Counter-battery fire
Counter-battery fire is a type of mission assigned to military artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 forces, which are given the task of locating and firing upon enemy artillery.


Indirect fire
Indirect fire
Indirect fire means aiming and firing a projectile in a high trajectory without relying on a direct line of sight between the gun and its target, as in the case of direct fire...

 was introduced so that artillery could fire from behind cover
Cover (military)
In military combat, the concept of cover refers to anything which is capable of physically protecting an individual from enemy fire. This differentiates it from the similar concept of concealment, in that an object or area of concealment only affords the benefit of stealth, not actual protection...

 to reduce its exposure to enemy artillery by making itself more difficult to find. Interestingly, while armies were doing this, little thought was given to the need for counter-counter measures. Perhaps the only means of finding concealed guns was observation from kite
A kite is a tethered aircraft. The necessary lift that makes the kite wing fly is generated when air flows over and under the kite's wing, producing low pressure above the wing and high pressure below it. This deflection also generates horizontal drag along the direction of the wind...

s or balloons
Balloon (aircraft)
A balloon is a type of aircraft that remains aloft due to its buoyancy. A balloon travels by moving with the wind. It is distinct from an airship, which is a buoyant aircraft that can be propelled through the air in a controlled manner....

. However, effective counterbattery fire needs far more than a single method of observation. Counterbattery (CB) fire emerged and developed extremely quickly during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Since that war, CB has continued to evolve, mainly due to improvements in technology.

The targets of CB fire are usually the enemy's guns, launchers and mortars
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

, both the materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

 and the men serving them. The formal NATO definition of the term counterbattery is "fire delivered for the purpose of destroying or neutralising the enemy's fire support system", with the note that it may be proactive or reactive. This may be achieved by attacks on any part of the field artillery system. In some armies at some periods CB has been called 'counter-bombardment' and occasionally 'counter-mortar' has been handled somewhat separately.


There are four functions in the system for CB fire:
  • Target acquisition.
  • CB Intelligence.
  • CB fire control.
  • CB fire units.

Target acquisition

Target acquisition is the source of information for CB intelligence
Intelligence (information gathering)
Intelligence assessment is the development of forecasts of behaviour or recommended courses of action to the leadership of an organization, based on a wide range of available information sources both overt and covert. Assessments are developed in response to requirements declared by the leadership...

. It may produce accurate locations for enemy fire units or merely inputs to a more complex process for locating and assessing hostile artillery. At the end of World War I, the following were recognised as the principal sources of artillery intelligence, this seems to be in descending order of usefulness:
  • Aeroplanes (i.e. visual observation)
  • Aeroplane photography
  • Survey sections (i.e. flash spotting)
  • Sound ranging
    Sound ranging
    In land warfare, sound ranging is a method of determining the coordinates of a hostile artillery battery using data derived from the sound of its guns firing...

  • Balloon observation
  • Ground observers (artillery and 'intelligence posts of other arms')
  • Liaison officers (artillery at infantry brigade HQs, these obtained reports of enemy artillery activity)
  • Officers' patrols
  • Secret agents and epatries
  • Captured documents and prisoner's statements
  • Listening sets (i.e. monitoring enemy communications)
  • Intercepted wireless (by 'wireless compass stations')

Apart from balloons and officers' patrols, these sources continued to play their part in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and their technology improved, although flash spotting became less useful as ranges increased and flashless (or low flash) propellant
A propellant is a material that produces pressurized gas that:* can be directed through a nozzle, thereby producing thrust ;...

s became widespread. A successor to officers' patrols had an isolated emergence in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 when Canadian artillery observers were put ashore behind German lines and established themselves to observe gun positions.

Sound ranging and flash spotting both required enemy guns to fire. Furthermore others, such as radio direction finding
Direction finding
Direction finding refers to the establishment of the direction from which a received signal was transmitted. This can refer to radio or other forms of wireless communication...

 and information from prisoners, are insufficiently precise to 'fix' a target for artillery attack. Information from others may not be received quickly and hence be out of date, the hostile battery having moved.

These methods were joined by radar
Counter-battery radar
A counter-battery radar detects artillery projectiles fired by one or more guns, howitzers, mortars and rocket launchers and from their trajectories locates the position on the ground of the gun, etc., that fired it. Alternatively, or in addition, it may determine where the projectile will land...

 in World War II; while this could detect a shell in flight the gun that fired it could not usually be seen and the shell's elliptical trajectory
A trajectory is the path that a moving object follows through space as a function of time. The object might be a projectile or a satellite, for example. It thus includes the meaning of orbit—the path of a planet, an asteroid or a comet as it travels around a central mass...

 made it impossible to extrapolate backwards with the technology of that time. However, mortar bombs have a parabolic trajectory
Parabolic trajectory
In astrodynamics or celestial mechanics a parabolic trajectory is a Kepler orbit with the eccentricity equal to 1. When moving away from the source it is called an escape orbit, otherwise a capture orbit...

 (as do guns firing in 'high angle') defined by a simple mathematical equation with two points on the parabolic curve
In mathematics, the parabola is a conic section, the intersection of a right circular conical surface and a plane parallel to a generating straight line of that surface...

. It was therefore possible to deduce a mortar's position by tracking its bomb and recording two points on its trajectory. Another method that emerged was crater examination, this could reveal the azimuth back to the hostile gun or mortar and study of fragments could reveal its type. However, while it was a useful source of information it was not sufficiently accurate to give a location for the firer.

Most armies abandoned flash spotting in the 1950s. However, several new target acquisition technologies emerged. These included:
  • UAVs
    Unmanned aerial vehicle
    An unmanned aerial vehicle , also known as a unmanned aircraft system , remotely piloted aircraft or unmanned aircraft, is a machine which functions either by the remote control of a navigator or pilot or autonomously, that is, as a self-directing entity...

    , about 1960 an Unmanned Air Vehicle, the SD-1, entered artillery service. This early UAV used wet film photography by day or night, had short range and short endurance. However, being under artillery control they were responsive to CB needs, which was just as well because other forms of air reconnaissance were becoming less available and were not notably timely. Other UAVs, including drones (flying a programmed course) duly emerged, including the ability to transmit imagery in real-time.
  • Next, in the 1970s Hughes Aircraft
    Hughes Aircraft
    Hughes Aircraft Company was a major American aerospace and defense contractor founded in 1932 by Howard Hughes in Culver City, California as a division of Hughes Tool Company...

     developed the US Firefinder
    AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder radar
    AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder is a mobile radar system manufactured by Northrop Grumman and ThalesRaytheonSystems . The system is a "weapon-locating radar", designed to detect and track incoming artillery and rocket fire to determine the point of origin for counterbattery fire...

     RADAR system and created the algorithms that could extrapolate a gun's position from a segment of an elliptic
    In geometry, an ellipse is a plane curve that results from the intersection of a cone by a plane in a way that produces a closed curve. Circles are special cases of ellipses, obtained when the cutting plane is orthogonal to the cone's axis...

    A trajectory is the path that a moving object follows through space as a function of time. The object might be a projectile or a satellite, for example. It thus includes the meaning of orbit—the path of a planet, an asteroid or a comet as it travels around a central mass...

    . It's likely the Soviet Union created similar algorithms.
  • Non-communications ELINT, which can detect and locate radars, including those used by artillery is an often forgotten source.
  • A few armies established artillery observation patrol units to operate in likely artillery deployment areas behind the enemy's forward units.

CB Intelligence

CB Intelligence applies the intelligence cycle
Intelligence cycle
The traditional Intelligence cycle is a concept that describes the fundamental cycle of intelligence processing in a civilian or military intelligence agency or in law enforcement as a closed path consisting of repeating nodes. The stages of the intelligence cycle include the issuance of...

 and principles to CB. It uses information about hostile artillery from all sources to maintain detailed records and apply specialist techniques that exploit the nature of artillery fire to produce:
  • Intelligence about hostile artillery positions.
  • The enemy artillery order of battle.
  • Intelligence about hostile artillery activity and deployment and assessments of its wider implications.

CB Intelligence is usually combined with CB fire control (see below), although intelligence purists recognise this is not good practice and the two were separate in the British forces in France in World War 1. In both World Wars CB intelligence and CB control were found to be most effective when they were at corps level. However, the final year of World War 2 showed that the counter mortar battle was really one for brigade level. Since that war CB has tended to move to lower levels and in some armies has grown into a wider deep supporting fire organisation.

CB fire control

The CB fire control problem is that it does not always make tactical sense to attack hostile batteries the moment they are located. This is magnified by the challenges of targeting hostile batteries. There are many factors, and their significance depends on the circumstances. The first issue, for targeting, is that historically it's difficult to 'knock-out' a battery, although smart munitions against SP guns may change this. That highlights the point that it is important to be clear what result is wanted from CB fire. As the quoted definition states 'Destroy' is one possibility, another is Neutralization to render the battery temporarily ineffective or unusable, including by suppressing it or forcing it to move. However, suppression only lasts while CB fire is falling and if a hostile battery moves then it has to be found again. It's important to get the result that best fits the tactical situation, and sometimes it is best just to record the location of the hostile battery and leave it for later. Good CB officers are cunning and wily tacticians.

CB fire units

The final aspect of the CB equation is having available CB fire units and appropriate munitions. Typically these are general supporting fire units, but direct supporting fire units are also used if they are available and not fully occupied by their primary role. With conventional HE shells it may require the concentrated fire of 5–10 batteries to deal effectively with one hostile battery. Hence the attraction multi-rocket launchers such as MLRS able to deliver a heavy and concentrated attack from relatively few launchers.


Needless to say CB counter-measures have emerged, some old, some new, they include:
  • Digging in. In World War I
    World War I
    World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

    , even heavy artillery was dug-in with several feet of overhead protection. Even today North Korea
    North Korea
    The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

    n artillery is widely thought to be somewhat resistant to CB fire because of its deeply entrenched positions. More generally precision munitions
    Precision-guided munition
    A precision-guided munition is a guided munition intended to precisely hit a specific target, and to minimize damage to things other than the target....

     have decreased the value of digging.
  • Encasing guns in armour. Fully armoured self-propelled gun
    Self-propelled gun
    A self-propelled gun is form of self-propelled artillery, and in modern use is usually used to refer to artillery pieces such as howitzers....

    s were introduced to provide protection against conventional HE (High Explosive) fire.
  • "Shoot-and-scoot
    The term shoot and scoot refers to an artillery tactic of firing at a target and then immediately moving away from the location where the shots were fired. The reason for this is to avoid counter-battery fire - fired by enemy artillery or delivered by attack aircraft and helicopters, in order to...

    ". Guns fired a single round and moved out immediately, particularly tactical nuclear guns. It seemed to surprise many when Iraqi Scud
    Scud is a series of tactical ballistic missiles developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and exported widely to other countries. The term comes from the NATO reporting name SS-1 Scud which was attached to the missile by Western intelligence agencies...

    s used the technique in 1991. Some multi-rocket launchers
    Multiple rocket launcher
    A multiple rocket launcher is a type of unguided rocket artillery system. Like other rocket artillery, multiple rocket launchers are less accurate and have a much lower rate of fire than batteries of traditional artillery guns...

     use the same tactic and move after firing a salvo, self-propelled guns with self-survey and orientation are also well suited to shoot-and-scoot tactics.
  • Spreading-out. Increasing the dispersion of guns in a position has been aided by computers for technical fire control
    Fire-control system
    A fire-control system is a number of components working together, usually a gun data computer, a director, and radar, which is designed to assist a weapon system in hitting its target. It performs the same task as a human gunner firing a weapon, but attempts to do so faster and more...

    . Introduction of guns with self-survey and orientation has led to the concept of "gun manoeuvre areas" where the troops, platoons or sections of a battery keep moving around, although it is questionable how sustainable this is.
  • Concealment. While firing guns cannot escape sound-ranging and radar
    Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

     detection, concealment and deception can reduce the likelihood of discovery from other methods.

Of course there are many potential target "nodes" in the field artillery system, including those dedicated to finding hostile artillery. Attacking these may significantly blind the enemy's CB capability—counter counter counter measures.

See also

  • AMOS
    AMOS or Advanced Mortar System is a 120 mm automatic twin barrelled, breech loaded mortar turret. AMOS has been fitted to a wide range of armoured vehicles such as the Sisu Pasi, Patria AMV, Combat Vehicle 90 or Combat Boat 90....

     or Advanced MOrtar System
  • Artillery Surveillance and Target Acquisition
  • Counter-battery radar
    Counter-battery radar
    A counter-battery radar detects artillery projectiles fired by one or more guns, howitzers, mortars and rocket launchers and from their trajectories locates the position on the ground of the gun, etc., that fired it. Alternatively, or in addition, it may determine where the projectile will land...

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