Magazine article National Defense

Skeptics Watch Cannon Progress Closely

Magazine article National Defense

Skeptics Watch Cannon Progress Closely

Article excerpt

THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT civilian leadership cancelled the mobile artillery Crusader platform five years, ago, but the concept lives on in the Future Combat Systems non-line-of-sight cannon.

The cannon, currently weighing 27 tons, will be the first large piece of FCS equipment to be delivered to a brigade for evaluation.

The program will require the integration of the turret, cannon, and the hands-free loading system onto the common chassis by May 2008. The preliminary design review for the FCS program comes about a year later. The Army characterizes that evaluation as a make-or-break milestone.

For the time being, the cannon, and the similar non-line-of-sight mortar, are on schedule, program managers insist. Both have recently undergone a series of test firings.

Mark Signorelli, NLOS-C program manager at lead contractor BAE Systems, said bits and pieces of Navy weapon systems the contractor has worked on and the cancelled Crusader artillery system have been integrated into the cannon.

"What we've been able to do is take some very basic concepts and really mature them by making them lighter weight, and more reliable," he told National Defense. "It's really an evolution of technology we already had."

The Army sunk $2 billion into the Crusader until its cancellation in 2002. Defense Department leadership at the time, including the since departed secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, said the Army would still require a mobile, all-weather, precise weapon capable of striking multiple targets.

While never dubbed Crusader II, the NLOS-cannon was the next mobile artillery piece in the pipeline.

"It's 24/7, day-night, all weather," Signorelli said. "The kind of things you really can't replace with an aircraft ... Whether the Air Force likes to admit it or not, weather impacts their ability to fly."

The cannon and the mortar will need to move as rapidly as tanks and armored personnel carriers. That requires improved speed, less weight and better survivability.

In the Crusader, the ammunition handling equipment weighed as much as the ammunition, Signorelli said.

Improvements in carbon fiber materials, and the smaller, lighter power and electrical systems helped to cut the weight of the ammo loader in half.

The cannon will have a two-man crew, a marked improvement from the five-man crew on the Paladin, the 1960s era mobile artillery platform still in use today.

"Artillery men today are primarily associated with picking up bullets, moving them around, putting them in the breach. These men are fighting from the vehicle," Signorelli said.

The driver can execute the mission with two button pushes. "Once you load the ammunition in the vehicle, it's not touched again."

The cannon can carry 24 rounds and fire six per minute as opposed to the one round per minute in the Paladin.

The increased rate of fire and computerized synchronization will allow the crew to place four rounds on the same spot simultaneously, he said.

Armoring and weight remain a concern, though. Initial concepts for the cannon called for it to weigh 20 to 24 tons fully loaded for combat. Army officials acknowledge that they will not reach that goal. The cannon's weight currently stands at 27 tons.

The cannon, mortar and six other FCS manned vehicles sit atop a common chassis. …

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