A decade-long effort to develop advanced munitions for 5-inch guns remains in limbo, and the technology is not likely to be ready for operational use in the foreseeable future.
Under a program called “extended range munition,” which began in 1996, the Navy has been pursuing a satellite-guided projectile that could be launched from ships and hit targets ashore more than 40 miles away.
By unofficial estimates, the Navy has spent nearly $2 billion on the project but has yet to deploy a single round. The original schedule called for the weapon to be deployed in 2001.
“We’re working to figure out the way ahead for this program,” says Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, director of Navy surface warfare.
The extended range munition, or ERM, has been plagued by delays and technical glitches, but the Navy is not giving up on the program, McCullough says. The weapon was designed to provide fire support to Marines landing in hostile territory.
The Navy also is developing a 6-inch guided round that will be fired from its next-generation DDX destroyer. That weapon has seen smoother sailing than the 5-inch, McCullough notes. The 6-inch projectile, made by Lockheed Martin Corporation, has a proven range of 65 miles, says McCullough.
“I need industry to figure out the issues with the 5-inch variants,” he adds. While he is encouraged by the progress of the 6-inch projectile, McCullough says that the 5-inch weapons are a more pressing priority because Navy ships today have 5-inch guns, whereas the DDX may not be in the fleet for several more years.
McCullough says the Navy bears some of the responsibility for the ERM failures. “We haven’t provided industry stable funding for this. That said, however, we’ve been working on this for more than a decade, and we haven’t overcome the technical difficulties.”
McCullough says programs such as ERM require far more tests than the Navy has funded so far. According to the contractor, Raytheon Missile Systems, 11 tests have taken place, and five of those were successful. In each test, only one round was fired.
The Navy has treated ERM as a “science project,” he says. “There’s no repeatability.” One of the most significant challenges is the global positioning system satellite receiver, whose sensitive electronics are subjected to 10,000 times the force of gravity when they exit the gun tube.
Another contractor, Alliant Techsystems, proposed an alternative round and continues to test it, under a separate $35 million program. Raytheon remains the ERM contractor, and received $10 million in 2005 for additional tests.
The Navy’s budget for fiscal year 2007 includes $16.3 million for ERM research and development work.
“We are working with industry to get to the point when we have enough of these rounds to test and see if the program is technically viable,” McCullough says. “If you shoot 40 of them, and only 10 work, that’s statistically significant. When you shoot four and two don’t work, that’s not statistically significant.”
Gary Letterman, business development manager at Raytheon, says the latest test in October 2005 demonstrated the round can fly 45 miles.
“Raytheon’s position is that we have flown sufficient number of rounds that proves that we meet the operational requirements,” Letterman says. “Gun hardening is very difficult. We are taking missile components and launching them out of a gun at 10,000 g forces. This has been a real engineering challenge.”
A comparable weapon developed for the Army, however, has overcome early technical hurdles and appears to be heading to production.
The 155 mm Army round, called Excalibur, has much in common with the ERM, although they are not identical, Letterman cautions.
“We use the same lab,” he says. But they have dissimilar technical requirements, and are fired from different guns, at different pressures. “We use a lot of common components and subsystems,” Letterman says. “Excalibur does not have a rocket motor. ERM has a rocket motor. They are not exactly the same.”
Also, the two programs are managed in entirely different ways, he says. “The Army made the decision to put the funds in, and accelerate the program. So we are at the point that we are getting ready to produce rounds and field as quickly as possible.”
What accelerated Excalibur, he says, “was the need that came out of Iraq for precision weapons … There is a sense of urgency with the Excalibur program, whereas there has not necessarily been that sense of urgency with the ERM program.”
The Army awarded Raytheon a $22 million contract in June 2005 to speed up the development.
The Excalibur project manager, Army Lt. Col. William Cole, says 165 projectiles were procured in 2005. An undetermined quantity of projectiles will be shipped to the Middle East in October 2006. They will be fired from Paladin howitzers.
The technical difficulties seen both in ERM and Excalibur point to the need to rethink the fire-support requirements throughout the military services, says David Johnson, a military analyst at the Rand Corporation. He argues that both the Navy and the Army should consider saving the money it costs to develop new weapons and instead figure out how to take better advantage of air-delivered fire support from Air Force and Navy fighter jets and bombers.
“We pursue these technologies sometimes with the assumption that they fill a valid need without looking across all the capabilities of the other services,” Johnson tells National Defense. “We still have this large bag of service capabilities that haven’t been fully integrated at the joint level.”