CANNON, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries.
– Ambrose Bierce
Given that it's my chosen profession, it struck me as odd that I've not done a write-up on artillery before. I mean, it's literally my job. I'm a POC chief in the North Carolina Army National Guard, and I have been for the last decade. It's sort of my thing.
However, that oversight on my part is made slightly more forgivable on the grounds that artillery is possibly the single most underutilized aspect of warfare on just about ever SWRP site I've been on. Everyone likes fleets and armies and lightsaber duels, but in the grand scheme of things, it's all just window dressing.
Infantry might win a firefight. Armor and CAS might win a battle. Artillery, though, artillery will win the war.
There are some of you who think you know a little about tactics and strategy who are undoubtedly thinking that my views on the matter are outdated. After all, this isn't the age of Napoleonic tactics, where mass formations engage each other at point blank range while cannon (the plural of cannon is cannon, btw, get it right) rain down death and destruction from a distance. What possible relevance could artillery have in the SW universe, outside of a token remembrance to the days of old?
This is an age of maneuver warfare, after all, where ships and vehicles bring troops in from orbit and deploy them rapidly all across the battlefield. Clearly drawn battle lines are a vestigial trait in the modern world. Shouldn't massed artillery fire be as well?
And to that, I posit this question: what exactly do you plan to do with those troops once you get them in place?
A squad of troopers is, at best, capable of controlling maybe a 500 meter radius around them, assuming they're all elite badasses. In reality, their zone of control is likely to be a tenth of that, and in urban or cluttered terrain, even less.
As the saying goes, an ounce of sniper is worth a pound of suppressing fire. A single kid with a good eye and a somewhat functional rifle can pin down an entire company's worth of troops. And if he can catch them out in the open, he can do it with near impunity. Sure, they might be able to mount some sort of response, but their day is effectively ruined.
A troop of tanks might be able to own a couple of square kilometers of open territory. There's not much that they can't stand up to in a straight up fight. Bullets bounce off tanks like water off a duck. Advanced sensors make it difficult for troops to approach close enough for shoulder fired rockets and recoilless rifles to take them out. They're far from invulnerable, however. Aircraft, and of course, artillery pose a serious threat, as does the terrain. A tank that throws a track is little more than a really tough to crack target, and even the best of crews are vulnerable trying to get it fixed. Repulsors are arguably even more delicate, and a good directional mine can ground a hovertank as sure as the sun is hot.
Aircraft can potentially own an entire battlefield. Flying high enough and with the right sensors, an aircraft can see and hear everything that goes on around it, sometimes even over the horizon. They can respond to numerous threats with a wide variety of defensive and offensive capabilities. However, aircraft are fragile. Even a modern snubfighter can be brought down by a single, well placed round, and while shielding increases survivability, they cannot indefinitely prolong it. Furthermore, fuel costs are prohibitively high. Aircraft may linger for a time and wreak incredible havoc on the enemy, but they have to return to base for a refuel before too long. On top of that, unless you've complete, uncontested control of the skies, the enemy most likely has their own aircraft to counter with. And even if they don't, even the most sophisticated bird can be taken down by a kid with about 500 credits worth of shoulder fired AA missile.
But what about ships, the armored behemoths who linger in low orbit, ready to rain down death and destruction on all who oppose them? Well, unless you've completely crushed the enemy, they've got ships of their own, and that limits the available gunnery resources that can be dedicated to ground fire. Even if you own the orbitals, you're sort of conspicuous. Any insurgency worth the name will time attacks for periods when the ships in orbit can't easily react to threats, and will be gone by the time the QRF can get into place.
Artillery, on the other hand, doesn't have those constraints. A battery of guns can remain in place as long as you have enough food and water to keep the troops fed. If they're not firing continuously, they can stretch their ammo out for weeks or even months, firing only when needed. With little more than hand drawn maps and a vague idea of where they enemy is, they can effectively engage anything from a single squad to an armored column, and they can shoot and scoot to avoid reprisals.
Depending on the nature of the weapons systems, an artillery battery can own anywhere from thirty to three hundred klicks of battlefield. They can fire as few as one shell or as many as they need, and can easily adjust to the nature of the target. They can even engage aircraft if needed, or troops at point blank range, taking advantage of flak or flechette rounds. They're as vulnerable as any unit if overrun, but if it comes to that, the battle is basically lost. Arty units will almost always have a few infantry transplants in case things go sideways and the cannon cockers are deceptively strong from slinging shells day in and day out, but they're by and large not close in fighters.
Artillery will typically come in three flavors: mortar, howitzer, and rocket. Star Wars adds a fourth flavor: orbital bombardment.
Mortars are something of a bastard in the indirect fire world. Typically used by infantrymen, they have a relatively short range, and while they make up for that with stronger than normal charges, they're not really considered artillery by most. However, a good mortal platoon is a must have for any infantry company. They are, however, highly motivated to win the fight. If the main force is overrrun, they'll be among the first to die. Mortar crewman are right bastards about doing whatever it takes to win, and if you call for fire, you best believe they'll be on the job.
Mortars are more responsive than howitzer or rocket fire, owing largely to their proximity to the battlefield and their status as infantry. Since they'll typically be attached to a company, they've already got comms established, and they don't really have to worry about things like communicating with outside units. Their fires nets will be readily available, and they're cocky bastards. If you want a mortal shell put through the roof of a building, they'll do it, especially if you imply that it can't be done. The difficult they'll do immediately. The impossible usually takes a Time on Target.
Howitzers are the workhorse of any artillery corps. The cannon are capable of engaging targets at a wide variety of ranges, and they can provide sustained fire for as long as the ammo holds out. Colloquially known as cannon cockers or gun bunnies, howitzer crews are among the most well trained and professional units in any military, and they know it. They're also notorious for being idiosyncratic as hell. As Napoleon once said, "Leave the artillery alone, they are an obstinate lot." I've known hardcore infantrymen watch with something between awe and horror the sort of shenanigans that gun crews pull on each other. Until you've watched your crew chief walk into the TOC butt naked, save for his boots, LBE, and a thin coat of woad, you ain't seen crap.
If you want to make the enemy really, really regret the crap that they're trying to pull, call in a TOT and watch the howitzers light them up like roman candles.
Rocket artillery has existed in one form or another for decades, but it wasn't until the advent of the MLRS/HIMARS platform that we really figured it out. That's my baby, by the by. I'm an FDC chief for a HIMARS battery. We can reach out and touch anything within 300 klicks, and we do it with style. We have munitions that can destroy a single building or bunker with meter precision, or we can take out entire armored columns. The Iraqi army in the original Gulf War named us Steel Rain, a moniker we've proudly kept. American units have taken to calling us the Grid Square Removal System. If there's a particular square kilometer or ten you want scrubbed of human life, we've got you covered.
Our vehicles are more mobile than either howitzers or mortars. They can move from hide to fire points quickly, and then get the hell out of the way before counterbattery becomes an issue. The giant ass smoke trails are a pretty effective tracking aid, but our vehicles are capable of coping with all but the gnarliest of terrain. I've seen HIMARS launchers make jumps that would give pause to the Dukes of Hazzard.
Star Wars adds in the wrinkle of orbital bombardment. In other words, ships in orbit are capable of directly engaging targets on the ground via high powered turbolasers. However, unless they have complete control of the skies or overwhelming force, they're not going to be able to indefinitely provide fire support, and they're easy enough to plan around. There's a reason the Rebellion wasn't wiped out in a day.
That said, orbital bombardment is a powerful, effective tool for the commander with the smarts to make the most effective use of it. Surgical turbolaser strikes can take down even the toughest of targets, and a good gunner can engage vehicles on the move. When used wisely, a good orbital strike can change the course of a war.
So there's your artillery in a nutshell. As always, the comments and my inbox are open if you have questions and concerns. I'll probably go more in depth on a later date, but I'm really quite drunk at the moment, so typing is a pain.