Using Naval Artillery to Kill an Individual

On Friday a U.S. Navy destroyer off the coast of Somalia used 5-inch artillery to attempt to kill a person suspected of participating in the 1998 African embassy attacks. (Link)

I am not sure this is a good way to go about trying to kill an individual. While Navy guns are no doubt rather accurate, it seems that trying to kill a target as small as a person from what may have been miles away is rather sloppy and almost guaranteed to either miss, or destroy a lot of other things along with the target.

For as much as the military likes to crow about its super-duper genius missiles and their “surgical strikes” I wonder why they didn’t use one in this case? Is the collateral damage from an attack like this acceptable? Does the color of the target’s and surrounding people’s skin effect the equation? Am I terribly off-base here because a 5-inch artillery shell can isolate a single human inside a crowded building (for example) and leave everyone but the target safe and sound?

Well there’s nothing in that story that even suggests they were trying to actually peg one particular guy with a 5" shell - it’s not a sniper rifle. I will bet that they identified a small building that he was in and put a couple of shells into it, and whoever is near him will just have to take their chances. The Mk 45 5" gun fires 70lb shells - that’s much smaller than the Tomahawk (1000lb warhead) so far less collateral damage, but it’s still an awful big bang, I wouldn’t want to be around.

I don’t know the accuracy of the Mk 45 but I’m willing to bet that with accurate coordinates for a building (all it takes is a spotter on the ground radioing back “He just went into building #7, GPS coords are…”) they can hit it pretty accurately. There are also precision guided 5" rounds (at least in development, dunno if they are actually in deployment) using GPS.

Dunno how long it takes to prep a Tomahawk but I have a feeling that with short notice it’s faster to give the gun system the coordinates, swing the turret and fire a few shells.

I don’t see how the skin color of anybody plays into this, btw. Per above, a relatively small cannon shell will have a far smaller destructive radius than the half-ton warhead in a guided missile.

We know that the Navy fired a 5in round into Somalia to kill a guy and nothing more. Somehow you managed to fold American racism into the picture.

Aren’t there enough reasons to hate us that you don’t have to magically create new ones?

Maritime gunfire is extremely accurate, it is very capable of striking even a small building such as an individual house at up to 14 miles.
You would expect to hit in three rounds or less.

This should not be a surprise, think how small a ship is, such as a frigate or destroyer, which will be moving, and think of how small and fast an aircraft is, yet modern guns can hit them too.

MSNBC has a much better write up on this here.

It was not actually shelling to kill an individual, the MSNBC article notes that USS Chafee fired her deck guns to hit “two or three suspected high-value terrorist targets.”

A local Somali governor was interviewed and added that the area where they believed the terrorists were operating is effectively a huge thicket, which makes it difficult for local security forces to strike there. It appears the Somalis have been skirmishing with the terrorists for a bit and suffered some casualties, information suggests the terrorists arrived in Somalia via small, heavily armed boats a few days ago.

This sounds more reasonable. It would make sense to put some rounds into a thicket with the hope (slim though it be) that you could force the enemy to move and the ground forces could then get them, maybe.

Directly targeting an individual, or three or four or a dozen is futile. Naval rifles have a relatively flat trajectory and so the dispersion in range is fairly high. For example, if a gun is elevated 15[sup]o[/sup] and the muzzle velocity is 2000 ft./sec. the range will be about 10 miles and a difference in muzzle velocity of 1 ft/sec between successive shots results in a difference in range of almost 60 ft. Add to that slight aerodynamic differences between the shells and a slight dispersion in the aiming point because of ship motion and we’re talking a range dispersion of like 100 ft. Naval gunfire, like most artillery, depends upon the firing of a lot of shells in a group, more like a shotgun, at an aiming point determined by spotting the fall of ranging shots.

And remember, a shell is full of explosive. This is not shooting someone with a bullet, this is blowing craters in the ground. Put some rounds in a thicket, and the thicket will no longer be there. This is artillery.

This is more along the lines of my thinking. That naval artillery is not necessarily the best way to kill and individual or group of individuals without destroying a lot of other things nearby. Not very discretionary.

I suppose *if *the conditions were such that 2 or 3 guys who were deemed “evil-doers” by the powers-that-be were tucked away in a thicket, with nobody else around for a couple hundred yards, then maybe the naval artillery was a workable solution.

I find that to be a big “if”, but admittedly, I don’t have all the info about the situation. It just sounded a little careless to me based on the sketchy reports that I read.

As for the skin color thing that Stinkpalm mentioned: I didn’t allege that the attack necessarily had anything to do with race. I was just asking if anyone felt that the race of the targets had any effect at all on the decision to lob some artillery shells on top of them. In terms of weighing whether or not to attack them in this arguably scattershot manner.

As opposed to sending in a team of soldiers in helicopters to grab the targets without a shot being fired and whisking them away to face justice?

That didn’t work too well when they tried it in 1993…I can understand a reluctance to try something similar.

I can also see that if I were in charge and I knew that the bad guys were holed up in a thicket somewhere and I have a choice of some kind of “boots on the ground” operation (risking many lives) or putting cannon fire into the thicket from 10+ miles away (targets will have zero warning and no way to shoot back), I’m going with the artillery.

So no, I don’t personally think that this had anything to do with race.

As far as “scattershot” goes, if the targets weren’t in a builtup area then it seems an appropriate method to me…like I said, 5 inch shells are far less destructive than the other “precision guided weapons” we are familiar with like cruise missiles and “smart bombs”. The MSNBC article also notes that airstrikes would have arrived too late.

Be mindful of the horror, we ask. Be mindful…really, there is no such thing as an “acceptable” level of civililan casualties. If you do desperate measures, to protect us, be prepared to prove it. And if you cannot, don’t do it. Is that so mu much to askl? From us, the light of the world?

And that’s another thing. Since we (USA) consider ourselves the Righteous, Christian, Shining Beacon on the Hill should we be playing judge, jury and executioner with anyone that we have labeled “evil-doer” that we come across? Near as I can tell the human who was being hunted in Africa was a suspect in some heinous crimes. But maybe, just maybe, he should have a chance to answer for his crimes. because that’s the system of justice that our country prides itself on. Due process. When did it become OK to just assassinate people we don’t like? I thought assassination was illegal?

And let’s say the evil-doer could have been brought down cleanly by a sniper. With no chance of any innocent casualties (unlike with artillery shelling). Is it OK to kill anyone we pronounce as evil-doer as long as they are in another country? Even when they are not resisting–indeed, when they don’t even know we are anywhere near? Would we have hunted this guy like a sewer rat and shot him in the back if he was running away from “us” in downtown Des Moines in broad daylight?

It’s OK to illegally execute someone overseas, but not in America, Is that it? I think that’s exactly backwards. If we want to kill people just because we think they are bad evil-doers–even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime-- maybe we should amend our Constitution and make it legal to execute suspects on sight here in America. But we shouldn’t be doing it in OTHER countries because OTHER people make the rules in other countries–not us. Even if the country is in anarchy, it still isn’t our place to go assassinating people from 5 miles away.

I learned in school that it’s better to let 100 guilty men go free than to convict one innocent one. Man was I ever naive. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or innocent, it only matters if you are suspected. And now I realize that if you are suspected, we might not even be “nice” and “only” imprison you for life.

We might just simply say, “Ahhh the hell with it. We already KNOW this guy is an evil-doer whether he’s guilty or not! Plus, he’s in some awfully thick underbrush there. Let’s just blow him to pieces with an artillery piece from 5 miles away and call it a day.”

I guess he’ll get his day in court when he meets Jesus.

That’s an entirely different debate and it’s about the difference between the legal system pursuing a criminal versus the actions that the military takes in an armed conflict. It is illegal for the police to shoot the Evil Criminal Mastermind if he’s sitting there unarmed, in his house, having a cup of tea and reading a book. If he’s the opposing general and it’s a military conflict, it’s quite within the rules for the Air Force to drop a 5000lb bomb on his roof under what are otherwise the same circumstances.

Exactly right. But you can’t call just anything you want to a war, as Commander Bush has done. By declaring a faux “war on terror” Bush has reserved the right to kill anyone he decides is a terrorist. He has claimed the right to assassinate them by shooting them in the back, if he desires. You realize, don’t you, that it is not an exaggeration or hyperbole to say that Bush could declare you an enemy combatant and have you assassinated, right? Perhaps he would have to flush you out of the country first, just for appearance’s sake, but he could certainly do it. But hey… whatever it takes to fight the infidels, right?

This Mohammad guy the Navy lobbed 20 huge explosives at is not involved in a war with the United States even if some chimp wants to play pretend and say he is. Mohammad is an accused criminal.

I wonder if he will start killing poor people because of the War on Poverty, or killing pot smokers because of the “War on Drugs”. Now, I don’t think even a loose cannon like Bush would do those things, but his “War on Terror” is no more of a real shooting war then LBJ’s “War on Poverty”. It is a publicity stunt. Except of course, if the decider decides he wants somebody shot, that person gets shot. Who’s going to stop him? The only people that have the power to are the U.S.Congress, and they clearly are not up to the task of prosecuting the President.


“Shooting them in the back”? I thought the OP was a 5inch naval gun barrage… Is it a dishonorable act because the target couldnt shoot back?

Should Bush personally parachute into somalia with a knife in his teeth and challenge the victim to a one on one duel?

Dramatic Hollywood plot devices aside, the leader of any nation could do this too. So what?

As long as were dreaming up plots: no, he wouldn’t need to drive me out of the country. Frame me for a crime I didnt commit, have the ATF swing in through my bedroom window one night, pop some popcorn, watch the trial, ensure I get raped in prison.

Hmm. So this guys only crime was being brown?

The article you linked says that he was a member of Al Queda. This organisation has recently released yet another video of their demands:,2933,276252,00.html

If the target in the OP is indeed a member of an international terrorist org, then he is indeed “at war” with the US, by their own statements.

Pardon me, by why not? You seem to be convinced that the President is capable of doing whatever the heck he wants, with the full cooperation of the US military, the Congress, and the US Supreme Court.

It seems that the only thing protecting me is the fact that he hasn’t noticed me, right?

Publicity stunt? To what end? Become Emperor?

I am thinking that the current Congress is not going to prosecute (impeach, right?) the President of anything unless they can actually make an air tight case out of it.

Do you have anything to offer (other than your distrust of Bush) to make me suspect that this action is anything other than claimed?

This sounds like it would have been a perfect mission for Delta Force. Send in a small Delta team and a hundred or so Rangers to establish a perimeter… Fast rope the soldiers in from Blackhawks, grab the bad guy and haul his ass out in a waiting convoy of Humvees. With some Little Bird helicopters providing air support it would be easy as pie. Shit, the toughest thing in the Somali arsenal is rusty old Soviet RPG-7s. You can’t shoot down a Blackhawk with those! They’d be in and out of there in half an hour… they wouldn’t even need to bring night vision goggles or those heavy ceramic plates they use for extra body armor.

I wonder why they didn’t try it…

Anyhow it seems to me there could be an implicit message against Somali piracy here too. The coast of Somalia is known as very dangerous waters for merchant shipping and it isn’t because of Jack Sparrow. So maybe the USN is sending a message akin to “Hey look, now the sea can shoot back!”

Because the legal issues of ‘arresting’ someone on foreign soil?

Because shooting a cannon is that much easier if you don’t care what else you hit?

Because the USA in recent years have got the morals of a …?

Delta or other special ops probably were involved – who do you think gave the coordinates to the ship?

Assaults like you imagine, while common on TV, do not happen often in the real world, and they are not “easy as pie.” For one, your plan calls for a delta team and a hundred rangers geared up and ready to go. UNfortunately, the US has not invented transporter beams that allow us to make combat-ready troops appear whenever or wherever we want them. Moreover, it takes time to organize, equip and plan that sort of a mission - hours at a bare minimum, preferably days or weeks. Finally, they entail significant risk.

Remember Black Hawk Down?

Is that what they call a whoosh? Or DWMarch’s post above?

Yes, upon reflection, I was whooshed.

I think you have to accept that we have given our government the power and authority to do just such a thing . I don’t know if it’s right or wrong but I can’t second guess every decision that they make especially when it involves the elimination of some who might kill many more innocent people. As far the technological aspect of the shell being able to kill someone with pinpoint accuracy I don’t have enough facts about that to be able to tell you if it’s possible. What I do know is that the CIA used to handle things such as this and in a far more discreet manor but our constant need to know everything our government does put an end to that. I don’t condone the taking of human life but that’s why I’m not in politics and don’t vote for persons such as GW who waste human life in a far to casual fashion in my opinion.