By Jason FonnorDecember 27, 2018
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which took place in November 2018, also marks more than 100 years of development of firing tables and related fire-control products by Army personnel.
A tabular firing table, or TFT, allows a gunner to carry out manual calculations to arrive at an aiming solution--elevation, azimuth, and fuze setting--to engage targets under a variety of conditions.
The Ballistics Branch, Range Firing Section of the Proof Department was established on April 6, 1918, at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland.
Its mission is to prepare firing tables, perform mathematical analysis of trajectories, and conduct experiments designed to increase the range and accuracy of weapon systems.
Now known as the Firing Tables and Ballistics Division, the personnel carrying out this mission remain at APG but have been part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, since 1992. ARDEC falls under the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. Both organizations will be part of the Army Futures Command in 2019.
In the 1940s and 50s, the earliest computers, such as the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, and the Ordnance Discrete Variable Automatic Computer, were used to calculate trajectory information for all Army weapons -- artillery, mortars, tanks, small arms, as well as aircraft-delivered bombs and rockets.
This information would be used in a number of aiming devices -- tabular and graphical firing tables, firing scales, direct fire reticles, and bomb sights, to name a few.
These data were also used in the earliest operational fire control computers, such as the Field Artillery Digital Automatic Computer and the Tactical Fire Direction System.
Over the second half of the 20th century, Firing Tables Branch personnel supported numerous similar commercial efforts by providing ballistic databases and computational methodology.
In the early 1990s, the chief of the then-Firing Tables and Aeroballistics Branch, Robert Lieske, sought to develop a standard software solution for ballistic computations needed in technical fire control.
As the chairman of the NATO Sub-Group 2 (SG/2) Panel on Accuracy and Ballistics, he championed this vision with representatives from a number of other nations. The result was the NATO Artillery Ballistic Kernel (NABK), later renamed the NATO Armaments Ballistic Kernel.
A kernel is a component of a larger set of software, intended to carry out a specific purpose. Version 1.0 of this product was completed and first implemented in 1998 as part of the Norwegian ODIN Fire Support System. In the twenty years since, the NABK has been fielded as a component of the fire control systems in at least 20 nations -- with over 50 implementations worldwide. The NABK is used in every operational cannon artillery fire control system in service with the United States Army and Marine Corps, as well as several mortar fire control systems.
Today, the Firing Tables and Ballistics (FTaB) Division, as part of the ARDEC Weapons and Software Engineering Center, Fire Control Systems and Technology Directorate, strives to increase the use of standardized ballistic kernels and supporting technology.
The division continues to lead the NATO SG/2 Panel and contribute to the SG/2 Sharable (Fire Control) Software Suite (S4) program.
In addition to the NABK, the S4 currently develops and releases seven software products on an annual basis for use in a wide variety of technical fire control domains. These products support areas such as meteorological message processing, terrain elevation management for crest clearance, indirect fire effectiveness calculations, and the generation of tabular firing tables.
FTaB personnel develop and maintain unique variants of the S4 products to support current and emerging U.S. Army priorities for the indirect fire domain.
Examples include updates to support the 155mm Excalibur GPS-guided projectile, the Precision Guidance Kit fuze, and the 120mm Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative. New efforts are underway to update the S4 products in support of the Army's top modernization priority - Long Range Precision Fires.
FTaB has continued expansion of the ballistic kernel product line beyond the indirect fire domain. The first version of the Small Arms Ballistic Kernel (SABK) was released in 2016. It was optimized to support ballistics computation for direct fire weapon systems including rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers when integrated with the ARDEC-developed Advanced Small Arms Ballistic System.
In 2018, both the NABK and SABK were further optimized to demonstrate their potential for use with armored vehicle weapon systems -- ranging from 20mm to 120mm cannons.
A common software interface was simultaneously developed to allow for use of either ballistic kernel with other fire control software components in development at ARDEC, e.g. -- the Multi-Caliber Armament System (MCAS) and Scenario Based Fire Control. FTaB has also just begun new development efforts to support ballistic fire control for helicopter-mounted armament systems.
It is their goal to provide standardized ballistics computation for all ARDEC supported systems in development, not only as part of Long Range Precision Fires, but also as part of the Soldier Lethality, Next Generation Combat Vehicle, and Future Vertical Lift modernization efforts.
As RDECOM and ARDEC adjust to support the newly formed Army Futures Command, the Firing Tables and Ballistics Division will continue to balance its historic competencies with innovative products to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of the nation's armament systems.
(Jason Fonner is competency manager with the Firing Tables and Ballistics Division.)