The Army, Navy and Marine Corps are rushing to field an array of
munitions that are designed to be precise enough for close urban
Munitions have been developed to counter decidedly different tactics
that the United States faced as recently as the 2003 invasion of
Iraq, said Army Col. Ernest Harris, project manager for precision-fire
rockets and missile systems at Huntsville, Ala.
U.S. forces fought Saddam Hussein’s army primarily on conventional
battlefields. Now, they are contending with asymmetric threats posed
by paramilitary, trans-national organizations whose members fight
in a non-linear battlefield, Harris told the Institute for Defense
and Government Advancement’s Firepower 2005 conference, in
“They frequently seek cover in reinforced structures or moving
vehicles within a complex urban terrain,” he said.
Because of these conditions, U.S. forces are required to operate
under strict rules of engagement that mandate minimum collateral
damage to protect non-combatants and religious and cultural landmarks,
such as mosques, he said.
The services are moving quickly to provide munitions that can meet
these needs. For example, the Army’s project manager’s
office for combat ammunition systems at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.,
is working to fulfill an urgent request to put the 155 mm guided
Excalibur howitzer round, known as the XM982, into combat by early
The Excalibur, the service’s first fully autonomous guided
projectile, is more accurate than any other round currently available,
according to Col. Ole Knudsen, project manager. During a demonstration
firing at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., in September, an Excalibur
hit a target 15 kilometers away. It detonated within seven meters
of the target.
With this kind of accuracy, “Excalibur will reduce collateral
damage, increase survivability of friendly troops and accomplish
the mission more efficiently,” Knudson said.
The Excalibur is an artillery shell that relies on satellite guidance
to hit its targets. It is designed to be fired from all current
Army and Marine howitzers, including the M109A6 Paladin, M777 lightweight
and the Future Combat Systems non-line-of-sight cannon.
In June, the Army awarded Raytheon Company Missile Systems of Tucson,
Ariz., which is building the Excalibur in cooperation with Bofors
Defence, of Sweden, a $22 million contract to supply 165 rounds
beginning this month.
The Special Operations Command in August awarded Northrop Grumman
Corporation’s Baltimore-based electronic systems sector a
$22 million, sole-source contract to develop its Viper Strike weapon
as a standoff precision-guided munition for the AC-130 gunship.
The contract, with a potential value of $48.6 million, is for an
advanced concept technology demonstration program, which is intended
to reduce the time required to get new equipment to war fighters.
The first phase of the contract—to be completed in 2006—will
demonstrate the use of Viper Strike on the gunship and begin developing
operational concepts and launcher and battle-management systems.
The gunships are operated by the Air Force Special Operations Command,
Borden said. “We’re still looking for Army carriers.”
A demonstration, he said, was planned for late November or early
December, firing a Viper Strike from a Little Bird helicopter.
Viper Strike is a gliding munition that is capable of standoff,
precision attack. It uses satellite-aided navigation and a semi-active
laser seeker, explained Steven L. Borden, the Army’s deputy
product manager for submunitions. It is intended for operations
that require a flexible angle of inclination—steep or shallow—particularly
in mountainous terrain or built-up areas, where strict rules of
engagement are in force.
Its small size and precision provide for low collateral damage
in cluttered urban environments, Borden said. Viper Strike’s
exact precision is classified, he said. However, he did say that
it could hit within one meter of its target.
Also, because it carries only 2.8 pounds of explosives, damage
can be limited to a radius of 50 meters on the battlefield and 16
meters in an urban area, Borden said. “We can drop this between
a mosque and a busload of nuns, and not hurt either the mosque or
the nuns,” he said.
“We can use it to fly through a window and take out a sniper,
or hit a car in a convoy.”
Because of its small size, Borden said, the Viper Strike is ideal
for unmanned aerial vehicles. “You can put two of these on
a Predator for every Hellfire.”
The warhead may be small, he said, “but it can defeat heavy
armor, and it does a heck of a job on things like [sports utility
The Viper Strike hasn’t been used in combat yet, Borden said.
“But we’re working on it.” In a 2003 demonstration
at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Viper Strikes, fired from a
Hunter UAV, scored seven direct hits out of nine attempts.
The Viper Strike system relies upon “man in the loop”
to lase the target, either from the ground within sight or from
the UAV’s ground station, to help ensure the greatest possible
accuracy and minimize chances of collateral damage.
“UAV operators love the Viper Strike,” Borden said.
“They want to kill bad guys, not just collect information
to send back and hope somebody uses it.”
In August, units of the 13th Artillery Regiment in Iraq successfully
conducted the first in-theater tests of the Lockheed Martin guided
multiple launch rocket system’s new unitary variant. The GMLRS
unitary rocket features a single, 196-pound warhead, which allows
crews to hit targets 70 kilometers away so accurately that the number
of rockets required to do the job is reduced by 80 percent, according
to Ron Abbott, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for tactical
missiles. It has three fuze settings for use against personnel in
the open, lightly fortified bunkers or a single, lightly armored
GMLRS is an all-weather, precision-guided rocket that can be fired
from the M270 MLRS self-propelled launcher, an improved vehicle
called the M27A1 and the high mobility artillery rocket system.
It is being developed under an international cooperative program
that includes the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, France and
Germany. The Army in February awarded Lockheed a $108 million low-rate
initial production contract to produce 1,014 of them.
In addition to the unitary warhead, GMLRS includes a variant called
the dual-purpose improved conventional munition. DPICM carries a
payload of 404 grenades designed for use against personnel and vehicles.
Unfortunately, the system has a high dud rate, Harris said.
“There is a strong propensity not to use them ever in [Iraq],
because of the large numbers of grenades that don’t go off,”
he said. “You can imagine kids picking these things up.”
The unitary round, on the other hand, got high marks from soldiers
in Iraq, where it is reported to have destroyed insurgent targets,
including a bridge, from distances of 50 kilometers.
Also in August, Lockheed Martin and Sandia National Laboratories
announced that successful tests of a tactical missile system-penetrator
(TACMS-P) had been conducted at White Sands.
The TACMS-P—a variant of the venerable Army tactical missile
system (ATACMS)—flew 136 kilometers and hit the target from
an almost vertical angle, Harris said. Attacking vertically improves
the missile’s accuracy and reduces collateral damage in urban
areas, he said.
Impressed by their accuracy, the Army has increased its use of
ATACMS, from 32 missiles fired in Desert Storm 15 years ago to 456
that were launched in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Harris said.
Meanwhile, Alliant Techsystems and Raytheon are competing to develop
a 120 mm mid-range munition for the Army that can hit targets at
extended line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight ranges, in excess
of eight kilometers.
MRM is a “fire-and-forget,” guided round. It is designed
to be fired both by the Abrams tank and the planned mounted combat
system, which is part of the future combat systems program, said
Lt. Col. Kenneth R. Tarcza, product manager for large caliber ammunition.
It can employ either a kinetic-energy penetrator or an advanced
warhead to destroy high-value targets, including armored vehicles.
During 2004 tests at Yuma, an Alliant Techsystems kinetic-energy
MRM hit a T-72 tank more than three miles away, Tarcza said. MRM
has been fielded to Iraq for further testing, he noted. “We’re
waiting to hear news of its deployment.”
The Army plans to select a single contractor in 2007 to continue
developing MRM. The aim is to reach an initial operational capability
The service has a lot riding on the success of the program, particularly
its beyond-line-of-sight concept (BLOS), Tarcza said. In fact, he
added, the “FCS unit of action will not be fully effective
BLOS uses a manned or unmanned sensor to acquire a target, and
allows the shooter—either an MCS or an Abrams—to hit
the target without exposing itself to enemy fire, Tarcza explained.
In contrast, line-of-sight engagement requires the shooter to acquire
the target at greater risk of coming under fire. Non-line-of-sight
combat employs an observer, usually from another unit, to acquire
the target. With BLOS, the target is acquired by a member of the
same unit as the shooter. This gives the commander greater control
and increasing the speed of the operation, especially compared with
non-line of sight engagement, Tarcza said. A BLOS operation requires
an average of 12 seconds to fire—not as fast as the line of
signt scenario at eight seconds, but much speedier than the non-line
of sight at 2:15 minutes.
The Army is cooperating with the Marine Corps in developing the
high mobility rocket system. HIMARS, a Lockheed Martin product,
is mounted on a wheeled chassis. It can be transported by C-130
Hercules aircraft, which can take off and land on relatively unimproved
airfields, and it can fire all rockets and missiles in the current
and future MLRS family of munitions, said HIMARS Deputy Product
Manager John Andrews from Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
HIMARS fulfills a critical Army and Marine Corps need for increased
long-range lethality for early-entry forces and improved, faster
deployability, he said.
In addition, HIMARS reduces ground troops’ reliance upon
close-air support to protect them from enemy fire. “The Air
Force and half of the Marine Corps believe that air power is the
only way to provide fires,” said Marine Maj. William D. Rice,
his service’s precision-fires liaison at Redstone. “But
air can’t operate in bad weather. HIMARS can help pick up
that slack. It doesn’t worry about the weather.”
The Marine Corps received its first two HIMARS in 2002, and the
Army in June equipped its first unit—the 3rd Battalion, of
the 27th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C.—with
the system. Eventually, the two services expect to acquire more
than 900 of them.
The Marines, however, have an amphibious issue with HIMARS, Rice
conceded. “There’s no problem putting the system on
a ship,” he said. “Where it gets hairy is putting the
rockets on a ship.” The Navy, he said, wants to be sure that
if a rocket is dropped while on board a ship, it won’t explode.
The sea service, meanwhile, is concentrating on improving the range
of naval fires, said Capt. Glenn Flanagan, head of the chief of
naval operation’s maritime warfare systems and surface strike
branch. “The current range of our five-inch guns is limited
to 13 nautical miles,” he said. “We want to extend that
range to 80 to 100 nautical miles. The Marines want to take it out
to 110 miles to accommodate the range of their V-22 Osprey.”
The Navy plans to take a three-phased approach, Flanagan said.
In the near term, the service plans to increase ranges to 41 nautical
miles and integrate new munitions onto existing ships. During the
mid term, it intends to extend ranges to 63 nautical miles, installing
new munitions on a new ship, the DDX next generation destroyer.
And over the far term, ranges would be extended to more than 97
nautical miles, with munitions put on ships not yet designed.
To achieve these improved ranges, the Navy is developing new guided
munitions. In 2004, it awarded Alliant Techsystems a $30 million
contract to build a ballistic trajectory extended range munition
with a range up to 54 nautical miles. In February of this year,
Raytheon, working with the Navy, successfully fired two tactical
extended-range guided munition (ERGM) rounds at White Sands, hitting
targets more than 40 nautical miles away.
The two rounds are meant to be fired from the Navy’s advanced
five-inch gun system, which is being installed on all new destroyers
and cruisers. In addition to offering greater range, the five-inch
gun also features an automatic loading system, permitting smaller
crews and female gunner’s mates, Flanagan noted.
“These are not small devices,” he said, noting that
ERGM is 61 inches long. “That’s almost as tall as my