PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Army News Service, May 5, 2015) -- Picatinny develops about 90 percent of the lethality within the Army and a high percentage for the other services as well, Brig. Gen. Patrick W. Burden said.

If it shoots - be it a tank, rifle, artillery or aircraft - that firepower most likely originated here, said Burden, who is the post's commander and deputy program executive officer, ammunition. He spoke during a media day, May 4.

As the military's Joint Center of Excellence for Guns and Ammunition, Picatinny Arsenal has 63 munitions laboratories, where some 3,000 Army scientists and engineers test and develop everything from propellants and explosives to pyrotechnics and munitions.

To make it all work, each of these labs have to interact, and to do that, "teamwork is critical," Burden said. "This is where I've seen some of the best collaboration in the Army."

COST CONSCIOUS

Picatinny research dollars are focused not just on making a bigger bang, but making a bigger bang for the buck, said John F. Hedderich III, director, U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.

There is a focused approach to investing, he said. "Researchers don't just say I'm going to invent something, get a Technology Readiness Level-5 and move on." First, there are a lot of discussions with the program managers about which research will likely yield the most favorable cost-to-benefit ratio.

That is not to say, however, that we are risk averse, he said. Heidi Shyu has us looking into solutions 15 or 30 years out. "That's tricky because it's hard to defend science and technology dollars when it's not connected to a program of record." So there is a balance between that and current requirements. Shyu is assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

As for current needs, Hedderich said that with modernization chasing so few dollars, the labs are focused on making current conventional munitions much smarter through engineering change proposals.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

The Precision Guidance Kit, or PGK, is one such solution, said James Shields, program executive officer, ammunition.

Currently in the final development and qualifying stage, the PGK is a GPS-guided fuse that is screwed into the fuse well of a 155mm artillery shell in place of the conventional fuse. It gives the projectile "near-precision capability," Shields said.

Near-precision means less than 50 meters circular error probable, or CEP, at a range of 30 kilometers, he said. At that distance, a conventional projectile would be CEP accurate to about 267 meters. Even at shorter range, say 15 kilometers, the PGK's CEP advantage is about twice that of a non-PGK projectile. CEP is basically a circle around a target where, it can be said with confidence, a projectile will land.

Pete Burke, deputy project manager for Combat Ammunition Systems, said that the fins or canards on the fuse orient themselves to the target using GPS, so a Soldier need only to fire the artillery and the projectile will automatically do the rest.

Shields said PGKs are "a fraction of the cost of a typical guided munition."

Another factor in favor of their cost is that with enhanced accuracy "60 to 70 percent fewer rounds are required to defeat a target," Shields said. That not only means fewer rounds need to be fired, it also means fewer rounds need to be carried, thus reducing the logistical tail.

These factors have essentially neutralized PGK's cost, he said.

Besides the cost advantage, more accuracy means less collateral damage, Shields said. Rounds can be fired at the enemy when they are close to friendly forces should that support be necessary. Also, Soldiers can hit their targets much more quickly.

Although the PGK is still in final development, the Army realized its game-changer potential so deliveries were made to U.S. forces in Afghanistan under an urgent materiel release, said Shields, adding that foreign military sales, or FMS, of PGKs are also being conducted with Canada and Australia.

As an aside, Shields said that PEO Ammunition is also involved in FMS with the Iraqi and Afghan armies and police.

Since they are equipped with former Warsaw Pact nation's arms, including rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles, the Army purchases ammunition from countries like Romania and Bulgaria, tests it for safety and reliability, and then delivers it to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another ammunition success story, Shields said, is the Enhanced Performance Round, or ERP, which he called "the biggest advance in small-caliber ammunition in the last 50 years in terms of combat capability and overmatch."

EPR is a significantly improved 5.56mm round used in rifles and carbines that provides excellent soft-target consistency and vastly better hard-target performance, and increases Soldiers' effectiveness at extended ranges with better accuracy, all without increasing their load, he said.

The M982 Excalibur, a 155mm extended-range artillery shell, is another fairly recent success, Shields said.

IN-HOUSE ADVANTAGE

Hedderich said having all 63 labs on Picatinny saves inestimable time and money, as a lot of collaboration takes place. Besides that, all of the research, engineering and development is performed by Army scientists and researchers, so if a production problem develops for a product, a solution can more quickly be found than if the Army were to have to go through the contracting process.

In-house expertise is also attuned to developing a commonality of components to lower cost, he said. For example engineers are looking at the PGK's chip and fin and working to use those same components to give more precision to future mortar rounds.

Looking elsewhere, "generic fusing and energetics can apply to bombs, missiles used by all of the services," he said.

That is not to say that Picatinny is going it all alone, Hedderich said.

"We have hundreds of cooperative research and development agreements within industry to share data and intellectual property," he said. Some of the Army scientists and engineers even do design work and testing at industry labs when it is deemed beneficial to both Army and industry.

Two years ago, Picatinny established an Army university on post, where scientists and engineers can study part-time to earn a master's or doctorate degree in armament systems, Hedderich said. The professors are senior scientists from Picatinny.

Eleven students will be the first graduating class next year. The university will experience rapid grow, he predicted, as others on post and even in industry have learned about the opportunity to attend and are expressing interest. Nowhere else is this degree offered.

Lastly, Hedderich said Picatinny is always looking to bring new talent into the ranks of its scientists and engineers. About 500 attended a job fair on post last month.

Besides selecting seasoned scientists, Picatinny will also hire young people, who have just graduated and who have fresh ideas, he said.

Summing up what Picatinny means for the Army, Burden said the arsenal "brings lethality to the battlefield. We're proud of what we do. There's a part of Picatinny Arsenal in every Soldier."