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Heavy mortars and ammunition.

When range is not a key issue and high attack angles allows it to hit targets on reverse slopes or targets protected by urban canyons, the mortar becomes a choice. Heavy mortars have often become a secondary armament even within artillery units. Vehicle mounted variants even provide organic indirect fire to motorised and mechanised infantry units.

TDA, (formerly Thomson Brandt Armements), the Thales subsidiary specialised in mortars, many years ago developed the MO 120 RT rifled 120 mm mortar, which is in use by many infantry and artillery units. Towable by a light vehicle and easily sling transportable by medium utility helicopters, the 622-kg mortar has a maximum range of 8.1 km with standard ammunition. The two-metre long rifled barrel provides good accuracy, and range increases to 13 km with rocket-assisted projectiles. Deployable in less than three minutes, its rate of fire can reach 18 rounds per minute. The MO 120 RT can be split into three loads--barrel, base plate and carriage (the latter being the heaviest at 285 kg)--and deployed by parachute. The MO 120 RT is in use in 24 countries, including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States, where it is deployed by the Marine Corps in the Osprey-transportable Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS).

From this mortar TDA developed the 2R2M (Recoiling Rifled Mounted Mortar). This is a 1,500 kg system that can be mounted in the rear compartment of 10- to 15-tonne tracked or wheeled armoured personal carriers, thanks to its recoil brake that absorbs up to 75% of the forces. Its computerised fire control cum land navigation system allows it to fire the first round in less than a minute from vehicle stop. The semi-automatic muzzle loading ensures a 10 round per minute rate of fire. The 2R2M can be connected to a fire management system, which magnifies platoon effects and provides automatic data transmission between mortars, command post and the forward observer. The elevation arc is +45[degrees]/+85[degrees] while traverse is [+ or -] 220[degrees], ballistic performances remaining identical to those of the MO 120 RT. The number of ready rounds depends on the carrier but is usually around 35. The 120 2R2M has been adopted by Italy, installed on the Freccia 8x8 chassis (the first of 12 mortar carriers were delivered in late 2014), by Malaysia on board the ACV-19 in a solution also adopted in undisclosed numbers by Saudi Arabia, and by Oman on 6x6 VABs. The 2R2M should be installed on the Griffon, the new 6x6 currently under development for the French Army to equip its light and medium units.

Another automated vehicle-mounted mortar is the Cardom developed by Soltam, now part of Elbit Systems. It can be armed with a 120 mm or an 81 mm smoothbore mortar and is fitted with electric drives for automatic laying, state-of-the-art embedded fire control system, inertial navigation system and on-board ballistic computer which can be integrated in a battle management system which enables it to shoot a first round within 30 seconds of taking position.

The 120 mm version has a maximum range of 7,000 metres, and a rate of fire of 16 rounds per minute (the number of rounds depends on vehicle type). The Cardom has a 360[degrees] traverse, and the mortar can also be used dismounted. A multiple-round simultaneous impact mode is available to further improve effectiveness. It has been adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces armed with the 120 mm barrel (two contracts signed in 2011 and 2013) as well as by the Spanish Army, but with the 81 mm barrel. The Cardom is also the basis of the RMS6-L system installed by the Mistral Group in 324 Strykers (known in US Army parlance as the M1129/M1252 Stryker Mortar Carriers).

An evolution of the work carried out by the Marvin Group is the XM-905, fielded in early 2014 by US Special Forces. The programme was launched as a Joint Urgent Operational Need to fill a gap in base protection in Afghanistan. Also known as Automated Mortar Protection System (AMPS), it is based on a round base-plate with three spades and stakes on which the RMS6-L is installed. The electric drive system is linked to the fire control system to minimise the time to target, the plate being able to rotate on 360[degrees] in both directions. The fire control system is able to find accurate firing solutions even when the system is deployed on a slope. The March 2013 contract awarded to the Mistral Group following that of January 2012 adds to the previous the Enhanced Mortar Target Acquisition System (EMTAS), nine of which were deployed in spring 2011 to Afghanistan. The US Army intends to widen the user community by also supplying it to the Green Army.

Providing infantry with a high-mobility big calibre indirect fire capability was the aim of Elbit Systems' designers when they started working on the Spear. They worked on a new recoil system to reduce recoil forces under a 10-tonne threshold and thereby allow the Spear to be installed on Flumvee-class vehicles without needing stabilising spades. The system weighs less than one tonne without ammunition, the ammo complement being 36 rounds with charges. The range and rate of fire remain those of the Cardom, ammunition loading being the only manual action required from its crew of two. It is equipped with a computerised navigation and aiming system with north finding system and clinometers. Thus fed, the fire control system (which can be integrated into most battle management systems) allows the electric drives to exactly position the mortar barrel in azimuth and elevation. A Spear-equipped vehicle can enter in action within 60 seconds from stopping and fire with a 30-metre accuracy. The Spear opens up the possibility to provide heavy calibre mobile mortar fire to infantry units equipped with light vehicles, enabling to deploy the same type of vehicle to cover troop transport, direct and indirect fire roles. The Israeli Defence Forces have expressed their interest and Elbit confirms that a few potential export customers have already lined up.

About 15 years ago Ruag in Switzerland developed a vehicle-mounted 120 mm smoothbore mortar known as the Bighorn. A hydraulic powerpack ensured gun laying and semi-auto loading, while an inertial navigation and positioning system provides accurate weapon position and mortar alignment independently from GPS availability, accuracy being 0.5% distance travelled in x- and y- grids and 0.25% in altitude. Azimuth range was of [+ or -] 190[degrees] (adding a slip-ring a 360[degrees] continuous traverse is available as option) while elevation arc covered +45[degrees]/+85[degrees]. The semi-auto loader ensured a burst rate of four rounds in less than 20 seconds, an intense rate of 8-12 rounds per minute, and a sustained rate of four rounds per minute up to ISO rounds. Maximum range was in excess of 9,000 metres, depending on ammunition. The programme was eventually shelved, but in February 2015 the Swiss company unveiled the Cobra--a fully modernised version of the Bighorn. In addition to a modern "bodywork", the Cobra essentially sees all its hydraulics replaced with electric drives and a modern firing management system. The recoil force is of 30 tonnes and only lasts 30 milliseconds meaning that a two-axle truck suffices to operate it, according to the company. The wholly new ballistic computer and fire control system can be easily integrated with any artillery command and control system. With its semi-automatic loader the Cobra can shoot four rounds in less than 20 seconds (a safety system prevents double loading). According to Ruag a Cobra-equipped vehicle can take position, fire six to ten rounds (the first one leaving the barrel within 60 seconds) and scoot in less than two minutes. The two-metre barrel (a 1.6-metre barrel can also be had in case of limited volumes) accepts any current smoothbore ammunition, even the longer guided ammunition. The Cobra also features an embedded training facility as well as the already mentioned 81 mm barrel insert providing a train-as-you-fight capability reducing ammunition cost and firing range requirements. In terms of weight some savings were obtained, the Cobra weighing 1,200 kg without the loading system and 1,350 with it. Ruag has already started firing trials required to confirm the new architecture (the artillery components taken from the Bighorn had already fired over 2,000 rounds). The Cobra has been integrated on a Piranha (it is mainly proposed for 8x8 platforms). Discussions with several countries are underway.

The ST Engineering of Singapore Super Rapid Advanced Mortar System (Srams) 120 mm smoothbore mortar system is in service with Singapore and the UAE, respectively on the Bronco all-terrain vehicle and on the RG31 mine protected vehicle. The mortar has a 1.8-metre long barrel, and is fitted with a 10-round per minute semi-automatic loader. Maximum range is 9 km with RAP ammunition, elevation arc being +40[degrees]/+80[degrees], while the platform rotates [+ or -] 28[degrees] from the center line. The overall weight of the system is less than 1,200 kg, recoil being less than 26 tonnes (it has been integrated on the company's Spider as well as on the Humvee). In the Singaporean Army configuration it is mounted on the rear section of the Bronco, while on the RG31 it is installed on the flatbed. A first batch of Srams was delivered to the UAE and integrated on the RG31 Mk5 by the International Golden Group; this assembly is known as Agrab 1. A second batch of 72 is being integrated on the RG31 Mk6E as the Agrab 2 with deliveries well underway. The latter version is fitted with a Selex ES FIN3110 navigation system and, like the Agrab 1, with Denel Land System's Arachnida fire control system.

Another type of mortar solution for vehicles is the one that includes full protection for the crew, that is, turreted mortars. Constraints on vehicles dimensions are obviously more stringent due to the weight, while first round can usually be fired quicker, as there is no need to set up the mortar when the vehicle stops, but only to adjust direction and elevation.

In the late 1990s Patria Hagglunds Oy, a joint venture between Patria and BAE Systems Hagglunds, developed the Amos turret to provide an indirect firepower solution for wheeled or tracked armoured personnel carriers and fast combat boats. With a weight of 3,600 kg the Amos turret is armed with two three-metre long 120 mm smoothbore breach-loading mortars on hydro-pneumatic recoil system. Traverse is 360[degrees] while the elevation arc covers -3[degrees/+85[degrees] (laying is electric). The firing position is automatically reached by the fire control system, followed by first firing less than 30 seconds later. Loading is semi-automatic, allowing the first four rounds to be fired in five seconds. Maximum rate of fire is 16 rounds per minute while maximum continuous is 10 rounds per minute. The long barrel provides a range of over 10 km, and the fire control system has a simultaneous impact firing capability of up to 10 rounds. Following the development contract signed in 2003, 18 Amos-equipped Patria AMVs were finally ordered in December 2010 by the Finnish Armed Forces followed by initial deliveries in 2013.

In 2006 Patria further developed the turret into the lighter single-barrel Nemo. It maintains the same barrel and most characteristics in terms of elevation arcs, laying and loading systems, while of course the highest rate of fire is reduced to three rounds in 15 seconds. Maximum rate of fire is of 10 rounds per minute and sustained six per minute. The Nemo weighs 1,700 kg, which is less than half the Amos, making it compatible with 6x6s and lighter vessels. The launch customer is an undisclosed Middle East service, understood to be the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which under a 2010 FMS contract, ordered 36 Nemo-equipped LAV IIs equipped from GDLS-Canada. Naval orders are also said to have been chalked up. According to Patria interesting opportunities for the Nemo are arising in Europe, the Middle-East and in Northern America. In 2012 Patria introduced the Nemo Plus concept, integrating a Kongsberg Protector Super Lite remotely controlled weapon station in the turret, as well as a situational awareness system. Moreover, in 2014 Patria unveiled a mortar system gunner-commander training simulator that can be used from basic to advanced training, typical platoon configuration including three gunner-commander stations and one instructor-operator station. In early 2015 Patria and Kongsberg announced a teaming agreement to pursue together a major combat vehicle and weapon system programme somewhere in the Middle East.

Leveraging experience with the 2S1 Gozdzik self-propelled howitzer of Soviet origin, Huta Stalowa Wola (HSW) of Poland developed a turreted mortar system known as the RAK 120. It is armed with a single 120 mm mortar the 3,000 mm long smoothbore barrel of which gives it a maximum range of 10 km. Aiming can be fully automatic, the Polish configuration featuring the Topaz integrated communications and fire control system, or manual via a joystick (a fully manual back-up is available). Vehicle position is provided by a Talin 5000 inertial navigation system coupled to a GPS and an odometer, ensuring navigation even in GPS-denied situations. Elevation arc is -3[degrees]/+80[degrees] while traverse is 360[degrees] and all actuators are electric. The automatic system allows ammunition to be loaded at all elevations, 20 ready-to-use rounds being hosted in the turret bustle, while 40 more are stored in the vehicle rear compartment. Rate of fire is between six and eight rounds per minute, the system ensuring multiple rounds simultaneous impact with at least three rounds. The turret can also be used to deliver direct fire up to 500 metres. Time into action is estimated at less than 30 seconds, the vehicle being manned by a crew of two or three and the turret fitted as standard with a Level 1 protection.

Poland selected the RAK 120, but orders came in slowly, a first batch of eight being installed on the Rosomak 8x8. In 2013, however, the Polish MoD ordered a further batch of Rosomaks, 80 of which should be armed with the turreted mortar while the other 43 should be outfitted as command posts and forward observer vehicles. HSW also installed its turret on a Marder, which was exhibited at MSPO in 2013 and 2014 to attract export orders.

In the early 1980s the Soviet Union started developing a turret armed with a 120 mm breech-loaded 2A60 rifled mortar for wheeled or tracked light armoured chassis like the BTR-80 and the BTR-D air assault vehicle. Traverse is limited to 70[degrees] while elevation arc covers -4[degrees]/+80[degrees]. The tracked version, known as the 2S9 Nona, is apparently no longer offered on the export market quite unlike the wheeled 2S23 Nona SVK and the towed Nona-K that are actively marketed. A maximum rate of fire of 10 rounds per minute can be reached, sustained fire not exceeding four rounds per minute. Maximum range is 8.8 km with conventional ammunition and 12.8 km with rocket assisted projectiles. Still in service with many of the former Soviet republics, the most recent export success seems to be with Venezuela for 18 systems. A further evolution is the BMP-3 carried 2S31, which adopts the longer barrel 2A80 mortar. Range leaps out to 13 km with standard rounds.

China quickly developed similar systems, largely based on reverse engineering. The first one is the PLL-05 based on a WMZ 551 6x6 chassis with the mortar-armed turret mounted at the back. Here the turret could however be traversed on all 360[degrees]. Semi-automatic loading system was fitted, five different types of rounds being available, among which a HEAT round for direct fire up to 600 metres. A version based on a different chassis, that of the Type 07P 8x8 personnel carrier was developed, mostly for export purposes. Named the Type 07PA, the launch customer appears to be Tanzania, a usual customer of Chinese military hardware.


The German Army's decision to stop the procurement of the lePzMrs (leichter Panzermorser, light armoured mortar system) also known as Mortar Fighting System based on the Wiesel 2 light tracked vehicle has de facto put the system supposed to equip the German light infantry on ice. The German Army keeps the single system acquired, which is made of eight Wiesel mortar vehicles, two Wiesel command vehicles, four Mungo ammunition carriers and some 6,000 new-generation rounds. The system is fitted with the Adler DVA Streitkraftegemeinsame Taktische Feuerunterstiitzung command and information system. According to the latest information the system might be used by the Artillery from 2015, infantry units being standardised on 81 mm mortars. The Wiesel 2 mortar is based on the Tampella (now Patria) 120 mm smoothbore mortar already in use by the German Army. The barrel is reinforced to withstand higher pressures yielded by the new ammunition. Barrel, cradle, recoil device and yoke are all mounted on a pivot; the fire control system allows fire in less than 60 seconds from halt. Of the overall 310 kg, 180 kg are accounted for by the traversing mass. Oriented forward, the mortar can be traversed [+ or -] 30[degrees], elevation arc being +35[degrees/+85[degrees]. The 1,700 mm long barrel and the new ammo performances combine into a range of eight kilometres. Rate of fire is three rounds in 20 seconds and 18 rounds in 180 seconds, a total of 25 rounds plus two guided ammunition being carried on board. Loading is manual, the barrel coming to a horizontal position for doing so; hence it's relatively short length. The crew of three military operate under armour and two stabilising hydraulic jacks automatically extend at the back of the vehicle prior to firing. The Wiesel 2-based mortar system was aimed at equipping the German Army airmobile brigades and was thus designed to be air-lifted inside the CH-53 helicopters in service with the German Army Aviation. The Mortar Fighting System remains in Rheinmetall's export items portfolio. The company is evaluating options to mount it on other vehicles, and is open to cooperate with other vehicle manufacturers.


Using its experience with the GPS-based Precision Guided Kit (PGK), Alliant Techsystems developed a similar kit aimed at increasing the accuracy of 120 mm mortar bombs fired from smoothbore tubes with crossed hairs trained on the US Army's Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (AMPI). The MPK, as it is known to reflect Mortar Precision Kit, retains the fixed canard nose assembly, but adds a tail subsystem with fold-back fins to increase flight stability. Both are installed on an M934 high-explosive 120mm projectile body. APMI requirements called for a CEP of less than 10 metres, compared to a CEP of 136 metres for 120 mm smoothbore mortars at their maximum range, which can be reduced by 50 metres when using advanced precision position and pointing systems. AMPI munitions are programmed, like the PGK-equipped artillery shells, with the Enhanced Portable Inductive Artillery Fuze Setter. The MPK was fielded in March 2011 in Afghanistan, the first round being fired one month later. However, no major contract was placed by the US Army since, and ATK is thus looking for international partners to expand the market of its munition.

ATK is also involved, together with General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, in the Precision Extended Range Munition (Perm) programme. The aim is to provide the Marine Corps with new ammunition that increases the range of their Expeditionary Fire Support System on the one hand, and considerably increases accuracy on the other (objective requirement calling for a CEP of less than 20 metres at 18 km range). The other competitor is a team composed of Raytheon and Israel Military Industries. The latter developed its Guided Mortar Munition (GMM120) for 120 mm smoothbore mortars, a 9-km range ammunition that is currently equipped with GPS guidance. The projectile features four canard wings that pop-out in the aft section once the round has left the barrel, guidance inputs from the Pure Heart GPS/Inertial navigation and control unit steering the wings to bring the round as close as possible to the target (10-metre CEP according to IMI). A nose-mounted seeker semi-active laser-guided version of this round might also be developed for a CEP of less than 1.5 metres. In February 2014 Israel Military Industries announced that the GPS version of its GMM120 guided mortar bomb was undergoing qualification with the Israel Defence Forces.

Another Israeli company, Elbit Systems, developed a 120-mm mortar ammunition the laser guidance kit of which is derived from the laser JDAM. The kit includes power, electronics, steering canard wings and seeker. Weighing less than 3 kg, it ensures a wide field of view, is compatible with all Nato designators and provides a one-metre accuracy. Elbit Systems is however looking at further improvements; one weak point of mortar laser guided bombs is the fact that they need a designator to illuminate the target, while very often mortars are used to neutralise targets which are not in direct view. Designation from a flying platform is the best option; however, infantry has no such assets. The idea is thus to use hand-launched drones to provide target illumination. Weight then comes into play, the payload of such drones being limited. Hence the need to develop improved seekers with much higher sensitivity that would allow to terminally guide the ammunition with a much weaker target signal reflection. The Israeli company is actively working on that, the integration of a GPS guidance system being also on its way. One must remember Elbit's heavy involvement in the drone discipline and its Skylark 2 could be an optimal designator.

The fact that Israeli companies are extremely active in the 120 mm mortar ammo should not come as a surprise knowing that the Israeli Defence Forces have decided to replace all their 81 mm mortars with the larger calibre, deploying one platoon of four tubes per battalion. At AUSA 2014 another Israeli company, MTC Industries & Research Carmiel, unveiled its CAS-0313 canard actuation steering system in which each surface is controlled by a separate electric direct current motor. The angular position of each wing is measured by a potentiometer and the spin rate of the motor is determined by an electronic controller (not being included in the kit). The unit is 212 mm long, has a diameter of 119 mm, the wingspan being of 370 mm. The wings are deployed after launch. The system is also proposed for 122 mm rockets.

KBP of Russia developed the Gran laser guided 120 mm ammunition. Fired by smoothbore mortars, it has a maximum range of 9 km. The 27 kg round is 1,200 mm long, has an 11.2 kg high explosive-fragmentation warhead containing 5.3 kg of explosive, and is designed to defeat single and group, stationary and moving, armoured and soft-skinned targets. Its lethal range is given as 150 metres against unprotected targets. Target illumination is provided by the Malakhit portable automated artillery fire control system. Once the target is acquired the Gran is launched. The rear fins deploy soon after launch, after which the sustainer rocket motor ignites; the gyroscope is then activated, and the nose section separates once it starts to orient itself towards the target area with its canards.

Caption: TDA's 2R2M 120mm automatic mortar system has been integrated on various chassis, among which the VAB 6x6 and the Piranha 8x8 seen here. (TDA)

Caption: Firing from an M113 with El bit Systems Cardom 120 mm mortar; the system can also accept 81 mm tubes and is in service with Israel and Spain. (Elbit Systems)

Caption: A close view of the Elbit Cardom 120 mm mortar; originally developed by Soltam, the system now draws on Elbit's experience with electronics. (Armada/P. Valpolini)

Caption: Elbit's laser guided mortar ammunition is based on a seeker derived form that of the JDAM and is obtained by adding a kit to a standard 120 mm mortar bomb; on the ledt the kit installed on the ammunition while the right picture shows the separate elements of the kit. (Armada/P. Valpolini)

Caption: In America the Mistral Group developed the RMS6-L mortar system. Based on Elbit Systems' Cardom, it has been installed on the Stryker. (US Army)

Caption: Ruag's Cobra is the most recent addition to vehicle-mounted 120 mm mortar systems; equipped with all-electric actuators, it is largely based on the former Bighorn. (Armada/P. Valpolini)

Caption: STK Engineering of Singapore has exported its Srams to the UAE where it has been integrated on the RC-31 to become the Agrab 7. (Armada/P. Valpolini)

Caption: The Amos twin 120 mm breach-loading mortar turret produced by Patria of Finland is in use by the national army installed over a Patria AMV chassis. (Patria)

Caption: After the Twin barrel turret, Patria developed the Nemo, a single-barrel light mortar turret. (Patria)

Caption: The RAK is a 120 mm turreted mortar system developed by Huta Stalowa Wola of Poland that can be installed on tracked or wheeled armoured vehicles. (HSW)

Caption: The RAK 120 seen here is installed on a Rosomak 8x8 armoured personnel carrier; the system has been ordered by the Polish Army. (Armada/P. Valpolini)

Caption: At IDEX 2015 the Military Industrial Complex of Sudan exhibited a 120 mm mortar carrier based on the Khatim-2 chassis, a very spartan solution for the African market. (Armada/P. Valpolini)

Caption: The German Government's decision to stop procurement of the Wiesel 2 probably reflects that nation's desire not to be too deply involved in current conflicts.

Caption: ATK's Mortar Precision Kit was fielded in Afghanistan, however as no major order followed the company is now seeking an international partner to expand its market. (US Army)

Caption: Produced by KBP of Russia the Cran 120 mm laser guided mortar bomb operates in conjunction with the Malakhit laser designator; in the background is the 155mm Krasnopol artillery guided round. (Armada/P. Valpolini)

Caption: MTC Industries & Research Carmiel of Israel produces the C45-0313 canard actuation steering system for 120 mm mortar bombs and 122 mm rockets. (Armada/P. Valpolini)


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Publication:Armada International
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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