Senior Army and Pentagon strategists and planners are considering ways to fire existing weapons platforms in new ways around the globe – including the possible placement of mobile artillery units in areas of the South China Sea to, if necessary, function as air-defense weapons to knock incoming rockets and cruise missiles out of the sky, senior Pentagon and Army officials told Scout Warrior.
Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has said he thinks the U.S. should think about new ways of using land-based rockets and howitzer systems as offensive and defensive weapons in areas of the South China Sea.
Such a move would better ensure access and maneuverability for U.S. and allied ships, assets and weapons in contested or tense areas, he explained.
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Ali Azimi
Howitzers or Paladins could be used as a mobile, direct countermeasures to incoming rockets, he said. A key advantage to using a Paladin is that it is a mobile platform which could adjust to moving or fast-changing approaching enemy fire.
"We could use existing Howitzers and that type of munition (155m shells) to knock out incoming threats when people try to hit us from the air at long ranges using rockets and cruise missiles," a senior Army official told Scout Warrior in an interview.
This consideration comes not long after Pentagon officials confirmed that satellite pictures show the Chinese have placed weapons such as Surface to Air Missiles in areas of the South China Sea.
Having land-based rockets or artillery could give US and allied forces both strategic and tactical assistance.
"A Howitzer can go where it has to go. It is a way of changing an offensive weapon and using it in dual capacity," the official explained. "This opens the door to opportunities and options we have not had before with mobile defensive platforms and offensive capabilities."
Mobile air defenses such as an Army M777 or Paladin Howitzer weapon could use precision rounds and advancing fire-control technology to destroy threatening air assets such as enemy aircraft, drones or incoming artillery fire.
Alongside the South China Sea, more mobile artillery weapons used for air defense could also prove useful in areas such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe, officials said. Having mobile counter-air weapons such as the M109 Paladin, able to fire 155m precision rounds on-the-move, could prove to be an effective air-defense deterrent against Russian missiles, aircraft and rockets in Eastern Europe, the senior Army official told Scout Warrior.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Carlos R. Davis, 210th Fires Brigade public affairs NC
Regarding the South China Sea, the U.S. has a nuanced or complicated relationship with China involving both rivalry and cooperation; the recent Chinese move to put surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets on claimed territory in the South China Sea has escalated tensions and led Pentagon planners to consider various options.
Officials are clear to emphasize that no decisions have been made along these lines, yet it is one of the things being considered. Pentagon officials have opposed further militarization of the area and emphasized that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea need to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically.
At the same time, Pentagon officials have publically stated the U.S. will continue "freedom of navigation" exercises wherein Navy ships sail within 12 miles of territory claimed by the Chinese - and tensions are clearly on the rise. In addition to these activities, it is entirely possible the U.S. could also find ways to deploy more offensive and defensive weapons to the region.
Naturally, a move of this kind would need to involve close coordination with U.S. allies in the region, as the U.S. claims no territory in the South China Sea. However, this would involve the deployment of a weapons system which has historically been used for offensive attacks on land. The effort could use an M777 Howitzer or Paladin, weapons able to fire 155m rounds.