The next generation of self propelled artillery is going through testing on White Sands Missile Range to ready it for tomorrow s battlefield.
New versions of the Paladin self propelled howitzer and its accompanying Ammunition Supply Vehicle are undergoing a barrage of testing by Army Test and Evaluation Command's Survivability, Vulnerability and Assessment Directorate at WSMR to ensure the new vehicles can survive both natural and manmade threats ranging from lightning strikes to electronic jamming.
The Paladin is an armored vehicle that carries a 155mm artillery gun, allowing for the crew to quickly provide direct and indirect fire support to Service members on the ground. As with most armored vehicles the interior space is limited, so the Paladin is supported by a similarly armored ammunition supply vehicle to feed additional ammunition to the Paladin and allow for sustained barrages.
According to BAE systems, the manufacturer of the vehicles, this new version of the Paladin and Ammunition Supply Vehicle, developed under the Paladin Integrated Management program, have been upgraded to include features such as new electronics, communications, and fire controls systems. They also share an engine, transmission, and track system with the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, simplifying vehicle support and maintenance.
New vehicles like these are required to undergo a series of certification's to ensure the new systems on board the vehicle can survive on the modern battlefield. Two stops on this certification circuit included WSMRs lightning test facility and high powered microwave facility.
At the lightning test facility the vehicles were placed near a powerful generator that would simulate a nearby lightning strike by producing an arc of electricity up to 2 million volts. The threat posed by a near lightning strike doesn't come from the electricity itself though. "With near strike lightning the major threat is from magnetic fields which can cause problems with all your electronics inside, as well as the vehicle itself," said Benjamin Del Rio, a technical specialist with Syndetics Inc. Magnetic pulses and fields can interfere with and damage electronic systems on board a vehicle by causing current and voltage surges in the systems and overloading them. This can include everything from onboard computer systems to actual vehicle components.
To simulate a lightning strike the test officials use a special simulator to generate a powerful electrical arc. "We charge 39 capacitors to plus or minus 52,000 volts and we have the potential to put out 2 million volts to the strike point," Del Rio said.
Another threat the vehicles saw testing for was that of microwave threats. Microwaves, while used by most of the world for cooking or communications, can also be used to disrupt electronics and other systems. The High Power Microwave facility bombards the vehicles with different frequency microwaves generated by the facilities different microwave generators so test officers can evaluate their ability to disrupt systems inside the vehicles. "What we are trying to do is knock out the vehicle, take it out of operations like what [the enemy] would try and do in wartime," said Richard Rivera, a test officer with SVAD. For HPM testing the vehicles are placed in front of large panel like antennas where they are then hit with the microwaves. After each test, the vehicle is moved to allow the test to be conducted again, and evaluating the system's ability to withstand the microwave threat from all direction.
While the Paladin and Ammunition Supply Vehicle underwent the microwave testing at WSMR, the HPM facilities microwave system are transportable, should a test need to be conducted at another location.
SVAD's WSMR facilities also include other test sites allowing the range to conduct full spectrum electromagnetic testing on vehicles and other systems. "All vehicles that come here from the time that I've been working here have gone through all this type of testing," Rivera said. Other facilities the Paladin vehicles were tested included the Electromagnetic Radiation Effects site and the Electromagnetic Environmental Effects test facility where the systems were further tested against different kinds of electromagnetic effects.