The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Armaments Center has been recently focusing its efforts on developing ways to use ballistic kernels for small arms and armored vehicles.
Ballistic kernels are software libraries embedded in a fire control computer. They provide core ballistics processing required by technical fire control systems to calculate trajectories and firing solutions.
Ballistic kernels require an accurate database of weapon and ammunition characteristics, incorporating both interior and exterior ballistics information, known as fire control inputs, or FCI. It’s optimized for the specific domain of application, which includes artillery, naval gunfire, mortars, medium and large caliber armored vehicles, helicopters, and small arms. It also incorporates available environmental or sensory information provided by the fire control system to improve accuracy of the firing solution.
Ballistic kernels have been used for over 20 years for indirect fire systems, such as artillery and mortars. Now the focus is on creating ballistic kernels for direct fire systems, such as the Advanced Lethality and Accuracy System for Medium Caliber, Next Generation Squad Weapon Fire Control, and Advanced Rotorcraft Armament and Protection System.
“We’ve recently gotten into making ballistic kernels specifically for direct fire systems,” said Jason Fonner, Armaments Center, Weapons and Software Engineering Center, Fire Control Systems and Technology Directorate, Firing Tables and Ballistics Division competency manager.
In an article written by Fonner in 2018 on Army.mil, “Development of firing tables for accuracy stretches back more than 100 years,” he explained his former supervisor, Robert Lieske, initiated the idea of developing a standard version of this ballistic kernel across as many weapons as possible.
“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,” Fonner wrote. “The result was the NATO Artillery Ballistic Kernel (NABK), later renamed the NATO Armaments Ballistic Kernel.”
Having the ballistic kernel layer at the core of the fire control system allows the ability to take advantage of updates, such as new sensors, that are used as part of the overall system. For example, if the goal is to add an improved wind sensor to a tank or a rifle, a ballistic kernel can use the information from that sensor and provide a better firing solution.
“We're helping to ensure that the weapon systems have access to the most accurate ballistic data, and because we built those Fire Control Inputs as a separate database, we can rapidly update the ballistic kernels with new ballistic data,” Fonner said.
According to Fonner, the benefits of this is it should reduce the overall lifecycle costs, ensure accurate solutions across all the systems, and hopefully, cut down on the time necessary to put new technology into those systems.
“We’re also planning to include this within the ‘Project Convergence’ demonstration in 2021,” he said.
According to the Army Futures Command website, Project Convergence is a campaign of learning to aggressively pursue an Artificial Intelligence and machine learning-enabled battlefield management system.