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The Multiple Launch Rocket System can fire 12 rockets in 60 seconds and relocate and reload in minutes. The launcher can also fire two ATACMS (Army Tactical Missle System) missles, each able to travel over 100 km and eject over a thousand baseball-size grenades.

MLRS systems are designed to move quickly and to stay on the move. Using them as fixed installations in Bosnia is making some Artillery troops feel like 'sitting ducks.'

The Army's 1st Armored Division is taking the field in Bosnia with the division's entire artillery brigade, including two battalions of self-propelled howitzers and one company of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS). It is the first time that U.S. forces have taken this heavy artillery into an operation other than war, and the way the Army plans to use the weapons systems is raising growing concern from troops.

In Bosnia, they will be deployed as heavily-defended "firebases," rather than as mobile installations that can pack up and move before an enemy can get a fix on the weapons' locations. It is a radical change in policy for the weapons systems, one that is drawing criticism from artillery crewmen.

In a recent issue of The Army Times, Sgt. Kelvin Harris writes, "Artillery is not designed as a firebase. Our job is to shoot, move and communicate." Harris, a section chief with B Battery, 4th Battalion, 29th Field Artillery, said he was concerned that the static nature of firebases would leave the weapons crews, who engage an enemy at a distance, vulnerable to small arms and mortar fire. "If something does shoot off over there, we'll be sitting ducks, he said.

Concern over the vulnerability of the platoon-size firebases to rogue guerrillas in the surrounding hillsides is not limited to the enlisted ranks. "Yeah, I'm worried about the rogue units and snipers because I'm sitting in one place," 4/29th commander Lt. Col. Jeffery Hammond told The Army Times in December.

Hammond emphasized that the firebase concept runs counter to Army artillery doctrine developed since Vietnam, which quickly masses fire on a target, then moves before the enemy can get the unit's range and return fire. "Ten years ago," said Hammond, "if I were to tell you that I'm going to build a lodgment area and sit in this location with the platoon, you'd say I was out of my mind."

The Army has also re-written the command process for firing the weapons in an apparent effort to minimize accidents in the politically-charged Bosnia landscape. Critics call it convoluted.

"My guys out there are going to accurately report what they see," says Lt. Col. Hammond. "That picture is going to be pieced together at my level, then I'm going to make a recommendation to my brigade commander. Then he's going to assimilate all the information he can, and take it to the next level (division commander Gen. William L. Nash.) So we have a double-, almost triple-check system in place to ensure that any artillery is used [within] the rules of engagement."

Will it work? One artillery veteran EMails Berserkistan: I'm a former MLRS crewman of 6/29 FA (of 1st Armored Div). I'd like to see an unrehearsed test of how long it takes to get permission to fire from General Nash. The MLRS strategy is based on mobility, not fixed position. If they [the enemy] have any radar, they can track our rockets and artillery and fire back at our positions.

Some soldiers wonder whether artillerymen have a real role in a peacekeeping mission, traditionally an infantry function. Lt. Col. Hammond acknowledges the skepticism. "We will write the doctrine on how to provide artillery support in a stability operation's environment," he said. "We've never been in this environment before. This is tough on all of us."

Weapons Profile: U.S. Army Multiple Launch Rocket System Homepage includes video of MLRS systems in action.

United States Army "Changing to Meet the Challenges of Today, Tomorrow and the 21st Century"

Multiple Launch Rocket Systems Web site includes guidance system graphics and data for MLRSs.
Disagree? Click here!

From: R.D. Greer (

Whoa! The Army learned the "firebase" lesson in Vietnam. Where were these politicians then?

The MLRS is notably, arguably, and truly one of the most powerful weapons in the Army inventory. However, it was put on a tracked vehicle in order to capitalize on its firepower and limit its vulnerability...move...shoot...communicate...and move again. These units are sitting ducks IF anyone decides to ruin their day.

Requiring approval orders from the Division Commander hamstrings the unit commanders flexibility...and limits his capability to protect his forces and execute his assigned mission.

BUT THEN, the U.S. Army secures peace by convincing those who would make war that they will pay dearly if they initiate protecting the innocent...and killing the rest.

Sorry, soldiers make very poor peacekeepers.

From: Andy Goldman (
The quotations from the soldiers in the MLRS Bn are doctrinally and philosophically correct. However what you fail to mention is that unlike the Gulf War, we are not at war in Bosnia. It's a peacekeeping mission. The tactics used must fit the mission, or else you risk failing to accomplish the mission. After all, mission accomplishment is what the Army's about.

Second, your article suggests that the firebase concept in Vietnam was unsuccessful. My reading of military history (especially Vietnam) suggests quite the the contrary. Firebases were developed to PROTECT units which were not very mobile in jungle terrain (such as artillery units, for example) and to provide a base of operations from which other combat units (armor, cav, infantry) could re-equip and resupply. It's much better to attempt to defend yourself from an entrenched position than in the open. Where the firebase concept tended it fail is when local commanders, for whatever reason, chose not to leave the confines of their (relative) safety and go patrolling (i.e. actively attempt to find and pursue the enemy). The firebase is a technique just like any other, and consequently its effectiveness depends entirely upon the way it's employed.

Third, the rugged terrain of Bosnia -- although not as nearly constricting as Vietnam was -- still tends to limit movement to roads. Even though the MLRS is tracked, its fastest movement is still along roads. Since there are only so many roads, it would be fairly easy for a Serb or whomever to pick a few likely ambush positions. Although the MLRS has some armor, it doesn't have enough inherent protection to fight its way out of a point-blank ambush. In a non-linear battlefield, such as we encounter in guerrila wars or "peacekeeping" operations, ambushes become the common way for the enemy to inflict easy casualties on us Americans. Of course, it could be just as easy to sling a few mortar rounds at a firebase... but at least in a firebase you've built bunkers and whatnot.

From: ramjet (
Apparently no one sees it differently! What's wrong with these commanders and politicians?!!! Why are they setting up our troops for disaster?

From: Jim Palmer (
Once again we are witnessing what happens when politicians try to run military operations. Doesn't anybody remember what happened to firebases in Vietnam? How about the cooping up of armed forces in a fixed location. Does Beirut ring any bells? We've known since the end of the First World War that to be effective, military forces have to be able to manuever. Current Army doctrine emphasizes that the concept of mobility is central to everything that our forces do. Our Army is trained to move constantly and this is particularly true of the Artillery component. Granted, there isn't much likelyhood of any superior artillery force bringing in counter-battery fire on our peacekeepers, but when everyone knows where they were yesterday, are today and will be tomorrow you don't need anything more than cheap rockets or mortars to attack them.

U.S. troops should be allowed to operate in their accustomed patterns of movement. With the telecommunications technology at our disposal, our armed forces can be just as tightly controlled when on the move as when stationary. The only parties which stands to gain by our troops being urbanized are those elements within Bosnia who would like to mount random bombings or sniper attacks on NATO peacekeepers and thus put into doubt the U.S. commitments made to insure peace in that region. It's hard to plan such an attack on someone, when you don't know where they'll be tomorrow.

Worthy of mention is the Ammo Platoons of MLRS. They drive around in fantastic 8-wheel drive trucks called HEMMTs loaded with rocket pods, dropping them off at designated points for the MLRS to pick up and reload. The drivers are also fully-trained MLRS crewmen, and being assigned to Ammo gives them a kind of bitter camaraderie that makes them work all the harder. It's no joke driving around enemy country with enough explosives on your truck to blow up a city. They are the unsung heroes of MLRS.

P.S. The central fire control units are very cool, too, loaded with computers and communications equipment. They are like the AWACS of the Air Force, directing the MLRS units.

For more Bosnia news, check the information resources at Berserkistan World Links
To learn more about Bosnia, explore Berserkistan's Bosnia Background Briefing