Artillery is the king of the battlefield, but the big artillery pieces can't be everywhere at once – and sometimes their response time is pretty long. Thankfully, for the grunts of today, the mortar is available. Think of this as portable artillery – capable of providing some very quick-response fire support for grunts.
The M252 Medium Weight Extended Range Mortar fits right into a vital niche, especially for lighter infantry units like the 10th Mountain Division, 82nd Airborne Division, and Marine units. According to a fact sheet from the Minnesota National Guard, this system weighs 91 pounds and is operated by a crew of three. That said, usually there will be other guys assigned to help carry additional rounds.
Spc. Scott Davis, mortarman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, adjusts the sights of an M252A1 mortar system. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Petke/released)
The system can fire up to 30 rounds a minute, but you're more likely to sustain a rate of 16 rounds a minute. A wide variety of ammo is available as well – anything from high explosive rounds to illumination flares to smoke rounds to white phosphorous. In short, this mortar, usually held at the battalion level of the light units, can do anything from concealing friendly troops to marking targets to blowing bad guys to smithereens.
As is the case with Ma Deuce and machine guns, mortar crews need proper training and plenty of practice to make the most of these systems. The procedures can be rehearsed sometimes using the M880 short-range round, but other times, you need to go out to the range and do the live-fire "full Monty."
U.S. Army soldiers fire mortar rounds at suspected Taliban fighting positions during Operation Mountain Fire in Barge Matal, a village in eastern Nuristan province, Afghanistan. (US Army photo)
You can see troops train on the M252 at the mortar range at the Grafenwoehr training area in the video below.