Two weeks ago the Army’s semi-robotic Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) prototype, the first major weapon in the $160-billion Future Combat Systems program, fired its first round. NLOS-C reduces the current four-man howitzer crew to just two. While that will mean savings in manpower costs, there are potentially huge (and negative) implications on the battlefield, according to Major Sean Williams, a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Williams just posted this comment to an earlier entry about NLOS-C:
Technology aside for a moment, the reduction in the crew of the NLOS-C might have some unintended consequences for a unit that fields this cannon. Specifically, the ability for a unit to maintain 24-hour operations, endure Soldier losses and maintain fighting capability, and conduct non-standard missions, like foot patrols, would be questionable with a unit that has so few people.
I have not seen any document that outlines how a FCS field artillery battery will look in the future. However, it stands to reason the demand for a two-man crew will reduce the number of Soldiers in a M109A6 Paladin unit by roughly 50%. The Paladin battery is the present day equal to the NLOS-C and has a required crew strength of roughly 42 Soldiers to man six howitzers with four men each and six ammunition carriers with three men each. At present, a Paladin howitzer/ammo carrier section can rotate Soldiers for rest, other work jobs, and personal leave and still maintain firing capability with the reduced crew. Likewise, if one or two Soldiers are unexpectedly unable to peform their job due to sickness or injury in battle, the remaining Soldiers can man the howitzer and ammo carrier in a fight. Furthermore, in Iraq, most field artillery units conduct non-standard missions, which require the Soldiers to anything from patrols to base security. Such missions demand at least the current number of Soldiers, if not more, to complete such missions for the same reasons previously mentioned.
If the future NLOS-C units reduce their manning requirements to fill the minimum number of people needed to operate the systems without considering the need to maintain continuous operations and endure battle losses, the expensive high-speed cannon might be silent when needed because an adequate number of Soldiers are not available to operate it.