Making Things Go Boom: Indirect Firing Systems and Those Who Use Them

Here’s the situation: The commander of a small recon unit sees an enemy tank advancing on his unit’s position. He must determine the best way to engage the tank. U.S. Soldiers are tough, but conventional small arms are no match for the firepower of a tank.

Retreat, clearly, is never an option.

A National Guard Indirect Fire Team Discharges a HowitzerHow about picking up the radio and calling in the tank’s GPS coordinates to the howitzer crew 10 miles away on the other side of the mountain? Within about a minute, with the dramatic sound of an incoming projectile, the enemy tank – rather abruptly – goes boom.

There you have it – threat neutralized and the unit can go on about its business. That’s the power of the indirect firing system.

Indirect firing systems are weapons like mortars, howitzers, and rocket launchers. These systems have two primary features that make them an asset in the field. One is that they can hit targets from far, far away. As in miles. And two, as the term “indirect” implies, line-of-sight is not needed to hit the target. Hence, the fire is indirect (unlike the direct fire required for a firearm).

The concept, of course, is basic. Like catapults hurled stones in the Middle Ages, today’s indirect fire systems fire the projectile in a high-angle trajectory to a predetermined coordinate. They have somewhat more oomph than the catapults of yesteryear, though.

Indirect fire weapons come in all shapes and sizes, and maneuverability, range, and destructive force vary. Some are carried by a team of Soldiers, some are towed with a vehicle to a strategic fire zone, while others are mounted to a vehicle.

The more prominent indirect fire equipment deployed by the National Guard includes:

  • The Mortar: Essentially a hollow tube into which a bomb-like round is dropped (muzzle-loaded), mortars are conceptually simple weapons that have been in use since as early as the 1450s. Depending on the caliber of the weapon, projectiles from a mortar have a maximum reach of 2.1 miles away (M224) to 4.5 miles (vehicle mounted M120/M121 Mortar), and require a team of three to five Soldiers to operate. Common forms of ammunition include high explosive, white phospherous, red phosphorous, and illumination.
  • The Howitzer: Howitzers are the breech-loaded (rear-loaded) brethren of the mortar and operate in much the same way as a hunting rifle. A really, really big hunting rifle. In the Army National Guard, they come in two varieties: 105mm and 155mm, which refers to the size of the round. Rounds are either conventionally powered (again, like a giant bullet), or rocket propelled to increase their already considerable range. With a rocket-propelled round, some National Guard howitzers can hit targets more than 18 miles away. Most howitzer styles are towed by another vehicle to their staging area and require seven to ten Soldiers for standard operation. However, there is one style – the Paladin – that is mounted on a tank-like chassis that requires only four crew members and can be used in what are called ”shoot and scoot” tactics. That’s where they drive up, stop, establish coordinates, fire the weapon, and leave … all in about 45 seconds.
  • The MLRS Rocket Launcher: If you found the range of the mortar and howitzer impressive, then prepare to be stunned. With the National Guard’s Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), Soldiers can hit targets from nearly 28 miles away. Better yet, it’s a self-contained vehicle that can move from one firing position to another to provide counter fire and suppression of enemy combatants. Built like a tank, it can carry a variety of short- and long-range ordnance and requires only three Soldiers to operate the highly automated self-loading and self-aiming system. The MLRS can fire up to 12 rockets in less than 60 seconds.

It goes without saying that these weapons carry significant destructive force and require a lot of knowledge, control, and responsibility to operate. National Guard indirect firing system specialists provide the knowledge and abilities necessary to bring these destructive forces under control. Be part of this team. Check out the Guard’s career options in Armor and Field Artillery.

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Twice as Tough

Jenny Shin, who has helped track down criminals working for the Oregon police and scored high marks as a turret gunner in Iraq, brings uncommon grit and a touch of grace to everything she does.

Jenny Shin, Eugene Police DepartmentBefore the sirens arrive and after they’re gone, Jenny Shin is on the job as a records specialist for the Eugene, OR, police department. And though that job involves some long hours, she still finds time to serve as a specialist with the Army National Guard’s B Company, 41st Special Troops Battalion, Military Intelligence, based in Portland, OR.

“Things come up—emergencies, something happened in the field, or the call load gets too heavy—so you end up staying,” Shin says of her civilian work. “A lot of times, I end up pulling a 16-hour shift. I’m on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

In her behind-the-scenes role, her responsibilities include researching criminal activity, working with sworn personnel to process crime-based intelligence, collaborating with detectives on active investigations, processing sex-offender registrations, working with warrants and extraditions, and coordinating with other law enforcement agencies. Coincidentally, her MOS as a human intelligence collector (HUMINT), which requires that she have a Department of Defense top secret security clearance, calls upon many of the same abilities. “It’s a lot of people skills,” she says. “It’s about knowing … what’s going on in my surroundings and trying to find out what is going on if I don’t know.

Both jobs also require flexibility. When she deployed to Iraq in 2009, her company was attached to an artillery unit with the mission of convoy security. She was assigned as a turret gunner—one of the only women to perform this job in her unit—and scored among the top three in the battery for marksmanship. No longer behind the scenes, she completed over 40 combat missions. Although that was outside her intelligence expertise, she says it was “one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life.”

To Shin, self-awareness and the awareness of the humanity around you are keys to success. “You need to know yourself before you are able to help others and lead them in the right direction,” she says. “You need to be able to know that this is another human being.” One time, she recalls, a man came into the police building exhibiting abnormal behavior. He said he didn’t want to live and that he had a gun. Shin took him outside, talked to him, and de-escalated the situation before the man was taken into custody.

“I accept the responsibility to take on those challenges … I feel like it allows me to grow, but it also allows me to really see that I can make a difference and that I have a purpose,” Shin says. “I try to do everything to the best of my ability, but beyond that, I try to do things greater than the last time.

“That’s the only way,” she adds, “that I can convey the respect and the loyalty that I have for my Soldiers, for my community, and for the people of this country.”

Story and photo courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.

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Gear Spotlight: The Real HUM Dinger

Humvee splashing through waterIf there is one piece of equipment in the Army National Guard that everyone knows about, it is the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), or as it’s more commonly known, the Humvee. It’s on every base, on every deployment, and everywhere in between.

But not all Humvees look or act the same way.

Originally designed as one and a quarter tons of ultimate utility, the base model is an unarmored military transport intended for use behind the front lines. It’s ideal for transporting personnel or small loads around base or from base to base.

But it didn’t take long to realize that the base-line model could support modifications that turn it from ultimate utility into a go-anywhere, do-anything, four-wheel-drive, turbo-charged hunk of thundering fury.

The engine is so powerful, and the chassis so versatile that it can be used both domestically and in combat operations to carry a plethora of mission-specific tools ranging from a communications dish to an up-armored combat ready missile launcher.

For example, say a river floods and a family is stranded on the flood plain, or a combat crew needs to get to the other side of a creek or shallow river. Clearly in rescue operations or in combat, time is of the essence and there isn’t always time to wait for military engineers to construct a temporary bridge. In many cases, the Humvee can power right through. An unmodified Humvee is capable of traversing through 2 ½ feet of water … but a specially outfitted Humvee can traverse through 5 feet of water.

Also, for domestic or combat oriented usage, another Humvee variant is the field ambulance. In 2-litter or 4-litter variations, this modification allows medic crews to provide on-the-spot treatment to injured civilians or Soldiers, and transport to established medical facilities.

The Humvee has also proven its mettle in combat operations in an age of asymmetric threats. Up-armored versions carry all manner of equipment, personnel, weaponry, and ordnance in theater. This is because the Humvee provides a quick strike capability in all terrains with a reasonable amount of armored protection. Top-mounted turrets may feature machine guns, grenade launchers, or missile launchers for direct combat operations. These turrets are often enclosed in armor plating or Kevlar to provide additional protection from enemy fire.

Indirect combat-related variations also abound. The ZEUS-HLONS model features a Laser Ordnance Neutralization System that uses a laser beam to negate unexploded landmines, ordnance, and IEDs along transportation routes. The Humvee can also be used as a mount for communications equipment and meteorological equipment.

So, pretty much anything that a Soldier might need on base or in the field responding to combat operations or civilian needs can be mounted on the strong back of a Humvee.

But the question remains, the Humvee is clearly a fantastic vehicle, but what does that have to do with jobs in the National Guard. Well, there are the obvious ones like the Infantry Soldier who rides in the vehicle, the driver who controls it, and the mechanic who provides necessary repair and maintenance.

Where the diversity of opportunity comes into play is in the modifications because of the vast difference of systems that the Humvee is able to carry. For example, communications systems are significantly different from the AVENGERS missile system. These require precision-trained Soldiers to both operate and maintain the systems, as does the Humvee itself.

So whatever your interest, be it mechanical, electrical, or operational, the Humvee is the one thing every Guard Soldier has in common. So learn more about the opportunities to kick your career into gear with the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.

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