Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Singapore Artillery's Pegasus 155mm guns should wing their way to the museum
With weapons that allow Singapore Artillery gunners to hammer their targets with a bigger bang, more often and with lethal precision, it may be time for the artillery to review its stable of guns.
If one had a free hand to shake up its gun inventory, the 155mm Pegasus Singapore Light Weight Howitzer (SLWH) should be a candidate consigned to the Singapore Army Museum.
This suggestion stems from a review of defence manpower available to Headquarters Singapore Artillery (HQ SA) as well as a review by this blog on how the Singapore-made Pegasus could be used in various simulated operational scenarios.
Make no mistake: Pegasus is a technological marvel.
It is the world's first heli-portable 155mm artillery piece that can emplace and move on its own. Its development cycle was slightly ahead of the M777 155mm artillery gun used by American gunners and has the added advantage of being more mobile that the M777.
Made by Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK), the guns were first fielded by the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery (23 SA), back in 2005.
Pegasus is the second heli-portable gun used by Singapore Army artillery batteries. Development of the gun follows experience HQ SA gained from using French-made Giat Industries 105mm LG1 light guns back in the 1990s.
The Singapore Artillery is now served by gun batteries that have standardised their tubes to 155mm calibre weapons. This makes resupply during fire missions more streamlined as ammo stocks comprising projectiles, charges and fuzes are interchangeable between HQ SA's towed pieces like the FH-2000 heavy artillery guns and Primus self-propelled guns.
Tubes fielded by HQ SA's 10,000+ full-time National Service (NSF) and Operationally-Ready National Serviceman (i.e. reservist) gunners make the Singapore Army's artillery force one to be reckoned with. This is further suggested by a count of NSF and reserve 200-series SA battalions known to be active.
Looking at the density of SAF tube artillery pieces, one could estimate the maximum achievable weight of fire from gunfire alone, assuming a rate of fire of six rounds per minute per gun for all emplaced tube 155mm heavy artillery pieces spread over the xx-plus SA battalions. In any language, this is a massive volume of heavy artillery fire during the opening minutes of a military operation. And one is not even counting the ability of HIMARS rocket artillery to reach out and touch targets further back from the FEBA.
SAF artillery battalions could lay down a devastating volume of artillery fire on targets, up to 40km away, that were charted during a Period of Tension. These fire missions could augment the attention that Singapore air force warplanes and attack helicopters can give to the list of battlefield and strategic targets.
There was one underlying assumption that the study was uneasy about: That the SAF's full force potential will be allowed to mobilise unmolested, without enemy interference.
Though an award-winning tech wonder, shortcomings of the Pegasus became apparent during the scenario generation exercise.
Pegasus in battle
Airmobility was identified as a constraint to mission planning. This stems not from the weapon's deadweight but from the limited number of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinook heavy-lift choppers that HQ SA could call upon to move its guns.
The first 24-hour push by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) into its projected area of operations is likely to result in mission demands that are longer than what the RSAF's Chinook squadron can handle.
When likely demand by SAF heliborne Guards units and Commandos during the first 24-hour surge was factored in, it soon became evident we lack the muscle to do everything at the same time. We simply have too few Chinooks and insufficient aircrews to serve the laundry list of operational taskings.
The assessment also factored in projected loss rates as some landing areas in the AO could be predicted beforehand by a smart opponent and defended by MANPADS or light AAA.
Assuming Pegasus is successfully inserted, what next?
The 155mm guns can move on their own, powered by a 28 hp Lombardini engine designed for use by farm tractors. Anyone who has seen a Pegasus puttering about would realise the engine is a howler. In an operational setting, the noise from this engine will attract fast-moving opposing forces whose sole mission is to intercept and destroy airmobile units inserted into their AO.
The inability of a Pegasus battery to move ammunition along with the guns was also a handicap that became obvious.
This means that once a Pegasus is set up and ready to fire, the artillery piece is largely immobile.
There is also a question mark over the RSAF's ability to withdraw the guns after the fire mission. For maximum effect and surprise, the 155mm guns are likely to be inserted in places where their 30km range ring can inflict the most damage. Being airmobile, the SAF is likely to deploy Pegasus batteries in places where the opponent least expects a 155mm artillery gun - this puts them beyond help of friendly units.
So Pegasus gunners once inserted are largely on their own.
The gun's widely advertised air and ground mobility is therefore suspect as the gun's limited ability to crawl about on its own powered by a loud, puttering engine must be tempered with the reality that the ammo pallets are not as mobile.
If Pegasus guns cannot be moved about at will, due more to lack of Chinooks than enemy interference, you may as well write-off guns that are in battery because it is only a matter of time before someone finds and finishes off this isolated force.
Impact of dwindling defence manpower
From a defence manpower standpoint, incoming batches of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) will be smaller in the decade to come.
This indicates that HQ SA should deploy NSFs to crew-served weapons that the SAF can better support during operations.
Weapon platforms like Pegasus should therefore be last on the list of staffing priorities in view of the anticipated crunch in defence manpower.
With no gunners available to man all guns, HQ SA needs to prioritise and allocate manpower prudently.
This could entail ceasing the training of NSF gunners on the Pegasus as tube and rocket artillery weapons in HQ SA's order of battle will allow gunners to do the job more effectively.
Posted by David Boey at 8:26 PM