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

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; the largest of these large-calibre guns ever conceived – Project Babylon of the Supergun affair – was theoretically capable of putting a satellite into orbit. Artillery used by naval forces has also changed significantly, with missiles generally replacing guns in surface warfare.

Batteries are roughly equivalent to a company in the infantry and are combined into larger military organizations for administrative and operational purposes, either battalions or regiments, depending on the army. These may be grouped into brigades; the Russian army also groups some brigades into artillery divisions, and the People's Liberation Army has artillery corps.

Military doctrine has played a significant influence on the core engineering design considerations of artillery ordnance through its history, in seeking to achieve a balance between the delivered volume of fire with ordinance mobility. However, during the modern period, the consideration of protecting the gunners also arose due to the late-19th-century introduction of the new generation of infantry weapons using conoidal bullet, better known as the Minie ball, with a range almost as long as that of field artillery.

In Asia, Mongols adopted the Chinese artillery and used it effectively in the great conquest. By the late 14th century, Chinese rebels used organized artillery and cavalry to push Mongols out. The usage of cannons in the Mongol invasion of Java, led to deployment of cetbang cannons by Majapahit fleet in 1300s and subsequent near universal use of the swivel-gun and cannons in the Nusantaran archipelago.

The artillery revolution in Europe caught on during the Hundred Years' War and changed the way that battles were fought. In the preceding decades, the English had even used a gunpowder-like weapon in military campaigns against the Scottish. However, at this time, the cannons used in battle were very small and not particularly powerful. Cannons were only useful for the defense of a castle, as demonstrated at Breteuil in 1356, when the besieged English used a cannon to destroy an attacking French assault tower. By the end of the 14th century, cannon were only powerful enough to knock in roofs, and could not penetrate castle walls.

One of the most significant effects of artillery during this period was however somewhat more indirect´by easily reducing to rubble any medieval-type fortification or city wall (some which had stood since Roman times), it abolished millennia of siege-warfare strategies and styles of fortification building. This led, among other things, to a frenzy of new bastion-style fortifications to be built all over Europe and in its colonies, but also had a strong integrating effect on emerging nation-states, as kings were able to use their newfound artillery superiority to force any local dukes or lords to submit to their will, setting the stage for the absolutist kingdoms to come.

An implication of indirect fire and improving guns was increasing range between gun and target, this increased the time of flight and the vertex of the trajectory. The result was decreasing accuracy (the increasing distance between the target and the mean point of impact of the shells aimed at it) caused by the increasing effects of non-standard conditions. Indirect firing data was based on standard conditions including a specific muzzle velocity, zero wind, air temperature and density, and propellant temperature. In practice, this standard combination of conditions almost never existed, they varied throughout the day and day to day, and the greater the time of flight, the greater the inaccuracy. An added complication was the need for survey to accurately fix the coordinates of the gun position and provide accurate orientation for the guns. Of course, targets had to be accurately located, but by 1916, air photo interpretation techniques enabled this, and ground survey techniques could sometimes be used.

The first radar proximity fuzes (codenamed 'VT') were invented by the British and developed by the US and initially used against aircraft in World War II. Their ground use was delayed for fear of the enemy recovering 'blinds' (artillery shells which failed to detonate) and copying the fuze. The first proximity fuzes were designed to detonate about 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground. These air-bursts are much more lethal against personnel than ground bursts because they deliver a greater proportion of useful fragments and deliver them into terrain where a prone soldier would be protected from ground bursts.