FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It could be called “Franken-Cannon.”
Take some components from the Future Combat Systems’ now deceased non-line-of-sight cannon program. Add recycled cabs and gun mounts from 50-year-old Paladin Howitzers. Throw in the chassis from the Bradley fighting vehicle and integrate a new power management system.
Stick them all together and the Army will at last have a new self-propelled artillery system, the Paladin Integrated Management program, or PIM. Like Mary Shelley’s fictional creature, Frankenstein, parts of the cannon have risen from the dead.
Upgrading the decades old Paladin was in the works before the Future Combat Systems was canceled in April last year, said Ron Hayward, director of fire support programs at BAE Systems. Until then, it was a supportability and obsolescence program, he said. The idea was to maintain the Army’s current fleet of approximately 900 cannons and replace outdated parts, he said.
When Defense Secretary Robert Gates cancelled FCS and its non-line of sight-cannon “it became a one-horse race and at that point PIM became the future of a self-propelled artillery for the U.S. Army,” he added.
“What started as a very humble obsolescence and supportability project … has [now] been able to insert some very key technologies that have made this vehicle completely relevant and also provides some design headspace for future growth,” Hayward said.
The NLOS-C was one of a family of FCS vehicles that was supposed to share a common chassis, network and logistical footprint. It was ahead of the development cycle because it, too, had taken parts of a previously canceled program, the Crusader. The Army sunk $2 billion into the Crusader until its cancellation in 2002. Defense Department leadership at the time, including then secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, said the Army would still require a mobile, all-weather, precise weapon that was capable of striking multiple targets. While never dubbed Crusader II, the NLOS-cannon was the next mobile artillery piece in the pipeline.
Now the requirement for artillery that can fire, move on before an enemy can pinpoint its location, then return fire, has fallen to PIM.
Technologies that would have been included in the now cancelled NLOS-C program are among those that will migrate to the new Paladin. “We didn’t reuse parts. We reused technologies,” Hayward said. “All of the parts had to be reengineered.”
The fully automated loading system that was slated for the NLOS-C did not make it into the PIM, but it will use a semi-automatic rammer. The FCS program envisioned the operators never having to touch the rounds. PIM operators will have to hand load the artillery shells, but soldiers will no longer have to ram them into the breech.
The current Paladins require hand ramming, which can lead to rounds not hitting their intended targets when operators shove them in either too hard or too softly.
The gun mount and cab will be recycled from old Paladins. However, the electronics and displays inside will be upgraded from analog to digital.
A clean electrical environment will be a major upgrade, he said. To make this happen, a new cable management system will replace the hydraulic system that sends power from the chassis to the gun turret. The old slip ring that carries out these actions interferes with today’s digital systems — especially communications, he added.
“Slip rings are notoriously noisy,” said Hayward. “It’s not a friendly environment for digital electronics.”
Despite the integration of these different components, the program is not attempting to push the technology envelope, Hayward said.
“We’re not trying to do anything innovative and sexy here on this program … perfect is the natural enemy of good enough,” he added.
The chassis is taken from the Bradley fighting vehicle. That will save the Army money in the long run, Hayward said. It will lower operation and sustainment costs because the service will not have to supply different sets of replacement parts or tools. Bradley maintenance crews will be able to fix the new Paladin’s chassis as well, he added.
The loss of the non-line-of-sight cannon and its fully automated system means the Army will not benefit from a smaller crew. NLOS-C was designed to operate with two personnel. PIM will require four soldiers.
As far as power, BAE is integrating its on-board vehicle power system into the Paladin, said Don Flynn, director of military vehicle systems at the company. PIM will be the first to showcase BAE’s new system, which the company is attempting to sell to U.S. military and foreign customers. The system sends power to components where and when it is needed. When a driver accelerates, the power is redirected from systems that aren’t being used, and surges it to the drive train.
Flynn said the power system also answers a demand in the military for exportable energy.
“One of the added benefits you get from this system is the ability to produce up to 30 kilowatts at a time,” he said. That’s enough to run a command center or a field hospital, he said.
BAE developed the system believing there would be an increasing demand for onboard power management on military vehicles. Dashboards are being crowded with electronic devices, he said. The system is modular and scalable so it can be installed on any size vehicle. The company has tested it on humvees, Strykers and medium-sized military trucks. It also foresees requirements that call for onboard power management on the upcoming joint light tactical vehicle.
Hayward said the 70 kilowatts the PIM will produce is “an enormous amount of power when you consider that previous vehicle had a 24-volt, 600-amp system.”
The Army awarded BAE a contract to produce five PIMs and two ammunition carriers last year. The service will be testing the system from May to August.
The latest number of PIMs to be acquired stand at about 400, Hayward said.
But that may not be settled, suggested Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, Army deputy chief of staff, G-8. The Army is currently working its way through extensive portfolio reviews of everything from helicopters to precision fires to ensure that it is purchasing new systems in appropriate quantities and with the right capabilities. The combat vehicles study has not been completed, he told reporters.