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Find to Strike – preserving freedom of action by winning the Counterfires Battle

4 min read + Video

Joint, Combined or even Integrated operations, at any scale which involve kinetic activity, are likely to attract the attention of an adversary’s artillery.  The UK’s Journal of the Royal Artillery carried a prescient article in 2019 entitled “The first duty of any Gunner is Counter-Battery Fire!”, and with the ever-extending ranges and complexity of artillery systems around the world, the problem becomes how to find that high-value, high-payoff target, in order to fulfil that “first duty”.


The pinnacle of my 20-year career in the British Army was to command its specialist Artillery Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) regiment, with a suite of capabilities to find adversary threats and to fuse the information for subsequent exploitation, either by Joint Fires or manoeuvre arms.  Prior to that my career had included Joint Fires roles in airborne and armoured artillery in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, as a Divisional Operations Officer, and as a Capability Development officer at Army HQ and MoD levels.

What this experience taught me is that there’s no “silver bullet”; no “one size fits all”.  The targets (mortars, guns or launchers) are difficult to find and don’t want to be found; the only time you can guarantee to discern intent is after the first rounds are fired, leaving little time to react.  Passive sensors are inherently covert but suffer from latency issues and range limitations, particularly when modern tubed artillery and rockets can reach beyond 90km.  Active sensors carry a risk of compromise through their potential detectability by the adversary, and this drives a need for rapid into- and (more importantly) out-of-action times, mobility, and platform protection.  All these sensors should be optimised for the task in hand, and must be networked with each other and with the relevant effectors with high assurance and low latency.

Saab’s ARTHUR (ARTillery HUnting Radar) has been at the heart of artillery hunting since the mid 1990s, with over 80 systems sold across eight NATO nations, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.  In the UK ARTHUR was named MAMBA and, as with many of Saab’s systems internationally, has been continuously modified and developed to ensure its evolution in line with emerging threats.  The British Army will soon be receiving the first of a new generation of Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars using Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology to deliver software-definable sensors with enhanced range, coverage and accuracy through a technology insertion to their existing, battle-proven MAMBA fleet – this represents the cutting edge of artillery hunting and the fourth major evolutionary step of the ARTHUR system.  Integrated onto a vehicle of the Customer’s choice, with Saab C2 or digitally integrated into any fire control system or wider ISTAR architectures, ARTHUR Mod D will be the state of the art when looking for ballistic projectiles at range.

To add mass to the force, with ease of integration and a low burden for crew numbers, training and cost of ownership, the Saab Giraffe 1X multi-domain radar contributes to the counterfires battle at shorter ranges, whilst simultaneously bringing a local air picture and Counter-UAS detection into the field artillery.

And with world-leading integration capabilities (we do, after all, make the Global Eye Airborne Early Warning system and the Gripen 4th-generation fighter) Saab can deliver a persistent weapon locating system, built from a suite of complementary sensors and linking directly to additional ISTAR and effectors, organic to Land forces and survivable on the modern battlefield.

Done well, artillery-hunting can enable you to win the battle.  Left undone, allowing the adversary’s artillery a free reign will almost certainly cost you the war.  To discuss any of the points in this article please contact me at the address below.


Andy Thomson
Director, Marketing and Sales (Surveillance)
Saab UK