By Audra CallowayDecember 1, 2011
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Dec. 1, 2011) -- Picatinny Arsenal recently received kudos from Soldiers by developing six out of 10 2010 Army Greatest Inventions. One of the inventions recognized was a dismounted fire control system that will make dismounted 120mm mortars easier to fire and keep Soldiers safer.
The M150/M151 Mortar Fire Control System - Dismounted, or MFCS-D, provides mortarmen with increased speed and effectiveness previously only available to the mounted mortar systems using fire control.
"We have a similar system that's used on 120mm mounted mortars -- the M1064 Self-Propelled mortar and the Stryker mortar carrier," said Bob Beck, branch chief of mounted mortar systems at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC. "Both are big heavy platforms, and issued to guys in Heavy Brigade Combat Teams or Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. These guys are mobile and on vehicles, not huffing stuff as much."
"The challenge was that when you put a fire control system on a vehicle, weight is not as much of a concern because you've got a vehicle to carry it around with," Beck said. "If you have a dismounted system like the Infantry Brigade Combat Teams have, they don't have the luxury of the vehicle at all times."
"The idea was to develop a fire control system that could be implemented onto the dismounted system to give those guys the same capability of increased survivability, increased accuracy and increased responsiveness," Beck added. "We proved the concept on the heavy platforms, so we needed to tweak it so that it's able to survive not in a vehicle, but out on the ground."
To ensure the light brigades had the same capability as the heavy brigades, ARDEC engineers created the MFCS-D, M150/M151.
QUICKER FIRING TIME
The MFCS-D Improves the Army standard for first mortar round fired from eight minutes (day) and 12 minutes (night) to less than two minutes for both day and night operations.
In addition, it improves Circular Error Probable, or CEP, from 136 meters to 75 meters.
Seventy-five meters CEP means that if you drew a circle around a target at 75 meters radius, the rounds have to fall inside the circle 50 percent of the time.
"With the MFCS-D the standard (firing time) is less than two minutes because there isn't any time spent setting up auxiliary equipment or aiming stakes," Beck said. "Once you've emplaced the new system it already knows where it is and where it's pointing."
The reason is that the MFCS-D has a GPS-aided Inertial Navigation Unit, or INU, so that the system knows where it is at all times.
"The MFCS-D also has a computer that calculates the ballistic computations for Soldiers, which makes the mortar system more accurate by eliminating human error," said Bob Ucci, chief, Weapons and Fire Control Branch; Office of the Product Manager, Guided Precision Munitions and Mortar Systems; PEO Ammunition.
"The Soldier doesn't have to do any calculations," explained Ucci. "They're done automatically by the fire control system because the inertial navigation unit mounted on the gun tube allows for the computer to know the exact orientation of the weapon."
"The INU mounts on the mortar tube to give the accuracy for laying the weapon (pointing and position)," added Ucci.
"So when a fire mission comes in the computer will automatically compute the required elevation and azimuth for the weapon to hit the target, and display it on the gunners display.
"As he cranks the gun he'll see the numbers change real time until the numbers reach zero. That tells him that the gun is laid and he can be confident that the gun is pointing where the solution told you. At that point it's just a matter of dropping the round down the tube.
"You know where you are, where your firing, and with the ballistic fire solutions in the computer you know where the rounds going to land," Ucci said.
In the past, to drop rounds on target, the Fire Direction Center translated coordinates provided by forward observers into mortar tube deflection and elevation adjustments.
Aiming points were marked on a plotting board to generate the azimuth. Paper firing tables listed the elevation needed to achieve the desired range with a given type of ammunition.
To establish azimuth reference lines, mortar crews left the protection of armored vehicles to place aiming stakes 50 and 100 meters away.
Then the crew used ballistic computations to calculate the azimuth and elevation and fire.
"There was a lot of time spent using the optical sights and surveying," Beck said.
STOWAGE KIT ADDS SPEED
The speed of fire is also increased because the MFCS-D is being fielded with the M326 Mortar Stowage Kit. The kit uses a hydraulic lift to remove the entire mortar system from the trailer and place the entire mortar system on the ground in less than a minute.
It can then quickly raise the system back into the trailer.
"The Mortar Stowage Kits help because the weapon doesn't need to be disassembled to be put back on the trailer for transportation," Ucci said.
The MFCS-D components and Mortar Stowage Kit sit inside a M1101 trailer towed with a HMMWV, which is the primary means of moving the equipment.
SPEED CONTRIBUTES TO SAFETY
The increased firing speed of the mortar systems will help keep the mortar crew safer because it allows them the ability to "shoot and scoot."
"We're able to get the mission, stop the vehicle, emplace the mortar on the ground, fire the mission and within a minute you're able to lift the weapon off the ground and leave. You can get rounds down range in a minute and displace the weapon in another minute," Beck said.
This attribute helps the mortar crews to evade incoming counter-fire.
The MFCS-D also eliminates the need to send Soldiers out to set up aiming stakes.
"When you set up aiming stakes you've got to send a guy out in a field and he has to set up survey stakes at 50 and 100 meters out," Beck said.
"So you're sending him out in an open field where he's vulnerable to attack. Because the MFCS-D knows where it is at all times, you don't have to set up aiming stakes because the system already knows where it's aiming."
For mortar crews, there are many similarities between the mounted and dismounted systems.
"A lot of the software was reused for commonality. You don't necessarily want to start from scratch," Beck said of the MFCS-D development process. "You want them to be as common as possible. There are, however, some specific things that were integrated specifically for the MFCS-D, just because it was a dismounted system and the differences in platforms."
Technology has also advanced since the legacy system was fielded, so it was challenging to integrate the new developments into the MFCS-D system.
For instance, the MFCS-D uses a touch-screen instead of the keyboard found in the mounted systems.
"Everyone before had used a keyboard for the computer, but to maximize display size and minimize the size of the computer you can't really get a full-size keyboard that guys can use with arctic gloves," Beck noted.
"A touch screen was the logical choice. But the common software for the mounted and dismounted systems has to be capable of taking input from either, whether you're using the keyboard or the touch screen."
The MFCS-D is also compatible with the Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative, or APMI. APMI is the world's first fielded 120mm GPS-guided mortar round, which was fielded in March 2011.
The MFCS-D was first fielded to the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, in April 2010.
It will eventually be fielded to all U.S. Army Dismounted 120mm Mortar teams.
PEO Ammo is fielding one brigade a month and, to date, the equipment has been fielded to ten IBCTs and four National Guard battalions.
They expect all Infantry Brigade Combat Teams to have been fielded and trained on the equipment by 2016.