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The U.S. Army is poised to deliver precision mortar rounds to soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan by the end of this year as part of an accelerated effort to give commanders there an improved ability to destroy targets in the mountainous terrain, service officials said.

"You can drop one on a target to execute the mission and stay on target," said Brig. Gen. John Maddux, Program Executive Officer, Ammunition. "Also, this will decrease the footprint of conventional ammo in theater because you only need one to make first kill."

The program -- called Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI)-- emerged as a result of an urgent request from commanders in Afghanistan who seek the ability to pinpoint targets using precision or GPS -guided mortar rounds.

APMI improves upon the 136-meter Circular Error Probable (CEP) of conventional mortars by reducing it to about10-meters, said Bruce Kay, Department of the Army Systems Coordinator, Mortar Systems.

"This is a 120mm mortar round that provides precision capability to ground forces. A current conventional mortar round has an accuracy of about a 136-meter CEP. With APMI, we have been able to demonstrate a less than 10-meter CEP," Kay said. "This provides a far improved capability to the ground forces commander. "

Precision mortars are needed in the mountains of Afghanistan and in areas where reducing collateral damage is essential, Kay said.

"This is designed for a precision capability such as against a sniper in a building, or enemies in a bunker or trench. If you were to engage with a conventional mortar round, you would have to fire 8-to-10 rounds to kill or suppress the target. With APMI, you will probably be able to do the same thing with one or two rounds."

APMI will soon begin phase two testing that includes safety certification and qualification testing necessary to meet the urgent material release requirements.

The Army will soon down-select and choose one of three industry teams competing for the award. Each of the three teams, Raytheon-Israeli Military Industries, General Dynamics and ATK, have put their respective APMI rounds through a series of rigorous tests.

"Each vendor brought in 25 rounds. Each vendor was compared against the same standards. They dud extreme weather testing and safety testing, among others," said Kay.

Alongside APMI, the Army will still need conventional mortars for area and suppressive fires, Army officials said.

"There is a balance of how much conventional munitions and how much precision munitions we need. We are working now to determine that," said Maddux.

APMI could expand beyond Afghanistan once the rounds have been demonstrated successfully in combat, Kay said.