Magazine article National Defense

Army Eyeing New Artillery Systems

Magazine article National Defense

Army Eyeing New Artillery Systems

Article excerpt

The U.S. Army gradually plans to modernize its field artillery systems, in an effort to replace aging platforms and introduce advanced technology. In anticipation of increased spending on new weaponry, companies have in recent months unveiled a number of technologies targeting future Army and Marine Corps needs.

A case in point is a new 105 mm self-propelled howitzer just entering the marketplace. General Dynamics Land Systems, of Sterling Heights, Mich., and South African's Denel (Pty) Ltd., recently demonstrated the howitzer--which consists of a Denel gun turret mounted on one of GDLS's LAV III light armored vehicles--to Army and Marine Corps officers and representatives from Britain, Canada, and Australia.

The 17.5-ton howitzer was fired first on the beach at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the site of the Air Armament Center. The targets, measuring six by eight feet, were located deep over the horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Eglin has 133,000 square miles of water ranges in the gulf that are used far weapons testing.

Then, the gun was loaded into a C-130, flown to Fort Sill, Okla., site of the Army's Field Artillery School, and fired again. For safety reasons, the weapon was fired remotely, controlled from a nearby bunker.

The howitzer can pump out eight rounds a minute in indirect fire at targets up to 30 kilometers away, said James D. Vickrey, director of GDLS artillery programs, to reporters at the Eglin demonstration. The projectiles are loaded automatically from an internal 32-round magazine, reducing the crew size to no more than three members, he said.

A variety of rounds are available, including smoke, illumination, high-explosive, and preformed fragment versions, Vickrey noted. Each category produces its own useful effect, he said.

For nighttime operations, the illumination round "lights up the whole world," but "the big killer" is the PFF, he said. It sprays thousands of tungsten balls wherever it hits. That "pretty much wipes out a soccer field," he said. "This is not your father's 105."

GDLS spent $5 million of its own funds on the project, and teamed up with Denel in October 2003 to develop the demonstration model, Vickrey said. Denel is a major producer of long-range artillery systems.

GDLS officials said the demonstrator could be adapted to the future combat systems that the Army is developing to replace its current family of armored vehicles. Plans call for the FCS to include five varieties of manned ground vehicles, including a non-line-of sight cannon. GDLS is teamed with United Defense LP, of Arlington, Va., to design the future combat vehicles.

In 2003, United Defense demonstrated a 155 mm non-line-of-sight cannon, featuring a modified version of the M777 lightweight, towed howitzer.

The 105 mm weapon also could be placed atop a variation of the Stryker eight-wheeled, armored combat vehicles that GDLS is building for the Army, company officials asserted.

The mortar carrier variant of the Stryker includes a 60 mm weapon and a 120 mm version. Mortars fire indirectly, high over obstacles to hit relatively close targets.

The Army currently doesn't have a requirement for a 105 mm self-propelled howitzer, said Lt. Col. Greg Kraak, chief of Futures Integration at the Field Artillery Center at Fort Sill. But the Army is interested in learning about the capabilities of the GDLS system, he told reporters at Eglin. "What appeals to us is that the fact that it can be loaded on a C-130."

The Army's current self-propelled howitzer is the M109A6 Paladin 155 mm, the most recent version of a 40-year-old design. …

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