Research into a game can lead you down many a path you never planned to study at the time nor had any real interest in. Artillery of World War III was one such subject for me. Being a military historian artillery naturally interested me, but the complex problems of modern artillery use was fascinating.
As both NATO and Warsaw Pact looked at the modern battlefield they saw a world which precluded the use of tubes lined up hub to hub. This was much harder on the Soviets than the West as the annihilating power of massed artillery had been a cornerstone of their success against the Wehrmacht. The question was how to put enough HE on target and at the same time not loose your artillery to counter battery, air power, and nukes? The obvious answer was self propelled artillery pieces, an expensive solution, and one fraught with pit falls. SP units are expensive to use: larger crew per gun, fuel, more spare parts, and tracked support units; unless your willing to risk driving your SP’s on open roadways. The advantages were limited mostly to the fact the gun could ‘Shoot and Scoot’ that is fire a mission then immediately move.
The British may have been the first to see the issue and take steps, but it was a long gestation for them as one insufficient SP after another was rejected. The need was there the money and the technology was not. France saw the issue only in terms of the two or possibly three corps they had earmarked for operations with NATO in Germany. Thus France used a combination of US M155 and the AMX Mk F3 155. The Germans decided to use US mobile artillery and support this with the Luftwaffe flying Alpha Jets and Tornadoes in close support roles. Belgium felt the problem outside their scope as the country was so small that towed artillery could quickly move around and anyway there weren’t that many places to go. The real leader was the US who not only began to test fast mobile artillery along with missiles and rocket batteries, but also started looking at aerosol propellants which would allow SP weapon platforms that would allow for longer field operations and less ‘tail’ i.e. support units. The US also produced the Fairchild A-10, the Bell Super Cobra, and Boeing AH-64 Apache.
That left the Soviets. What would the USSR do with all those towed heavy artillery pieces they had built and stored at considerable cost? Their answer was indicative of the Red Army conservatism. Approaching the problem in two ways: first the Soviet towed artillery would be increased in the hope to offset loses with numbers, and two, build a large SP force which would be used at the Schwerpunkt of every attack. Units such as the 2S1 Gvozdika were indicative of the SP design philosophy of the Soviet Army.
One can’t help wondering if the artillery issue was not more a sales opportunity and less a real issue. Certainly towed artillery batteries made a nice juicy target for tactical nuclear strikes, but then again, so did everything else. Counter battery fire had been a fact of life for artillery for three hundred years and defenses had been developed. Air strikes had not been all that effective against artillery during WWI and WWII due to strong Anti-Air defenses and by the 1980-1990’s air defense weapons had only gotten stronger. What would have happened then? NO definitive answer can be given except maybe: Luckily it never happened.