From our featured interview on 6 Jul 2022
WITH A FEW GUNS
LCol (retd) Brian Reid, CD
The genesis of this project dates back to the early days of the Afghan campaign when DHH proposed each branch designate a historian to prepare branch material. I was selected as the artillery representative, but the project was very short-lived, even by NDHQ standards.
Any chances of resurrection were short-lived, as the imposition of outside classifications, such as NATO Secret, prevented the publication of any material by national declassification. While some branches and/or regiments did publish material gathered from national sources, such as correspondents’ reports, interviews, personal correspondence, etc, The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery chose to not address the Afghanistan Campaign in the to-be-published Volume III of The Gunners of Canada. This effectively meant that the operations in that unfortunate corner of the world would not be addressed for several years, if not for decades.
As we had previously began to gather material, we had a certain amount of material covering, first the 2002 deployment to Kanadahar District in 2002, second, the 2004-2005 period based at Kabul, third the return to Southern Afghanistan centred in Kanadahar District, and last the consolidation and withdrawal that was completed in 2014.
How to proceed? I am not sure that this issue is completely settled, but we assembled a team with three authors: Mark Zuelke, Colonel Wolf Riedel (retired) and myself Lieutenant Colonel Brian Reid (retired), each of whom has been assigned a time frame to address.
What are we looking for? Works of this nature can either address the “folksy” commemoration of the tour, or delve into the reason why and the what really happened aspects. Perhaps characteristically for gunners, we decided to do both and then, maybe sort it out when we finished.
Before going any farther, let’s take a look at the artillery. There is much, much more to gunnery, the practical application of ballistics to the battlefield, then pilling a mountain of ammunition behind the guns and ordering “get at ‘er, boys”. The science of artillery is the application of very basic physics, but the devil is in the details. While true, much of the detail dates back to the First World War, and the principles and practices introduced then are still in use today, albeit using modern methodologies and practices. The execution, of course, has changed with time and technology, and one can only expect this to continue.
In fact, artillery composes a number of specific disciplines controlled and coordinated in a complex social media network just like any other sophisticated field made up of a variety of activities. For example, the artillery consists of, of course guns and various rocket and missile systems and the people that operate, control, maintain, and of course strive to satisfy their voracious appetites for ammunition. But there is more, a command-and-control structure is vital, as is the system to identify and engage enemy targets. The latter consists of human observers and various technical devices using, for example, acoustics and electronic detection, and of course drones. These devices can be ground or aerial based, which has created a separate discipline, that of surveillance and target acquisition. One must also not forget the need to defend against aerial attack, and its cousin, the ability to allot and control the airspace over the battlefield in both time and space. And one must never dismiss or ignore the contribution of our air forces.
If this was not enough, the advent of terminal guidance using GPS, computers, and the like, has introduced the ability to reduce the size of the possible point of impact from a circle of hundreds of metres down to a circular error of only two or three metres. This is true for both ground and aerial delivered systems, along with another perspective, and a stack of variables. If the probable error has shrunk so dramatically, the same can not be said of the dilemma facing today’s gunner. To be frank, this can all be summed up beautifully in a PowerPoint extravaganza, but the execution is a bitch. For example, if the enemy is in a certain area, we do need precise locations to engage, not a map overprinted with graphic symbols. We ain’t quite there yet.
We are just in the early years of this revolution, and are feeling our way. For those of us from the pre-internet world, putting this together in an integrated, understandable format has had its moments, but we are doing our best, and will ultimately produce something usable. Twenty or thirty years from now, people may shake their heads and chuckle at our efforts, but hopefully they will be able to make use of what we accomplished. So, just as we shake our heads at the nineteenth century gunners, but still admire what they did with so little, let’s go out with A Few Guns, and demonstrate that you can go where you please, you can skid up the trees, but you can’t get away from the guns.
And the historians working on Volume IV of The Gunners of Canada will be oh so grateful.