Now thrive the armourers -- armament developments: many argue that the true power of the armoured fighting vehicle rests with its main armament, be it gun or missile. Guided missiles are increasingly becoming `wooden rounds' that fall with the `fire-and-forget' bracket. For them, most of the old guided missile shortcomings no longer apply and they can even be fired while on the move. (Complete Guide).
Guns still score in versatility and consistency. Once a guided missile is launched it is gone forever, hit or miss. Guns can fire highly effective projectiles repeatedly and accurately, vary the nature of their ammunition according to specific fire missions and carry on firing until a target is neutralised. They are also much quicker than missiles to respond to fleeting targets, while the capabilities of modern fire control systems ensure the chances of a first round hit are high.
For these reasons guns still predominate in the armoured fighting vehicle armament world, although it is noticeable that missiles are now intruding to a greater extent than only a few years ago. Combat vehicles such as the M2 Bradley have for some time combined the power of Tow missiles with a 25 mm Bushmaster cannon. The 2T Stalker from Minotor-Service Unitary Enterprise of Belarus carries a 30 mm 2A42 cannon together with one or two 9M114 Shturm anti-tank guided missiles and one or two low level air defence missiles, both raised above the turret on extending arms for launching. As the 2T is perhaps best described as a reconnaissance platform, while the M2 Bradley is an infantry fighting vehicle, the provision of missiles provides each host vehicle with a powerful long range firepower capability that cannot be matched by the cannon carried. Yet in many of the AFV encounters one appreciates that the cannon is still a lethal, handy and economic weapon.
Leaving aside missiles for the moment, it seems that tank gun upper calibre limits have been reached and may even be reducing. Not so long ago it was forecast that future tank gun calibres would have to be at least 140 mm to defeat the heavily armoured monoliths they were likely to encounter. Several factors have prevented this happening.
The on-target efficiency of current projectile types have already reached the stage where 120 or 125 mm armour-piercing projectiles can attain the performance levels once forecast for 140 mm or even heavier guns. Moving down the scale, the coming generation of 105 mm tank guns is promising performance expectations not far removed from those currently delivered by 120/125 mm. The same applies down the calibre scale so even modest calibres, such as 25 mm, now have considerable armour penetration potential and can inflict damage once thought of as well outside their calibre capabilities.
140 mm guns may still be promoted for several reasons, not the least being that they will be able to defeat anything likely to occur in protection terms for the foreseeable future. Yet they will also bring handling and logistic problems. The number of on-board 140 mm rounds any tank can carry will be severely restricted and too close to the lower limit that tank actions require. Too few on-board rounds mean frequent tactical withdrawals for reloads, during which time valuable combat assets (the tanks) are neutralised, to say nothing of the logistic chain that will have to be involved. Another factor is that storing and handling large 140 mm rounds within the confines of a turret is going to be a laborious, not to say impossible task. The only answer to this is the introduction of fully automated loading systems. Externally mounted, over-hull gun installations might overcome such constraints but they will still be hefty and complex technical challenges, and very expensive as well.
Among the most powerful guns now in service are the Rheinmetall 120 mm gun (the US M256) and the Russian 125 mm 2A45/2A46 series, both smooth-bored. Also noteworthy are the British 120 mm L11 and L30 guns, although they are rifled and, to date, have no applications outside Britain-produced tanks, the French Leclerc gun offered as part of the T21 turret project and the Swiss Ruag Land Systems stabilised 120 mm Compact Tank Gun, now finding a useful niche in the upgrade market. In the anti-armour role, all these guns fire kinetic energy APFSDS (armour piercing, fin stabilised, discarding sabot) projectiles capable of defeating the heaviest in-service tank armour.
The in-service 44-calibre (L44) Rheinmetall 120mm gun, the main armament of the prolific Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams tank series, is in the process of being uprated by retrofitting a revised barrel with the tube length extended to 55-calibres (L55). Full details have not been released but in firing the latest ammunition, such as the Rheinmetall DM53 APFSDS with a tungsten penetrator rod, the barrel extension provides even more muzzle velocity and energy, and therefore greater armour penetration potential than before. A retrofit installation programme introducing the L55 gun to part of the German Army's Leopard 2 fleet, bringing them up to L2A6 standard, is well advanced. Other Leopard 2 user nations, including Sweden, the Netherlands, and (possibly) Switzerland, are expected to follow a similar retrofit path.
The stresses produced by firing 120 and 125 mm tank gun ammunition are such that a wide turret ring is necessary, so the carrier vehicles therefore have to be fairly bulky. Thankfully for tank designers the next generation of 105 mm guns are in the offing. By introducing more energetic propellants and updated projectile assembly designs, the performance of 105 mm anti-armour guns is already on a par with the first generation of corresponding 120 mm guns and ammunition. Rheinmetall is developing a new 105 mm L51 smooth bore gun and ammunition that, due to devices such as high efficiency muzzle brakes and uprated recoil systems, can be readily integrated into light wheeled and tracked vehicles.
Away from Rheinmetall developments, Russian 125 mm gun systems have undergone some improvements of late, although the guns themselves have altered little. Most recent 125 mm gun developments have involved the ammunition, especially with APFSDS where the old, inefficient disc-pattern sabots have been partially replaced by the adoption of Western-pattern discarding sabots imparting better ballistic performance once the projectile assembly is out of the muzzle. Extended length penetrator rods of advanced design have appeared from Ukraine, apparently with some assistance from French companies (including Giat Industries). Norinco of China has adopted Western design approaches for its 125 mm APFSDS and has also developed a 120 mm smoothbore gun (and Western pattern APFSDS) to arm the Type 89 tank destroyer.
One further future possibility in armament terms has arisen in South Africa. LIW, a division of Denel, has introduced the 105 mm Leo (or G7) in a towed form, something that would not normally impinge upon the topic of armoured fighting vehicles. Yet the Leo has a 57-calibre barrel, if the rifled `pepperpot' muzzle brake is included, so it can also fire anti-armour APFSDS at high muzzle velocities (1375 m/s). It has also been proposed that the 105 mm Leo, mounted on a suitable chassis (the 8 x 8 Rooikat has been suggested). It would then be possible to combine two formerly disparate combat functions on one vehicle. Although such a development would be viewed with suspicion by many observers, it is one avenue of development that might well be carried to the hardware stage.
Although tank guns used to fire little else than anti-armour projectiles, Heat projectiles can still be employed to provide blast and fragmentation effects against soft or personnel targets. Far more effective and accurate against field targets and structures are high explosive (HE) shells. These have duly been added to existing 120 and 125 mm ammunition families. 125 mm HE projectiles have been around for at least three decades but the introduction of 120 mm equivalents to Western ammunition families has been slower. Nammo Liab of Sweden modified a 120 mm mortar bomb to develop a HE-T (high explosive -- tracer) round for Swedish Army's Leopard 2 guns. Rheinmetall has recently added fin-stabilised HE rounds to both its 120 and 105 mm smooth bore gun ammunition families. Naschem was probably the first to introduce a 105 mm HE for L7/M68 guns and has since been joined by the Pakistan Ordnance Factories and others. Giat has long produced 105 mm HE as part of the ammunition suite for the CH105F1 guns.
What will probably be the most significant recent advance in tank gun ammunition accomplishments for decades will come when the American Tank Extended Range Munition (Term) completes its development cycle, hopefully at the end of this decade. Although handled, loaded and fired as a conventional projectile, the Term will be a `fire-and-forget' multi-sensor projectile engaging tank targets at extended ranges. Two concerns are currently developing Term candidates: Raytheon has proposed a tandem shaped charge warhead design, while Alliant Techsys tems is working on a kinetic energy project involving a rocket motor to boost final velocities.
Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Rafael are working on a similar programme to the Term, this time a 105 mm projectile named Excalibur. This project, which is expected to include a 120 mm counterpart, is apparently awaiting some form of international collaboration commitment and does not appear to have advanced very far from the concept stage. However, Israel Aircraft industries is well advanced with its 105 mm Laser-Homing Anti-Tank (Lahat) round with its semi-passive, laser-homing nose sensor that, as long as the target is illuminated by a laser designator, can engage tanks out of visual range of the gunner. Once again, a 120 mm Lahat variant has been developed.
Mention of laser guidance prompts recognition of the family of Russian laser-guided munitions, now in service on a significant scale. Perhaps the best known of these is the 9M117 Bastion projectile fired from 100 mm D-10 series tank guns. Suitably-modified 9M117s are also fired from the 100 mm 2A70 gun fitted to the BMP-3 IFV, from 100 mm T-12/MT-12 towed anti-tank guns, and from the relatively few 115 mm 2A20 guns still around. For 125 mm 2A45/2A46 series tank guns there is the generally similar 9M119 Svir, recently upgraded to 9M119M status by the incorporation of a tandem warhead. All these laser-guided systems are in service but their issue does not appear to have been extended beyond the former Eastern Bloc nations, other than to Communist China as part of a 1999 technology transfer package. In the offing is the joint Russo-German Spear (KBP Instrument Bureau and Diehl with Krauss-Maffei) development, with a 9M117 projectile allied to a Nato standard 105 mm propulsion charge and case.
Away from anti-armour munitions, Israel Military Industries has also introduced one of the more intriguing antipersonnel munition innovations of recent years, primarily intended to neutralise infantry tank-killer teams. Known as the Apam (Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel), this innovation is already in Israeli service in 105 mm form, and a 120 mm version is `under consideration'. Once fired, the Apam ejects six submunitions over a pre-selected area for the submunitions to airburst and scatter lethal fragments and blast effects over a wide area of terrain beneath. The Apam is highly effective against personnel and can reach into cover such as over hills and into trenches and foxholes.
The distant future will no doubt see the introduction of tank guns based around electrothermal chemical (ETC), electromagnetic (EM) or laser-based directed energy technologies. Experimental models of such guns have been extensively tested in several countries. Even so, their conversion to service-standard weapons, capable of prolonged use and consistent characteristics, is still a long way off, as is any practical form of liquid propellant. It is doubtful that many of the current Armada team will be around to report on the introduction of weapons based around such principles -- although we could be wrong.
The long-standing predominance of heavy vehicle guns is being challenged by a new generation of automatic guns with calibres of 50 mm or less. Such guns (or cannon) may not have the armour-penetration or explosive payload properties of the heavier calibres but, if they hit, their on-target performance criteria are not far off. Considering that future armoured vehicle engagements are more likely than today to occur between lighter vehicles, past hole-punching accomplishment considerations may emerge as less important than they once were. The addition of advantages such as greater on-board ammunition capacities, and a plethora of available ammunition natures, adds to the attraction of the smaller calibres.
In the long term, what may emerge as the most significant recent gun and ammunition developments relate to the 40 mm CT2000 gun and its associated case telescoped ammunition (CTA). Both emanate from CTA International, an Anglo-French 50:50 joint venture (Giat and RO Defence-BAE Systems) based at Bourges in France. CTA, with the projectile enveloped inside the rigid cylinder propellant case, is no novelty but CTA International has diligently taken over a decade to develop it to the stage where it is now ready as a practical weapon for future armoured fighting vehicles. In fact, CTA has outgrown mere gun and ammunition technology by evolving into a weapon system, complete with ammunition handling and stowage solutions.
As these words were written, the integration of the CT2000 into a Warrior turret was in progress. This is in connection with a planned British Army Warrior mid-life improvement programme, part of which is expected to be the replacement of the Warrior's present 30 mm Rarden gun.
The calibre originally selected by CTA International for the CT2000 gun was 45mm but the uncomplicated design of CTA guns and ammunition makes them amenable to other calibres. When a requirement for a calibre of 40mm was presented the gun and ammunition could be rapidly adapted. As a further example, CTA technology is also under consideration for an advanced 105 mm gun intended for future French armoured vehicles. Current 40 mm combat ammunition natures are confined to APFSDS and HE, the latter known as a General Purpose Round. CTAs were even tested with a muzzle-programmable fuze derived from Rheinmetall Oerlikon Contraves Ahead munition. Normally an air defence round, the Ahead lends itself as an air-bursting grenade and like the 3P examined below, can be programmed to form a string of air bursts.
Also it is noticeable that APFSDS, once limited to the larger tank guns, is now available for these smaller calibres, including 25 mm.
One option already adopted by Sweden is one of the more venerable automatic guns still around. It is the 40 mm Bofors Gun, a design that can trace its air defence origins back to the 1920s. In its latest L/70 configuration it acts as the main armament of the Alvis/Hagglunds CV 9040 for the Swedish Army, firing a new generation of 40 mm ammunition that includes an APFSDS. There is also a 40 mm 3P round on which the fuze function is programmed into the electronic fuze a brief instant before firing. On detonation, the 3P round scatters numerous pre-formed and other fragments with potent anti-personnel properties. When electronically timed to produce air bursts this attribute is magnified, especially as it is possible to produce a simultaneous `string' of air bursts over a target area. The L/70 Bofors Gun is also used on the air defence variant of the CV 90 family, the CV 90AD, although in this role the main projectile fired is proximity-fuzed high explosive (PFHE).
While the Swedish Army appears to be well pleased with the CV 9040, other CV 90 customers have selected different cannon. One such customer is Norway, who has chosen the Boeing 30 mm Bushmaster II, a Chain Gun with all mechanical functions externally driven via a single chain loop. The rearmed result is the CV 9030N. An APFSDS round from Nammo Raufoss has been picked for the CV 9030N.
Closely allied to the Bushmaster II is the Boeing Mk 44 cannon that will arm the US Marine Corps' new Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV). However, one change has been introduced. While the base Mk 44 continues to fire 30 x 173 mm ammunition, the design is arranged so that 40 mm related components can replace those dedicated to 30 mm to allow the Mk 44 to fire 40 mm `Super Forty' ammunition. The changeover will only be introduced should the tactical situation present the Marines with targets that 30 mm cannot tackle. The Mk 44 has been ordered by Finland and Switzerland to arm their CV 90s, the guns for the Swiss CV 90H being licence-produced in Switzerland by Oerlikon Contraves (now part of Rheinmetall). For the latter a 30 mm APFSDS round from Oerlikon Contraves will be involved.
There is also a dual-calibre Bushmaster III. For this the ammunition is based around that developed for the Rheinmetall Rh 503, a cannon originally intended to arm the Marder II IFV, a project terminated by German budget restrictions some years ago. The Rh 503 was developed to fire the Rheinmetall 35 x 228 mm ammunition based on the Oerlikon Contraves air defence gun rounds. By changing calibre-related components when and should the need arise, the Rh 503 and Bushmaster III can fire 50 mm `Supershot' rounds with an all-round performance enhancment. A general purpose HE round is available in both calibres although the main anti-armour round for both is APFSDS. Oerlikon Contraves, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Boeing are so convinced of the Bushmaster III's long term potential that they have combined to form Team 35/50 to promote the dual-calibre system for future AFV applications.
Mauser, now part of Rheinmetall DeTec, has also developed a cannon, the Mk 30, to fire 30 x 173 mm ammunition. To date the Mk 30-2, the version that fires steel-cased ammunition as opposed to the Mk 30-1 involving aluminium cases, has found several applications, the most important probably its being the main armament of the Austrian/Spanish Ulan/Pizarro IFV (marketed as the Ascod).
The old Eastern Bloc has several cannon candidates for future vehicles, one is the KBP 30 mm 2A42 from Russia. This cannon, with its dual option fire rates, acts as the main armament of several vehicles, including the BMP-2 ICV, the BMD-3 airborne IFV and the BTR80/90 series of APCs. It has been installed as the weapon to replace the 76 mm guns on Jordan's fleet of Scorpion reconnaissance vehicles. The 2A42 also serves as the main gun armament of the futuristic 2T Stalker combat vehicle. This cannon can already defeat light armour at ranges up to 1500 metres, even before the introduction of an APFSDS round extends its utility. No doubt the lack of a suitable APFSDS will be put right before long. Oerlikon Contraves has already developed a candidate.
Another 30 mm cannon has recently appeared from the Ukraine. It is the KB-2 about which little appears to have been yet released, although it is known that it features a polygonal rifled barrel. The KB-2 is expected to feature in several forthcoming light AFV upgrades.
As previously mentioned, cannon with calibres as small as 25 mm now have considerable anti-armour potential following the introduction of APFSDS rounds. No-one is expecting that such small and light projectiles will be able to penetrate other than light armours, but they can still inflict significant damage against most of the lightly armoured vehicles they will usually encounter, such as IFVs and APCs.
The main in-service 25 mm cannon is the Boeing M242 Bushmaster, another chain gun. Produced in prolific numbers (production for the US armed forces alone is expected to reach 14,000), the Bushmaster is perhaps best known as the cannon armament of the US Army's M2/M3 Bradley series of IFVs and the US Marine Corps' Light Armored Vehicle (Lay). Among other recent 25 mm Bushmaster installations is that for the Singapore Technologies Kinetics' Bionix IFV.
The Bushmaster's effectiveness has been enhanced by APFSDS from several manufacturers. In the USA, Primex Technologies, now sublimated into General Dynamics Armament Systems, developed the M919 with the long rod penetrator manufactured from depleted uranium (DU) to enhance its penetration qualities. For many customers DU is not acceptable, so an alternative version with a tungsten carbide penetrator is now available. Other 25 mm APFSDS offerings have been made by Alliant Techsystems, Oerlikon Contraves (selected by the Canadian armed forces) and Mecar. The latter has manufactured hundreds of thousands of M935A2 APFSDS-T for at least one unspecified Middle East customer.
The smaller cannon calibres lend themselves very well to external weapon stations where the operator(s) need not be exposed to incoming fire hazards. Video or thermal sensors on the external mount can usually provide sufficient definition for target detection and engagement. Numerous such installations are currently on offer, some carrying more than one weapon type, such as the machine gun/cannon common mountings. While all such mountings can offer numerous combat advantages, they usually have to be limited to cannon calibres.
Rafael has developed the OWS-25R turret for the Romanian BMP-1 upgrade programme, in which overhead weapon stations contribute to reducing the overall silhouette while keeping their operators under armour.
However, do not write off the large calibre external gun mountings. They offer a considerable lowering of the host vehicle silhouette, thereby greatly assisting concealment on a battlefield, while reducing crew exposure still further by the introduction of autoloaders. Despite the many complexity and cost challenges such installations will involve, it has been detected that the next generation of Russian tank designs, if they ever materialise, will involve external large calibre gun mountings.
As mentioned previously, missiles and guns are often provided in a mix to arm many light vehicles. Guided missiles provide the long range potential while the more economic guns provide closer range fire. The former dedicated `tank destroyer' concept is almost dead as far as missile carriers are concerned. At one time missiles had to be guided manually by a skilled operator so the host vehicles had to remain static (and therefore vulnerable to all manner of counter moves from the opposition), from launch to impact. That no longer applies.
One example indicates the future. The ubiquitous Raytheon Tow has up till now been wire-guided. The next generation of Tows will be fire-and-forget. For this, all the operator has to do is place sight crosshairs on a target, track it for a few seconds and then launch the missile. Sensors on the missile lock onto the target before launch and stay with it throughout its trajectory, the missile sensors providing data for all necessary trajectory adjustments and corrections. Numerous infantry anti-tank fire-and-forget missile systems, such as the Gill/Spike and the Javelin, are already in service and the concept is already commonplace with many air defence missile systems. Numerous aircraft and helicopter launched anti-armour systems, such as Hellfire, are also fire-and-forget.
The next few years will see the introduction of more and more such missile systems.
In the meantime, Eads Euromissile has demonstrated the effectiveness of the ATM in live firings. Mounted on a Pandur, the ATM turret consists of a recoil-less Mauser 30 mm cannon, a single or twin Hot 3 anti-tank missile launcher, telescopic mast-mounted sensors and data transfer systems. A Barco tactical display is also mounted inside the vehicle. Thus equipped, the vehicle (it was also mounted on a Wiesel) is de facto ready for reconnaissance and observation missions.
Breech-loading mortars have now entered the armoured fighting vehicle sphere, the latest manifestation being the official commencement of an integration programme to place the Finnish Patria 120 mm twin-barrelled Advanced Mortar System (Amos) onto an Alvis/Hagglunds CV 90. Financed to the tune of 5.2 million [euro], the project is known as SSG 120. The same mortar system has also been tested and evaluated by the Finnish Army on the wheeled Patria XA 203 while the mock-up of the new Patria AMW exhibited at the last Eurosatory exhibition also sported an Amos turret.
RO Defence and Delco Defense Systems have placed their jointly developed Amored Mortar System (AMS) with a single turreted 120 mm mortar on a wheeled Lay. 73 have been ordered by the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
Several other mortar installations on wheeled IFVs, notably the TDA 120 mm 2R2M on an 8 x 8 Mowag chassis, are in the pipeline. Although the 2R2M is a rifled mortar, it recently fired stock US Army rounds, scoring top accuracy marks in recent tests in America, before a bemused group of Army officials.
All these vehicle-mounted mortar systems have been reviewed in a very recent Armada article, however, another noteworthy mortar application comes from Singapore Technologies Kinetics which unveiled its new 120 mm Srams at the DSEi exhibition in London in September 2001 (see DSEi report in this issue). Not to be forgotten of course, are Soltam in Israel, and Ruag Land System's Bighorn in Switzerland.
Fire & Forget vs. Das
One caveat regarding fire-and-forget needs to be made. Once such a missile is launched it leaves the realm of human control. Should, for but one example, such a missile decide to engage a bus full of civilians instead of a military target, the soldier responsible for the launch becomes a war criminal. For this reason, systems such as the Gill/Spike with an optical cable !ink that provides a means of human intervention, or the ability to switch selected targets in flight, are likely to find future acceptance. Another drawback of fire-and-forget missiles is that, like their air-to-air counterparts, they are -- or will be--jammable, whatever their manufacturers may now claim. There is not the slightest doubt that future defensive aids suites (see the "Keeping Harm at Bay" section of this survey) will see to that.