PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Feb. 24, 2020) –
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, or DEVCOM AC, headquartered at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., is preparing the XM915 20 mm rotary cannon to be field-tested during Project Convergence 2021.
Project Convergence is a series of exercises and demonstrations, first performed in 2020 at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., designed to test the Army’s latest science and technology projects in a multi-domain battlefield. In the years ahead, this iterative, campaign of learning, will provide greater interoperability between the joint force and allied nations.
DEVCOM AC, a subordinate unit of U.S. Army Futures Command, serves as the Army’s primary source for armaments and munition research, development and engineering. The center has partnered with AFC’s Alabama-based Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team to test the XM915 in an experiment to demonstrate the envisioned operational capabilities of the top aviation modernization priority, a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA.
The FARA platform is expected to support Army Aviation’s aerial reconnaissance mission following the divestment of OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter. Two defense primes are currently in the competitive prototyping effort to design and build the eventual aircraft in the years ahead. Features are to include: increased maneuverability; endurance; lethality; and survivability enabled by science and technology programs already in progress as part of the U.S. Army Modernization Strategy.
Developed as a lightweight primary armament system for FARA, the XM915 features a rapid-fire capability to engage targets of opportunity and provide defensive fires without excessive size, weight, and power considerations to the airframe. The three-barrel rotary cannon weapon is capable of firing up to 1,500 shots per minute and weighs under 115 lbs.
Working with an industry partner, DEVCOM AC’s Advanced Rotorcraft Armament and Protection System program team is prototyping the XM915 weapon system. To date, more than 7,000 rounds have been fired through a prototype at Ethan Allen Test Range, in Jericho, Vt., as the weapon system development transitioned from modeling and simulation to live-fire experiments. Newly-developed components, like the entirely linkless ammunition carrier drive system that rapidly feeds the weapon, are being examined through live-fire tests to determine reliability while increasing performance of the system.
The collaborative, military-industry engineering team is collecting data such as bullet muzzle velocity, gun barrel pressure, and the overall weapon impulse force that will be applied to the aircraft. Data is currently collected from a ground-based test setup in laboratory environment. Testing will eventually progress to integrate the XM915 in a dynamic turret configuration similar to FARA. The turret is to allow the weapon to be controlled by an advanced fire control software interface, to be fired through its entire range of motion. This will allow engineers to test the weapon as it would be mounted on the FARA.
The XM915 is on an accelerated schedule in order to create critical engineering data that directly influences design decisions of the prototype aircrafts. The XM915 will fire over 150,000 20mm rounds during the current phase of experiments. All of this testing builds a more advanced and modern medium caliber weapon system for the FARA.
Several XM915 prototypes are to be transported to the Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., this year to begin a large-scale test series where each production representative will be examined for performance and reliability. The weapon will be heated and cooled to extreme temperatures, exposed to corrosive environments, subjected to dirt, sand, and dust particles while being functioned to operate as designed.
Testing performed by ATEC will inform the process of determining cannon’s airworthiness. Once certified for flight, the XM915 will have a big lift into flying live-fire experiments and demonstrations, like Project Convergence 21. Initial flight tests will take place on a modified UH-60 Black Hawk, a medium utility helicopter, to meet engineering needs and data collection to support the ongoing design of the FARA.
Effective partnering between government and industry stakeholders is a key component of advancing Army Modernization efforts. This has kept XM915 prototyping on an accelerated schedule to reach each technical milestone.
Daniel DiMartino serves as the Future Vertical Lift Science and Technology Lead for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, or DEVCOM AC, at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.