“Traditional cannon-based mass fires,” he told the audience, “are still the best solution in an EW environment.”

Williams, a veteran field artillery officer, has had a front row seat for nearly two years assessing some of those challenges and seeing how US provided weapons are working on the Ukrainian battlefield against an adversary with electronic warfare (EW) capabilities. Following decades of investments across the US military in precision capabilities, the claim that simpler weapons may be the best for the modern battlefield raises larger questions about whether the Army has been putting billions over billions of dollars down the wrong hole.

And yet, two other four-star generals speaking this week cautioned that one can’t move too far away from precision weaponry, an indication that Army leadership is still working through the results of the war in Ukraine and thinking through how it could apply to future conflicts with both Russia and China.

Williams himself called precision weapons “essential,” but cautioned that they cannot “supplant the indispensable volume of… unguided cannon fire,” on the battlefield.

Although Williams did not disclose which precision munitions are experiencing higher failure rates, there have been multiple reports of Russian forces jamming or spoofing munitions that rely on GPS.

Last month, for example, Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante disclosed problems with another weapon that Defense One potentially identified as the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB). And in May 2023 CNN reported that Russia was using electronic jammers to throw the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) missiles off course.

GMLRS uses GPS guidance and has inertial navigation systems that are not susceptible to EW misdirection. However, that also makes them less precise than when guided by GPS. Regardless, Williams said GMLRS inertial navigation units are helping “offset” challenges inside Ukraine.

But the difference between precision munitions and conventional weapons is not black and white, and precision rounds have varying levels of technology and sophistication, said Byron Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

On the lower end, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kit for dumb bombs, GMLRS and Excalibur rely on GPS guidance but when the GPS signal gets “fuzzy” or drops off, the weapon can rely on a inertial navigator, according to Clark. Inertial navigators, however, vary in accuracy and are not as precise as GPS guidance. When the weapon’s GPS guidance is jammed, the inertial navigators keep the round flying in the same direction, but do not receive external updates, meaning the weapon cannot track a moving target or have its target changed

In an EW environment like Ukraine, this essentially means the military cannot rely on having precision weapons.


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