Phil Carter and Donald Sensing talk about the evolving roles of airpower and conventional artillery. There is talk about re-merging the Army and Air Force, or at least having airplanes and UAVs do much of the work of conventional artillery. Sensing correctly notes that, while it sounds good in theory, there are some practical problems, most notably the fact that artillery can generally put rounds on target much more quickly.

I spent my four years on active duty in the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), a system with which Donald is also familiar. MLRS, especially the current generation, overcomes most of the limitations of cannon artillery because of the massive firepower and long range. The major disadvantages–unless things have improved radically in the last decade–are slow reload time, constant mechanical breakdown because of oversensitivity (and which almost always required General Support maintenance attention), and a pretty high logistical demand.

But artillery is part of a system, along with fighter jets, close air support, UAVs, and helicopters. I can’t see eliminating any of those assets. There’s an old saying that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I’ve got a really good drill that doubles as a screwdriver; but there are all sorts of times when it’s more efficient to just use a regular manual one. It often simply makes no sense to use a million dollar missile when a thousand dollar shell will do the trick. And faster.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Pauly says:

    I agree. Sometimes you just need to lob a few Volkswagens at someone, and sometimes that target is 3 countries or an ocean away. The one thing about airpower, however, is that it’s much less vulnerable these days as we can generally gain air superiority immediately. With all the counter-measures and smart ordinance, surface-to-air has become less of a threat too. Artillery, on the other hand, is vulnerable to strikes from the air and ground, and other artillery.

    But, like you said, it all depends on what you need and when. Keep it all!