French naval piece of the late 19th century

Artillery is a class of heavy military weapons built to fire munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry's small arms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach fortifications, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines. As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery developed for battlefield use. This development continues today; modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility providing the largest share of an army's total firepower.

In its earliest sense, the word artillery referred to any group of soldiers primarily armed with some form of manufactured weapon or armour. Since the introduction of gunpowder and cannon, the word "artillery" has largely meant cannon, and in contemporary usage, it usually refers to shell-firing guns, howitzers, mortars, rockets and guided missiles. In common speech, the word artillery is often used to refer to individual devices, along with their accessories and fittings, although these assemblages are more properly called "equipments". However, there is no generally recognised generic term for a gun, howitzer, mortar, and so forth: the United States uses "artillery piece", but most English-speaking armies use "gun" and "mortar". The projectiles fired are typically either "shot" (if solid) or "shell" (if not). "Shell" is a widely used generic term for a projectile, which is a component of munitions.

By association, artillery may also refer to the arm of service that customarily operates such engines. In some armies one arm has operated field, coast, anti-aircraft artillery and some anti-tank artillery, in others these have been separate arms and in some nations coast has been a naval or marine responsibility. In the 20th century technology based target acquisition devices, such as radar, and systems, such as sound ranging and flash spotting, emerged to acquire targets, primarily for artillery. These are usually operated by one or more of the artillery arms. The widespread adoption of indirect fire in the early 20th century introduced the need for specialist data for field artillery, notably survey and meteorological, in some armies provision of these are the responsibility of the artillery arm.

Artillery originated for use against ground targets—against infantry, cavalry and other artillery. An early specialist development was coastal artillery for use against enemy ships. The early 20th century saw the development of a new class of artillery for use against aircraft: anti-aircraft guns.

Artillery is arguably the most lethal form of land-based armament currently employed, and has been since at least the early Industrial Revolution. The majority of combat deaths in the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II were caused by artillery.[1] In 1944, Joseph Stalin said in a speech that artillery was "the God of War".[1]

Artillery piece

French soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War 1870–71.
British 64 Pounder Rifled Muzzle-Loaded (RML) Gun on a Moncrieff disappearing mount, at Scaur Hill Fort, Bermuda. This is a part of a fixed battery, meant to protect against over-land attack and to serve as coastal artillery.

Although not called as such, machines performing the role recognizable as artillery have been employed in warfare since antiquity. Historical references show artillery was first employed by the Roman legions at Syracuse in 399 BC.[citation needed] Until the introduction of gunpowder into western warfare, artillery was dependent upon mechanical energy which not only severely limited the kinetic energy of the projectiles, it also required the construction of very large engines to store sufficient energy. A 1st-century BC Roman catapult launching 6.55 kg (14.4 lb) stones achieved a kinetic energy of 16,000 joules, compared to a mid-19th-century 12-pounder gun, which fired a 4.1 kg (9.0 lb) round, with a kinetic energy of 240,000 joules, or a late 20th century US battleship that fired a 1,225 kg (2,701 lb) projectile from its main battery with an energy level surpassing 350,000,000 joules.

From the Middle Ages through most of the modern era, artillery pieces on land were moved by horse-drawn gun carriages. In the contemporary era, artillery pieces and their crew relied on wheeled or tracked vehicles as transportation. These land versions of artillery were dwarfed by railway guns, which includes the largest super-gun ever conceived, theoretically capable of putting a satellite into orbit. Artillery used by naval forces has also changed significantly, with missiles replacing guns in surface warfare.

Over the course of military history, projectiles were manufactured from a wide variety of materials, into a wide variety of shapes, using many different methods in which to target structural/defensive works and inflict enemy casualties. The engineering applications for ordnance delivery have likewise changed significantly over time, encompassing some of the most complex and advanced technologies in use today.

In some armies, the weapon of artillery is the projectile, not the equipment that fires it. The process of delivering fire onto the target is called gunnery. The actions involved in operating an artillery piece are collectively called "serving the gun" by the "detachment" or gun crew, constituting either direct or indirect artillery fire. The manner in which gunnery crews (or formations) are employed is called artillery support. At different periods in history this may refer to weapons designed to be fired from ground-, sea-, and even air-based weapons platforms.