course, be used as a melee weapon.

The Tyranid Spore Mine Launcher from 40K
Tyranids use the organic mines, called "spore mines" like a form of mortar. The nightmarish Biovore creators use powerful muscle spasms to launch these living free-floating munitions at the enemy. Now, I know that the spore mines from the Tyrainds of 40K are a stretch, but they seem more like a mortar-type indirect fire that is not presented as a traditional mortar weapon system, but still behaves like it in some form of field artillery. These floating ugly bags of explosive gas...sounds like me after Taco Bell...are

The Sci-Fi Mortars from 15mm Miniatures War Games
Within the vast realm of games centered around miniature-based sci-fi war games, mortars are well represented more so that any other sci-fi media...oddly. I reached out to some within the community about this and here was the collective opinion on this oddity. Mortars are a important factor of modern warfare since the First World War and this reflected in the tabletop simulation games. When these ideas are taken off-world for future war scenarios, the mortars follow due to their usefulness of proving indirect effective fire. According to my sources, they view mortars as almost expected in the armory of these space warriors. Some even made the case that the sci-fi war games have these mortars due to the ones in those green plastic army sets and mortars in the higher-end toy soldier that come from companies like Britain's. Whatever the reason, the truth is that this is the front for the inclusion of mortars into the military science fiction arena.
“Short Fuze” Hasbro GI JOE: Real American Hero 1982 Figure 

In the original 9 carded G.I. Joe figures of the Real American Hero 1982 line was a mortar soldier: "Short-Fuze". The real name of this soldier was Eric W. Friestadt and he was an E-4 in the US Army before joining the team. For most of us that were alive during the initial launch of the GI JOE: Real American Hero toyline, we had this figure and he was a rarity among the action figure realm of having a mortar. Including with the figure was a backpack complete with 60mm mortar shells. Short-Fuze never developed the presence in the cartoon, toyline, or comic books as did others in the original 9, but has been re-released several times over the years.

Kaz Takagi’s "Gorilla" E-Frame with "NeoObliterating Mortar Launcher"from ExoSquad
The American toy scene in the 1990's was a crazy time with even crazier color schemes, but two mecha-centered toylines emerged onto the toy aisles in the form of BattleTech and ExoSquad. Neither lasted long sadly, but the toys hung longer than the cartoons. Playmates was pushing ExoSquad toys well into 1996 with some being reissued old Matchbox ROBOTECH toys from the 1980s. One of the later released E-frame toy mecha was 1995's "Kaz Takagi w/ Gorilla E-frame" that featured a rarity, the mecha-mounted "NeoObliterating Mortar Launcher". While the box art showed the mortar being used more like a traditional rocket launcher, it was a mortar launcher mounted to a heavy CLASS-II mech. Little exists on the internet about this 1995 toy besides scans of the box, but it is damn impressive to have a mecha-mounted mortar system made into a major toyline and not some crazy imported Japanese mecha model kit. Many of the sellers listing the Gorilla E-Frame ExoSquad toy state that it is rare, but it does command that high of price. FWS will being digging into ExoSquad with a Forgotten Classics article and a Military Sci-Fi Toys article as well!

“Downtown” Hasbro GI JOE: Real American Hero 1989 Figure

As the GI JOE: Real American Hero figure line continued into the late 1980's, it altered into figures with more garish coloring and more military fantasy than ventured on being more MEGAFORCE than classic GI JOE. During the 1989 lineup, we got our second mortar trooper figure: "Downtown". This figure comes with a 60mm mortar, a personal defense revolver, and a backpack where you can actually fit the six mortars that are loose, which Short-Fuze did not.

The Chinese Mortars from Disney’s Mulan

FWS nearly never discusses Disney films, but Yoel felt I should include this one because of its oddness. In the 1998 Disney animated film Mulan, in the critical scene during the battle in the mountains with the Hun, Mulan takes an early Chinese cannon and uses like a mortar to strike the mountain, triggering an avalanche with a dragon shaped projectile. What is interesting is that the Mulan legend is said to have occurred around the 4th or 5th century and the earliest "Huochong" cannon is from around the 12th and the 13th century.   

The IDF Mortars in Waltz with Bashir\
In the haunting animated 2008 film about the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon in 1982, there is a scene towards the end when mortar are used. The way they are used in unusual in a "war movie" and not as commonly seen or understood. In the film, the IDF soldiers use illumination shells for the Phalange Christian Lebanese right-wing party. It was only later learned that these Phalange  soldiers were responsible for the horrific September 14th/15th, 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. This is true to the actual account and IDF forces did indeed use illumination rounds for the Phalange fighters. 

The Chig Mortars from SAAB “Who Monitors the Birds?”
In keeping with the tradition of the "off-the-screen artillery/mortar bombardment" trope, the best military sci-fi TV show, 1995-1996's Space: Above and Beyond had the alien enemy faction attack Earth forces with mortar bombardments...especially in one of the best episodes of the entire run of SAAB: "Who Monitors the Birds?" While never mentioned in the show, I always believed that the incoming fire on Hawkes was incoming mortar fire. I posed this question to one of the leading SAAB FaceBook sites and the admin confirmed that the incoming alien fire was indeed erupting from an Chig mortar position. With the series being cancelled after a single season, we never did see a Chig mortar and I seriously doubt a Chig mortar was ever developed or sketched. 

The Mortars from the Hammer’s Slammers Universe
Throughout the Hammer's Slammers novels and the miniature-based tabletop wargame by Pireme Publishing, mortars are used in a similar fashion as of today. According to a website I found about the wargame, the mortar-of-choice for the Slammers is the FN L71 100mm magazine-fed mortar. Loading four 100mm shells of various types, it can shoot its load in under 6 seconds. There is a more complex 100mm mortar system that feeds from two magazines, the L86, and it is mounted to heavier armored vehicles. The more popular is the L71 mortar due to it being able to be mounted to lighter vehicles rather than tanks.

The Titan-mounted Mortars from the Titanfall Universe

In both of the Titanfall games, there is a specialized variant of the Atlas and Tone Titan classes that is used in an fire support role during the Frontier War: the Mortar Titan.These can only be found in the wave-based Frontier Defense game and these modified Titans use a form of the Quad-Rocket as a mortar system. These Titans stand off of the map and bombard for a good reason...they are weaker than the standard Atlas and Tone Titans.   

The A12M-5 “Mortar” from the Quo Vadis SEGA Saturn Video Game

This 1995 Japanese-only mecha video game release on the ill-fated 32-bit SEGA Saturn home console system. The mecha themselves were designed by Fujita Kazumi and the character designs were done by Haruhiko Mikimoto of Macross fame. The game is a mystery given that it is a Japanese only game on a unpopular system. Even the role of the mecha and which game they appear on is a mystery. The identity of the A12M-5 "Mortar" comes from an entry on Gears Online. 

The Klingon Mortars from DS9 Episode “Nor the Battle to the Strong”
DS9 covered ground that no other Star Trek series had before, and included the first wars ever seen in Trek history. The Federation fought back-to-back wars with the Klingon Empire and the Dominion causing it to be on the brink of defeat and altering the main characters. During a transformative and bold 4th episode of the 5th season, Jake and Dr. Basher lend a hand to an under siege Federation colony by the Klingons. During an attempt to gather supplies from the Runabout, the two come under assumed and unseen mortar fire from the Klingons. 

Next Time on FWS...
Oh yes, my friends, it is finally time for FWS to discuss one of the craziest 1980s action movie: MEGAFORCE from 1982!  I've  been looking forward to exploring and somewhat explaining this alternative universe G.I. Joe film that is so bad, so cheesy that it should be served with a side of tortilla chips at high school football games.  Never seen this or heard of it? Good! Count yourself lucky!


  1. LOVE IT! Hope to see more posts about Ghost Recon! Include the upcoming game Breakpoint!

  2. You will pleased to know that the ACR program that the us army conducted in 1986 through 1990 is three blogposts out!

    1. Ok, so will review your thoughts about Ghost Recon Breakpoint?

  3. As a retired artilleryman you've hit upon a subject near and dear to my heart ! Will researched and written as always!

  4. Don't disrespect Megaforce. You haven't gone to war until you've gone to war with tan spandex and a headband.

    1. You are right sir...I shall not. Deeds, not words!

  5. MSF Writers shouldn't discount mortars, as they're about the only artillery that's always available. 'Artillery' in a space setting is most likely going to come from the ubiquitous "rods from god", but what if you lose comms with that dreadnought in orbit, or CAS isn't available for whatever reason? And even the big guns, if they have them on the ground can only fire so far. But if this is the future, and we have self-propelled regular artillery, why not self-propelled mortars? Your MULE Mortar sounds like a good idea, in that day and age all a grunt would need to do is look at a potential enemy and if they're datalinked to the mortars, it should be able to determine if it can execute that fire mission.

    The bottom line is mortars are organic. Regular artillery belongs to a battery and they supply FO's to talk to the guns. Same with CAS, you have someone to talk to the planes. If you can't get in touch with the mortars that belong to the company, you're going to have a really bad day.

  6. In Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles one of the Exoskeletons models were fitted with a cannon mount on the unit's back that could launch a shell at high angle, I think that counts as mortar.

    I'm still puzzled by the definitions and terms – what the difference between mortar and regular artillery cannon? The size? Loading method? There are huge mortars with breech loading that still considered mortars…

    Is the ACR program article really three clicks away?! That great!


    1. Sorry if someone else has replied and I missed it. Mortars are high angle indirect, almost straight above. Field guns like howizers are more direct and come in from a low angle, usually with in line of sight.

  7. I ran into that as well when researching. I think it is the shell maybe the range. There seems be confusion about mortars and artillery among military planners. Yes, the guns from the future article on the 1986 through 1990 US Army ACR PROGRAM is after megaforce and teleporters. Already researching and writing. Watch your messager...got some questions!

  8. Nice work.
    With some neat references.
    Just a point or two.
    First William your near future magazine fed computer controlled mortar already exists, and is happening in Syria.


    A few years back was a lame game called Frontlines: Fuel of War. One of the weapons in the game was the AQ432 a 60mm three barrel magazine feed mortar on a lawnmower sized tracked UGV.
    Recently news also shows that future mortars are on the shopping list, the US army wants a Automatic mortar turret for Stryker and maybe AMPV. The Hawkeye system recently showed replacing the 105mm howitzer on the Humvee with a 120mm Mortar.
    And then there was the I-mortar from a few years back. A 12 pound commando 60mm mortar.

  9. Another fantastic article on a weapon that actually sees very little sci-fi depiction as you noted. Good to see you bring this to attention of me and others.

  10. uhm, I wish you include the commando mortars like the French LGI Mle F1(link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance-grenade_individuel_Mle_F1_(LGI_Mle_F1)). Range is not much, but it is SILENT. It kind of operates like the Nagant but in reverse. The combustion chamber is within the tail tube, and the piston seals it. The piston pushes against the launch unit, this way, it has LITTLE SIGNATURE.

    As for Gun-mortars the French used them back in mid-20th century, known as Brandt 60 mm LR Gun-mortar. It is mounted on Panhard AML. Another user of gun-mortars are the Russians like the 2B9 Vasilek and the self-propelled 2S9 NONA(its an abbreviation) which is airdroppable. Also used by the VDV.

  11. In my novel Stardust, mortars are carried by giant biomechanical four-legged mechs simply called "striders." Striders are described as being "cat-like" and "the size of a small airliner," have a ball-turret head with a laser cannon for shooting down enemy mortars, and a tail composed of electromagnetic coils used to fling shells at a machinegun-like rate.

    Unlike most artillery, striders are also formidable in a direct fire confrontation thanks to the flexability of the tail (it can even fire while bending thanks to the coils), the laser cannon, and the ability of the tail to be used as a giant whip.