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Do-it-all anti-armour? Only if one believes in serendipity! (Complete Guide).

There is no doubt that America leads in most aspects of anti-armour weapon technology. When we last reported (Armada 6/2000), one of the most important developments in this field was that the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations had demanded of the Secretary of Defense that his next budget submission should include an anti-armour munitions master plan that would quantify the post-Soviet armoured threat and identify the weapons needed to defeat it.

The cause for this concern arose from the fact that America's worst-case defence scenario had been revised downwards drastically, to consist of two smaller MTWs (major theatre wars) involving--according to the Defense Intelligence Agency--less than 20 per cent of the Cold War estimate of opposing armoured fighting vehicles. Despite this major reduction in the threat, in the 1990s the US services had maintained and improved their inventories of around 40 different types of anti-armour systems. The Pentagon nonetheless expects to spend approximately $14 billion on the development and acquisition of 13 new guided and unguided anti-armour programmes.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed the revised Master Plan submitted in July 2000, and concluded that it failed to provide a joint effectiveness analysis. Instead, it was based on separate US Air Force and Army analyses, each without reference to the other service's capabilities. In essence, computer modelling was showing that new anti-armour weapon systems would result in a favourable conflict outcome being achieved sooner and with fewer friendly casualties, but it was not assessing the relative effects of the various new systems in a multi-service fighting environment. Nobody doubts that current technological advances can provide improvements over existing anti-armour weapons, but the US services are failing to make a credible case for continuing developmental spending in this area, since they are literally incapable of "getting their acts together".

The GAO accordingly recommended that the Secretary of Defense should include in his next Quadrennial Defense Review an independent joint service assessment of anti-armour munition capabilities, requirements and priorities.

The anticipated total procurement cost (from FY2001 to completion) of the various new US systems is listed in the box on the following page.

New Technologies and Concepts

In the course of the 1990s several new anti-armour technologies reached the stage at which they were ready for deployment. These included multimode sensors and warheads, millimetric-wave radar for all-weather guidance, `soft' launches for firings from within enclosed spaces and automatic target recognition systems allowing fully autonomous operation of the missile or warhead.

However, while technologies were advancing to meet long-standing requirements, the operators' demands were being modified to suit the changing face of warfare. Aside from reducing the number of tanks required to be destroyed to achieve a successful outcome, experience in post-Cold War conflicts has brought a number of fundamental changes in the attitudes of some leading services to anti-armour weapon systems.

Friendly fire accidents in the 1991 Gulf War emphasised the need to minimise `blue-on-blue' casualties. Operations in 1999 in Kosovo brought demands to reduce collateral damage. Partly as a result of the Coalition's mere handful of casualties in the spectacularly successful Desert Storm, the general public is now far less willing to tolerate personnel losses, especially in the context of remote conflicts.

Many current weapon systems were conceived in the days when the challenge was to destroy (at almost any cost) large numbers of the Warsaw Pact tanks that were expected to swarm across Europe. Today's threat is characterised by much smaller numbers of armoured targets in a fluid situation with no real front-line and with many of these targets deliberately dispersed within civilian areas.

It has thus become far more important, firstly, to identify the target correctly, and secondly, to strike it accurately with just sufficient energy to destroy it. In addition, the pilot or gunner launching the anti-tank missile should be exposed as little as possible to return fire. Priorities naturally vary between services. For example, the US Air Force is more concerned than the US Army to reduce operator workload, since the majority of its tactical aircraft are single-seaters, and since the risk of exposing an aircraft to enemy fire can be justified only if it can kill several tanks in a single pass.

The principal changes may be illustrated by reference to some new anti-armour systems. For example, the MBDA Brimstone was designed in the later days of the Cold War (GEC-Marconi at the time) to exploit the potential of millimetric-wave radar and automatic target-recognition technologies in providing a safe (i.e. against shoulder-launched Sams) day/night all-weather fire-and-forget capability from fixed-wing aircraft platforms, typically engaging a group of tanks, the approximate position of which is known prior to launch. Its successful development undoubtedly represents an outstanding technological achievement. However, when asked by Armada about prospects of selling the Brimstone specifically to the US Air Force, the MBDA briefing executive responded that the service is looking for lock-on before launch capability and not fully autonomous operation.

Several changes in demands are illustrated by new versions of the Raytheon Tow, which is launched from both ground platforms and helicopters. Although the fire-and-forget version has been cancelled, the radio-guided Tow RF will provide substantially longer range, eliminating the limit imposed by trailing guidance wires. It will also be compatible with Raytheon's Itas (Improved Target Acquisition System), the improved resolution of which will allow targets to be detected and identified at four and two times present ranges respectively.

Another anti-armour missile offering compatibility with the Itas is the Raytheon/Lockheed Martin Javelin, a medium-range system that is especially suited to rapid reaction forces. The Javelin is being produced for the US Army and US Marine Corps, and has 2.5 times the range of the Dragon that it replaces. It also provides fire-and-forget capability by virtue of its IIR (imaging infrared) seeker, the choice of direct-attack or top-attack engagements and a soft launch, allowing the gunner to fire from inside buildings.

Other important trends include modular construction and operational flexibility, so that the missile can be launched from a variety of platforms and is effective against a wide range of targets. Modular construction is well illustrated by the Raytheon Maverick, with a choice of three guidance heads (TV, IR or laser) and two warheads (a 56.7 kg shaped charge, and a 136 kg blast-penetrator with fragmentation effects).

In the case of the US Army's Common Missile, which is currently being competed in the system definition phase and is scheduled to replace both the Boeing/Lockheed Martin Hellfire and the Raytheon Tow, it is anticipated that a tri-mode seeker will be fitted, allowing the use of active millimetric-wave guidance, semi-active laser homing or man in-the-loop IIR guidance. Emphasis is placed on minimising the risk to the operator by increasing range and reducing time of flight. This is an interesting development because until recently, fire-and-forget was all the rage. As repeatedly noted by Armada, this would have been the panacea in a West-East confrontation with a clear red line separating the two. Now, however, the situation is quite different, and as Kosovo-like operations have recently demonstrated. There are two important factors that have to be taken into account:

* Observation: anti-armour weapons are emplaced at `sensitive points' and used for long, protracted observation periods of time. Here, ergonomics play a major role.

* Collateral: armoured enemy formations now have a propensity to move with buses full of civilian hostages or prisoners, which precludes the use of not having a man in the loop.

The United Kingdom is funding 15 per cent of the current phase, which runs to September 2003. The competitors for the eventual British Army order are understood to be the Spike-ER and a Next Generation Tow.

Warhead Technology

Armour and anti-armour have been playing a cat-and-mouse game ever since they were invented. Today, the warhead definitely appears to have an edge because the weight penalty it imposes on armoured vehicles is becoming hardly bearable. The only future alternative appears to be active self-protection systems--like the Arena--in which the Russian manufacturers have a definite lead. The Arena designed by KBM is a vertical pod mounted in a commanding position--on the rear of the turret, if a tank is involved. It houses a number of charges that can be fired 360[degrees] around the vehicle. These are triggered by a detection radar (also mounted on the turret) and literally thrown in the path of the incoming penetrator to destroy it or at least considerably disturb its destructive action.

Failing this, the warhead still has to penetrate and pierce. In a majority of cases, missiles use hollow charges. Their effectiveness (i.e. penetration power) is proportional to their diameter, although minor improvements (10 to 15 per cent) are achieved through tweaking the shape and density of the copper lining. Looking at the fold-out table provided in this special supplement will reveal that all charges have a diameter of at least 130 mm (except the top-attack variety), and that virtually all precursors have a diameter of about 40 mm or more--this due to the more efficient explosively reactive armour now available.

Talking of top-attack leads us to an interesting development--the Swedish Bill 2, the warhead of which was developed by Ruag. This Swiss company has specialised in isostatic pressing and shrink fit warhead assembly. This enables the warheads to be accurately machined and their density controlled. For example, Ruag has managed to develop an asymmetrical hollow charge that allows the impact of the downwards-fired dart to remain over the same single spot on the attacked armour in spite of the forward movement of the horizontally moving warhead. Without this trick, the dart would drag over the surface.

Another type of warhead is the explosively forged projectile, also referred to as EFP. This roughly follows the same principle as the hollow charge (or shaped charge) except that the copper liner is replaced with a tantalum lens that is forged into a high-speed slug. This is a preferred solution for top-attack warheads dispensed from a higher altitude than the over-flight missiles, like the Textron BLU-108 skeet warhead.

A new requirement has emerged in the wake of recent conflicts, Kosovo being one example, which is building, bunker and sandbag penetration. As the pictures herewith show, an `ordinary' anti-armour missile tends to cause a terrific blast outside the target--and thereby produce unwanted results in urban, short-range use. As explained elsewhere in this survey, various solutions such as combining a hollow charge with a retarded grenade did not prove satisfactory. Ruag Munition again seems to have found an appropriate answer to the challenge. The Swiss company is currently experimenting with a penetrator called the Mep (modular explosive penetrator) that uses the reverberating shockwaves to penetrate the hardest concretes and explode inside the building (see full details in Armada 4/2002, page 41) under the control of an accelerometer fuze. High explosive is currently used, but the firm is also looking at the possibilities offered by thermobaric warheads.
Anticipated Total Procurement Cost

From FY2001 to completion, the price of the various new US systems:
(in descending order of magnitude and in terms of then-year
[million] dollars)

Bat/Army Tactical Missile System: Army $ 4171
Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System: Army $ 3369
Javelin: Army/USMC $ 3012
Longbow Hellfire: Army $ 2107
Wide Area Munition: Army $ 1733
Tank Round M829A2/E3: Army $ 1613
Joint Stand-Off Weapon (BLU-108): USAF/USN $ 1571
Sensor-Fuzed Weapon: USAF $ 709
Predator: USMC $ 592
Sense and Destroy Armor: Army $ 295
25 mm Gun Round, Army M919: Army $ 242
Remote Area Denial Munition: Army $ 151
Multipurpose Individual Munition: Army $ 141

(Source: GAO-01-607)

What Next?

The question that is giving both decision-makers and missile manufacturers a considerable headache is "what anti-armour weapon should we use in urban warfare?" As recent urban conflicts proved, none of the existing missiles really offer a suitable answer. Fire-and-forgets have the tremendous limitations mentioned in this article, plus the fact that the pop-up and dive category may have a tough time finding their targets on the way down in a tree-lined avenue. Then full-size anti-armour warheads might prove totally unsuited to defeat lighter vehicles (even if they are heavily armed) since their penetrators can pierce them completely and still have sufficient energy to wreak havoc in whatever might be behind them. Finally, with the emergence of urban warfare, anti-building weapons are also needed with all the logistical problems having different categories of weapons entails.

Weapon projects featuring interchangeable warheads have been played with but have proven unsatisfactory-one main problem stemming from trivial centre of gravity alteration issues. Moreover, guidance is not really needed against a building, in any case.

This may explain why new missiles are not being purchased in large numbers right now, and why a number of new weapons have been and still are being cancelled--like the Sraw, the Tow-FF and the Trigat-MR--and why no decision regarding their replacement has yet been envisaged. The status quo on the Trigan nicely illustrates the current blur.
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Article Details
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Author:Braybrook, Ray
Publication:Armada International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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