Precision-guided munition test fired at YPG

By Lt. Col. Thomas D. JagielskiDecember 19, 2020

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YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. -- The Joint Program Executive Office Armaments & Ammunition Project Manager Combat Ammunition Systems (PM CAS) conducted the first successful test of a 70 km (43 miles) shot with a precision-guided munition, Dec. 19, at Yuma Proving Ground.

The live fire demonstration used the Excalibur projectile and was the culmination of a campaign of learning on multiple systems.

“Not only did the test show the design robustness of a current fielded projectile to demonstrate lethality at extended ranges, it did so while maintaining accuracy, marking a major milestone in support of (Long Range Precision Fires) objectives of achieving overmatch artillery capability in 2023,” said Col. Anthony Gibbs, Project Manager for Combat Ammunition Systems.

Providing longer range than that of potential adversaries, is a significant combat multiple for maneuver commanders and the Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team (LRPF-CFT) was established to tackle that objective. Their mission includes increasing lethality, improving rates of fire, and enabling deep fires to shape the battlefield and set conditions for the brigade combat team close fight. Multiple efforts including new propellant charges, an Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system, multiple projectiles with varying capabilities, and target identification and tracking systems, are under development to increase range and reduce the time from target identification to effects on target.

The Excalibur 70 km demonstration is signaled as the first step to regaining U.S. supremacy in cannon artillery by 2023. For more than 15 years, the M982A1 Excalibur projectile has been the premier precision artillery munition in the U.S. arsenal. The projectiles reliability, robust structural design and the ability to course correct while maintaining both precision and accuracy were leveraged to achieve 70 km range during the test.

Throughout initial development and multiple years of operational use, Excalibur subsystems were proven to be effective with the current 39 caliber gun systems in the M109A6/A7 Self-Propelled Howitzer and M777A2 Towed Howitzer fleets. However, the increased pressure to achieve the muzzle velocity required for 70 km range from the longer 58 caliber ERCA cannon created harsher environments, so the major focus became maintaining flight stability and safety.

“Testing in late 2019 revealed that the warhead used in Excalibur had sufficient margin to survive this higher gun launch environment,” said Gibbs. “The team learned that the effects of the new system and its associated harsher environments on the projectile had reduced or eliminated some of the design margin that existed with the legacy systems.”

The design team of U.S. Government and contractor engineers analyzed the individual subsystems’ operating margins, their structural integrity and their safety margins in order to assure that the ammunition would be safe and effective in the new ERCA System.  Together with support from the Munitions and Weapons Division at the Army Test and Evaluation Command Yuma Test Center, PM CAS, and these technical experts from Raytheon, their subcontractors and the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center completed the necessary research and testing to reduce the risk and make the Excalibur 70 km demonstration possible.

“Today’s demonstration marks a significant step forward in filling a capability gap in our Army of accurately reaching out to 70 km with cannon artillery. It’s the product of tremendous teamwork and initiative by multiple organizations and our industry partners to bring new technology to our artillery forces and regain overmatch with our adversaries,” said Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, LRPF-CFT director.

By leveraging the robust design of the current Excalibur, a GPS coordinate-seeking projectile with a circular error probable of less than two meters, it also represents a low-investment, high-payoff approach to meeting objectives in support of the Army’s top modernization priority. Development efforts will add a seeker able to identify and engage moved or moving targets and differentiate between military and civilian vehicles. Future upgrades may also enable the projectile to identify friend or foe and to communicate between projectiles in flight to reduce multiple projectiles engaging the same target during volley fire. The LRPF-CFT modernization of U.S. Artillery Forces is poised to deliver overmatch and the evolution of Excalibur continues to incorporate cutting edge technologies that provide increased capabilities in support of the Field Artillery mission.