Locating Surveillance and Target Acquisition Association



"The Eyes and Ears of the Battlefield"








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If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." SUN TSU

Since the invention of gunpowder and its use in warfare, the cannon (and, later, the gun) has become a dominant feature on the battlefield. In the last 3 centuries, the number and placement of the artillery has often been the deciding factor in battle.

By the start of World War 1, the artillery gun had largely disappeared from its previous position in the front lines, although in the first months of the war there had been occasional direct fire engagements, it soon became obvious that such exposure of artillery batteries was suicidal.

Artillery went into hiding and habitually fired from behind hills and woods. As daytime aerial observation came into use, especially from balloons, camouflage became a fine art and, together with night firing, was used to conceal battery locations. These precautions for self preservation by the artillery did not occur at the expense of its basic mission of supporting the infantry.

Although the batteries were now dispersed over a greater area behind the front lines, their fire could be concentrated on any target within their longer ranges. It was quite obvious to all armies engaged on the Western Front that for the infantry to survive, something had to be done to silence the guns. But first, these guns had to be located

The problem was not simple, especially under the adverse conditions in which all military operations are conducted. Aerial observation was employed from the beginning, both by balloon, which had first been trailed as early as the American Civil War in 1861 and then by British and Australian forces in the Boer War, and then the novel aeroplane in World War 1 (which only had its first powered flight in 1903). However, direct visual observation was only partly effective and aerial photography was cumbersome, slow, and unreliable.

Borne out of a need for Artillery to enhance its supremacy on the battlefield with accurate and timely target information, the first elements of Locating Artillery were developed, with Sound Ranging, Survey, Flash Spotting supplying the raw data and Counter bombardment sections acting as collecting points for all data on enemy.

By World War II the use of massed guns decreased with more emphasis placed on the use of howitzers (high angle guns) and mortars. This type of weapon was, in general, far easier to move and far easier to hide. They were an ideal weapon for mountainous or jungle terrain therefore new methods of detection would be required to combat this new threat. The Scientists were again testing many gadgets, where Radar and Short based Sound ranging proved to have the potential to solve the problem.

 1966 heralded in Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, included was a Detachment of Locators. This was a small Unit with never more than 100 Locators in Vietnam at any given time; they would show their versatility and ability to work in small groups throughout the area of operation. This has become a trademark of a ‘Locator’.

By the late 1960`s and into the 1970`s the emergence of the electronic era impacted on Locating. Apart from the introduction of the Mortar Locating Radar there were the electronic Gun Calibration sections, light Meteorology Sections and sensor equipment. The Surveyors received desktop and hand held calculators to replace the tedious long formula calculations, as well as electronic distance measuring devices.

The locating unit of the late 1990`s had moved further into the Electronic Era. The old Mortar Locating Radar had been replaced by Weapon Locating Systems. Survey had been updated to a stage where very little fieldwork was required and electronic equipment produced answers in minutes that may have taken days to produce.

Surveying was possibly the most radically updated skill of all with the introduction of electronic distance measuring devices, hand held calculators, and satellite positioning devices, reducing the survey work to the press of a button. Gone were the days of hand taping miles and miles of country side and endless hours calculating the angles and distances and the complex formulae used from the initial known position to calculate the position (Latitude and Longitude) of all other points in the triangulation network.

The end of the 20th Century, saw the name Locating Artillery changed to Surveillance and Target Acquisition, with modern weapon locating radars that have the ability to fix locations of hostile guns & mortars within seconds, meteorology and survey troops with the latest satellite positioning systems such as Global Positioning System and, unmanned aerial vehicles UAV’s.

As to the future of what was Locating, we find that it may be best left to the “Star Wars” factor unbelievable today possible tomorrow.

The story of Locating Artillery and the people who contributed their talents is contained in the book
‘Tracks of the Dragon’ A history of Australian Locating. This is a book about locating written by former Locators.



A brief explanation of the methods and skills that were used in Locating Artillery

Flash Spotting - observing the gun flash and taking a magnetic bearing on the direction of the flash. Observations from several positions were used to calculate the position of the gun.

Sound Ranging - Placing microphones at regular surveyed locations to detect the sound of gunfire and then by using the time difference of that sound as it reaches each microphone, then calculating the position from which the sound pulse originated.

Radar - The radar projects an electronic beam at an object, this object may be anything from an aircraft to a mortar bomb, depending on the role of the radar. When the beam strikes the object (called the Target) the Radar received an echo or returning signal. This signal carries data on the target, which is normally decoded by a computer, and the location of the target was then determined.

Sensors – A variety of equipment such as Infra-Red Thermal Imagery, Acoustic and Seismic which were used together or separately to mount surveillance of tracks or paths used (or may be used ) by an enemy to give early warning of the stealthy approach of that enemy.

Survey – Artillery Locating units had their own surveying sections responsible for providing accurate survey information with detection equipment and observers. The accuracy of detection and the accuracy of the location detected is very much related to the exact position of the detection equipment and/or the observer. In order for Artillery Locating units to be able to give accurate information to the counter battery artillery, they must have accurate information about their own location. Modern Survey equipment are fully automated that can email point data to the office computer and connect to satellite positioning systems, such as a Global Positioning System.

Meteorology - Weather information is important for planning military operations and had been carried out by launch weather balloons to record wind speed and direction; identify the types of clouds present and estimate cloud height and amount of cloud cover; take readings of barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, and sea conditions; operate radio equipment to receive information from satellites.

Locators operation of a field artillery meteorological observation station were able to make visual observations and take readings from weather equipment, radar scans, and satellite photographs; plot weather information on maps and charts; and forecast weather based on readings and observations. This information is essential to assist the accurate fire of the Artillery

Global Positioning System (GPS) - Global Positioning System satellites transmit signals to equipment on the ground. GPS receivers passively receive satellite signals; they do not transmit. GPS receivers require an unobstructed view of the sky, so they are used only outdoors and they often do not perform well within forested areas or near tall buildings. GPS operations depend on a very accurate time reference, which is provided by atomic clocks at the U.S. Naval Observatory. Each GPS satellite has atomic clocks on board.

Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS) - UGS systems employ various sensor modalities including seismic, acoustic, magnetic, and pyro electric transducers, daylight imagers and passive infrared imagers to automatically detect the presence of persons or vehicles, and transmit activity reports or imagery via radio-frequency (RF) or satellite communications (SATCOM) links to a remote Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED) station. The systems are packaged for concealed emplacement in the field and for long-duration unattended operation.

Gun Calibration - Gun Calibration is concerned with the muzzle velocity (MV) of guns.  This information is essential for accurate predicted fire. This is now the responsibility of the Gun Regiments.