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Army eyeing new artillery systems.

The U.S. Army gradually plans to modernize its field artillery systems, in an effort to replace aging platforms and introduce advanced technology. In anticipation of increased spending on new weaponry, companies have in recent months unveiled a number of technologies targeting future Army and Marine Corps needs.

A case in point is a new 105 mm self-propelled howitzer just entering the marketplace. General Dynamics Land Systems, of Sterling Heights, Mich., and South African's Denel (Pty) Ltd., recently demonstrated the howitzer--which consists of a Denel gun turret mounted on one of GDLS's LAV III light armored vehicles--to Army and Marine Corps officers and representatives from Britain, Canada, and Australia.

The 17.5-ton howitzer was fired first on the beach at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the site of the Air Armament Center. The targets, measuring six by eight feet, were located deep over the horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Eglin has 133,000 square miles of water ranges in the gulf that are used far weapons testing.

Then, the gun was loaded into a C-130, flown to Fort Sill, Okla., site of the Army's Field Artillery School, and fired again. For safety reasons, the weapon was fired remotely, controlled from a nearby bunker.

The howitzer can pump out eight rounds a minute in indirect fire at targets up to 30 kilometers away, said James D. Vickrey, director of GDLS artillery programs, to reporters at the Eglin demonstration. The projectiles are loaded automatically from an internal 32-round magazine, reducing the crew size to no more than three members, he said.

A variety of rounds are available, including smoke, illumination, high-explosive, and preformed fragment versions, Vickrey noted. Each category produces its own useful effect, he said.

For nighttime operations, the illumination round "lights up the whole world," but "the big killer" is the PFF, he said. It sprays thousands of tungsten balls wherever it hits. That "pretty much wipes out a soccer field," he said. "This is not your father's 105."

GDLS spent $5 million of its own funds on the project, and teamed up with Denel in October 2003 to develop the demonstration model, Vickrey said. Denel is a major producer of long-range artillery systems.

GDLS officials said the demonstrator could be adapted to the future combat systems that the Army is developing to replace its current family of armored vehicles. Plans call for the FCS to include five varieties of manned ground vehicles, including a non-line-of sight cannon. GDLS is teamed with United Defense LP, of Arlington, Va., to design the future combat vehicles.

In 2003, United Defense demonstrated a 155 mm non-line-of-sight cannon, featuring a modified version of the M777 lightweight, towed howitzer.

The 105 mm weapon also could be placed atop a variation of the Stryker eight-wheeled, armored combat vehicles that GDLS is building for the Army, company officials asserted.

The mortar carrier variant of the Stryker includes a 60 mm weapon and a 120 mm version. Mortars fire indirectly, high over obstacles to hit relatively close targets.

The Army currently doesn't have a requirement for a 105 mm self-propelled howitzer, said Lt. Col. Greg Kraak, chief of Futures Integration at the Field Artillery Center at Fort Sill. But the Army is interested in learning about the capabilities of the GDLS system, he told reporters at Eglin. "What appeals to us is that the fact that it can be loaded on a C-130."

The Army's current self-propelled howitzer is the M109A6 Paladin 155 mm, the most recent version of a 40-year-old design. The Paladin--built by United Defense--weighs 32 tons, nearly twice the weight of the GDLS demonstrator, and requires a large aircraft--a C-5 Galaxy or C-17 Globemaster--for transport.

The Paladins heft makes it difficult to deploy rapidly in response to fast-breaking regional crises. Heavy artillery can be deployed by ship, but the process takes weeks and sometimes months.

The Army had planned to replace the Paladin with the Crusader, another 155 mm self-propelled howitzer from United Defense. Its weight had been trimmed down to less than 40 tons, light enough to fit two into a single C-17. Pentagon leaders, however, decided that the Crusader still was too heavy, and in 2002 cancelled the program.

The services are planning the next generation of artillery to fit inside the C-130, officials explained. In part, this is because the C-130--unlike other transports--can land on rough, dirt fields as short as 1,400 feet. The C -17 requires 3,000 feet, and the C-5 needs 4,900 feet.

The Air Force has far more C-130s than of the other two transports. At last count, the service had 126 C-5s and 113 C-17s. It plans to increase its number of C-17s to 180 by 2008. By comparison, the Air Force has more than 500 C-130s. With those numbers, Kraak said, "we'll continue to tap the C-130s."

The Army has two C-130-transportable artillery pieces. Both are towed, not self-propelled, and both are aging. They are the M198 155 mm medium howitzer, made by the Rock Island Arsenal, in Illinois, and the M119A1 105 mm originally designed by the United Kingdom's Royal Ordnance.

The U.S. Army and Marines intend to replace their 25-year-old M198s with BAE's M777, a 155 mm towed howitzer that began low-rate initial production in 2003. During that same year, it test-fired the M777 with the XM982 Excalibur GPS inertial navigation-guided projectile. Excalibur is designed to provide precision-strike capability for artillery, with 10-meter accuracy at a maximum range of 40 kilometers.

The M119A1, which was first fielded to the Army in 1989, also is coming to the end of its service life in coming years, Kraak said. "We're going to have to find a replacement for it." The Army," he said, is "looking at a number of systems."

Among the new technologies now being marketed to the Army is United Defense's variable-volume chamber cannon, called the 105 mm V2C2. In February, United Defense test-fired the V2C2 using a 105 mm round and a 155 mm modular charge. The weapon can be integrated with a 20-ton class combat vehicle or configured as a towed platform, said Jim Unterseher, UDLP's Army program director.

"We believe this cannon system offers a cost-effective 105 mm solution for the Army field artillery," he said.

The variable volume chamber allows the Army to use the M231 and M232 modular artillery charge system that is already in its inventory. That would enable artillery units to employ only one Family of propellants for 105 mm and 155 mm systems.

In March, United Defense signed an agreement to lead marketing efforts in the United States for Giat Industries' Caesar 155 mm self-propelled howitzer, originally built for the French Army. The Caesar, which is mounted on a 6 x 6 truck, is C-130 transportable, said Tom Rabaut, president and CEO of United Defense. The agreement with Giat "has the potential for United Defense to produce the howitzer system for United States requirements," he added.
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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