Out of the initial five days of firing during training, it rained every day, temperatures swung from the high 20s to mid-50s, and the range went into multiple ceasefires because of lightning in the vicinity of Fort Benning, Georgia. Experts from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center (CCDC-AC), Project Manager Close Combat Systems (PM CCS), contractor Nammo Defense Systems and the 198th Infantry Brigade had arrived at the training event to conduct a limited user assessment on the XM808 Bunker Defeat Munition (BDM) with a removable outer tube sleeve.
Instead of pulling systems and resources into a traditional, standalone test, the XM808 integrated product team developed a plan to conduct a combined assessment where experts from CCDC-AC, PM CCS and Nammo would travel to Fort Benning and work with the 198th Shoulder Launched Munition Training Committee to collect firing data during the Infantry One Station Unit Training scheduled events. This plan, approved by U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Safety Office, maximized resources and enabled the 198th to resume critical training while collecting the data necessary to validate that the addition of a sleeve would improve the XM808’s durability.
The U.S. Army’s infantry uses the M141 BDM shoulder-launched munition, a disposable one-shot munition designed to defeat masonry structures, earth and timber bunkers, and field fortifications. The bunker defeat munition system is managed by PM CCS within the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A), at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey. It was rapidly developed to meet the evolving threat and was designated as a contingency only weapon system and placed into inventory for forces engaged in conflict. The BDM is a phenomenal capability; however, the rapid development, procurement and fielding did not include a training device for Soldiers to gain system proficiency before using the tactical system in combat environments. Following an accidental discharge of a tactical BDM in theater, a safety investigation determined that improved training via a dedicated training device would have mitigated the potential for an accident. The Army then developed the XM808 BDM 21 mm Sub-Caliber Trainer—with limited quantities produced—to become part of the Infantry OSUT. It was fielded to Soldiers at Fort Benning in 2011.
The XM808 trainer is unique in that it is reloadable and fires a practice training rocket; whereas, the tactical system is a single-shot, disposable weapon. The limited quantity of trainers were used to effectively train thousands of Soldiers. However, after several years of training, the outer tube began to show significant damage sustained from the repeated firing of the training rockets, which emit hot gases and burning particles. This created an unsafe condition for Soldiers during training, and in March 2019 the Army suspended XM808 live fire training.
PM CCS recognized that stopping training for any long period of time is unacceptable and immediately took action to find a solution. The PM teamed up with the contractor, Nammo, to develop an innovative change to the XM808 Sub-Caliber Trainer as a solution to absorb and dissipate the hot gases and pressure to minimize outer tube wear.
By May 2019, the XM808 integrated product team developed the removable outer tube sleeve to mitigate the damages to the XM808’s outer tube. The sleeve consists of an aluminum nickel-teflon coated cylindrical shield, designed to safely disperse the hot gases produced during firing, to protect the bore of the outer tube and extend the life of the XM808 training device. The team conducted initial tests and performed comprehensive analysis in May and June 2019, validating the sleeve and ensuring it did not pose any safety or operational issues to the XM808’s function. The government and contractor team worked closely with ATEC and the TRADOC Safety Office to determine that the sleeve was safe to implement in the XM808 trainer. Upon receipt of the determination, the XM808 integrated product team considered multiple courses of actions to determine reliability, durability and service life of the sleeve. The team also knew it would need to incorporate updates to the equipment user guide and the technical manual. The ultimate goal of these activities was to obtain a safety release of the XM808, which would include the tube sleeve as part of the complete training system, improve the system’s useful life, and reintroduce the XM808 live fire events in Infantry One Station Unit Training.
In September 2019, the integrated product team received approval from the Maneuver Center of Excellence and the 198th to collected firing data from the sleeve during training exercises. It worked with the 198th to maximize data collection without disrupting training, and the collaboration was critical to the success of the limited user assessment. It provided the data necessary to support an engineering change proposal for the sleeve design.
The collaborative assessment began in February 2020 with an overall objective to collect firing data; however, the team on the ground realized additional benefits from executing the data collection in conjunction with training. The shoulder-launched munition committee instructors began to gain a much deeper understanding of the XM808 systems as the technical engineers collected firing data, took measurements, documented findings and shared some of their observations with the Soldiers. And as relationships developed between the participants, there were often sidebar discussions on recommendations of how to improve the trainer design and operation in the field.
Sgt. 1st Class Carl Fitzwater, the Shoulder Launched Munition Committee noncommissioned officer-in-charge, said, “The [limited user assessment] is providing instructors with many new experiences from a variety of possible weapons malfunctions, increased maintenance expertise and overall capabilities of the XM808. These new experiences and skills they are learning from the engineers will greatly impact mission success for the future of OSUT training and Armywide.”
Furthermore, CCDC-AC experts from Picatinny Arsenal quickly saw their materiel solutions being employed in an operational environment in the hands of instructors and Infantry One Station Unit Training trainees. They gained an appreciation of how the user employs the system in a high-tempo, challenging environment under all weather conditions. This event was clearly a “win-win” for everyone involved. Relationships between the product engineers and the instructors were established and enabled increased exchange of information between the technical experts and the Soldiers who employ the systems in an operational environment. The engineers were able to observe the system operationally employed and see how their design efforts provide warfighting capabilities. Additionally, the instructors gained more technical understanding and aspects of the system design that they typically are never exposed to. This information sharing provided both engineers and instructors with experiences and knowledge that may help improve their respective job functions. These intangible aspects were not part of the initial assessment plan, but proved invaluable during execution.
More importantly, if not for the collaborative assessment, these relationships and exchanges of information would not have been realized in a typical test environment. Through execution of the combined assessment, the team was able to deliver increased training capabilities to the force while collecting not only the firing data to support the XM808 training device technical data package update, but also additional information to consider for future product improvement activities.
The limited user assessment culminated on March 20 with over 1,400 Infantry OSUT Soldiers firing 3,161 practice training rockets as part of the XM808 assessment. In addition to accomplishing the primary objectives of the assessment, the teamwork among PM CCS, CCDC-AC, Nammo, ATEC, and the 198th provided opportunities to improve the relationships between the materiel developer, the capability developer and the end-user while increasing their collective knowledge, which ultimately results in better training and acquisition activities.
“The [limited user assessment] has assisted in the re-branding of instructor proficiency and aided in a more in-depth understanding of the XM808 system,” Fitzwater said. The XM808 assessment success will enable a systems update to include the removable outer tube sleeve as a component of the XM808, increasing the service life of the system as well as increasing the safety aspects during use. This product improvement activity ensures PM CCS is able to provide a reliable and safe system to support training in the years to come.
The XM808 assessment used existing 198th Infantry Brigade training resources to validate the sleeve and enabled resumption of critical training resulting in cost savings and reduced program schedule. Michael Franz, CCDC-AC’s lead shoulder-launched munition engineer, estimated the cost savings by executing the combined assessment and training to be approximately $600,000. In answering the call to field the BDM, PM CCS reinforced the alignment of its shoulder-launched munitions with the Army modernization priority of providing Soldier lethality. And by improving the XM808 trainer, PM CCS also prioritized training for munitions to ensure Army units are more dominant and lethal to win the nation’s wars in an ever-changing environment.
PHILLYP LAWSON is the team lead for Shoulder Launched Munition within Product Director Combat Armaments and Protection Systems (PD CAPS). He is responsible for overseeing the planning and execution for the entire Shoulder Launched Portfolio, including programs like the BDM, anti-tank confined space reduced sensitivity munition and the Individual Assault Munition. Lawson has completed an M.S. in program management from the Naval Postgraduate School and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Drexel University. As one of three team leads within PD CAPS, he assists in the coordination of all Shoulder Launch Munition actions for both PM CCS and JPEO A&A.
RENÉE BOBER is the Hand Held Signals Project Officer for PM CCS. She is responsible for executing the program budget, managing risk and providing direction and guidance to the integrated product team. Bober has over 12 years of government experience working for various entities at Picatinny Arsenal. Bober has an M.S. in engineering management and a B.S in industrial engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology.
DARRELL O’STEEN, Lt. Col. USA (Ret.), is a Millennium Corp. support contractor supporting PM CCS as the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning field coordinator. He retired from the U.S. Army with over 26 years of experience as an enlisted combat engineer and armor officer. He holds an MBA from Baker College and a B.S. in business administration from North Georgia College. As one of five PM CCS field coordinators, he assists in representing PM CCS equities across the Maneuver Center of Excellence and the user community.
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