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Artillery: Son of Excalibur
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October 11, 2008: The U.S. Army is developing a second generation version of its Excalibur, 155mm, GPS guided artillery shell. This new model will reduce the cost per shell from about $85,000 each, to $50,000. Australia and Canada have also bought, and used, Excalibur in Afghanistan. U.S. troops use it there, and in Iraq. Sweden will receive Excalibur in two years.

The "B" version of Excalibur won't be available for four years, and will have inertial guidance, in addition to GPS. This means that, if GPS signals are jammed, the shell will still be very accurate (landing within about fifteen meters of the aim point, compared to five meters for GPS.) Inertial guidance has long been used as a back-up in GPS guided smart bombs (JDAM). The new version of Excalibur will also use new, cheaper and more reliable components. Currently, several thousand Excalibur shells are being produced each year, and that will continue to increase.

Excalibur comes in very handy when Islamic warriors use civilians as human shields. In those situations, you have to be precise when you go after the bad guys. The Excalibur shell enabled the artillery to take care of these chores. A typical situation has enemy gunmen holding out in one building of a walled compound or village. In nearby buildings, there are women and children. While killing the enemy is good, killing the civilians can be a very bad thing. Smart bombs should be able to fix this, except that sometimes one of the smaller smart bombs, the 500 pounder, has too much bang (280 pounds of explosives).

A 155mm artillery shell should do the trick (only 20 pounds of explosives each), but at long range (20 kilometers or more), some of these shells will hit the civilians. That's because at that range, an unguided 155mm shell can land up to 100-200 meters from where you aimed it. This is where Excalibur comes in handy. The GPS guided Excalibur shell falls within a ten meter circle (the middle of that circle being the "aim point") no matter what the range. This kind of accuracy enables the troops to take out the enemy with one shot, and unprecedented precision.

Excalibur, being an artillery (which is controlled by the army) weapon, is easier to call in than a smart bomb (air force) attack. U.S. Army attack helicopters also have their Hellfire missiles, which provide a bit less bang than the Excalibur shell (and cost about the same). But while weather (especially sand storms) can interfere with helicopter operations, Excalibur is always ready to fire.

For most nations, the big drawback with Excalibur is cost. A "dumb" 155mm shell costs $300 or less, although when you take into account the civilian lives saved (and good will retained), it's a different story. Moreover, friendly troops can be closer to the target when Excalibur is used, meaning your infantry can get into the shelled target quicker, before any surviving enemy can get ready to shoot back.

The Excalibur shell is worth it in other ways. Ten 155mm shells (of any type, with their propellant and packaging) weigh about a ton. Ammo supply has always been a major problem with artillery, and Excalibur is the solution. With Excalibur, fewer 155mm shells have to be shipped thousands of miles, and looked after until they are used. One Excalibur shell can take out a target that would require 10-20 unguided shells.

Excalibur was developed in the United States, in cooperation with the Swedish firm Bofors. The Excalibur was originally supposed to cost under $50,000 each, and with more being produced, and the introduction of the "B" version, the per-shell price will fall to the planned price.

Developing electronics and control systems that fit inside a 155mm diameter shell, and survive being fired out of a cannon, proved more difficult than expected. That's why a GPS guided smart bomb only costs about $30,000, while the first hundred or so Excaliburs cost more than three times as much.

Developing smart artillery shells is risky. The U.S. Navy recently cancelled a project to develop a similar 127mm shell, and is now looking into adopting the Excalibur technology for a GPS guided 127mm shell that works. Smart shells are a nice idea, but getting from here to there is a risky and expensive process.


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WarNerd       10/11/2008 7:46:34 PM
I wonder how much the savings would be for a shell with GPS guidance only? 
Not as accurate as the Excalibur, but good enough for area targets using VT fused or ICM cluster rounds.
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esmoore5       10/11/2008 8:03:31 PM
Since precision-guided arty is so useful, has the older Copperhead laser-guided 155mm round seen much use in Iraq or Afghanistan?  Copperhead was available long before Excalibur became operational.
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doggtag       10/11/2008 9:30:07 PM
One of the biggest arguments I remember against Copperhead was its cost back in the day (late 1980s into mid-1990s timeframe).
Due to the manufacturing technologies of the day, and the basic design of Copperhead's components,
it never achieved the cost-effective mass-production/lower cost objectives that Excalibur is, most likely, going to achieve.
So I can't really say then if there ever were even very many Copperheads produced,
nor do I know where exactly to look to see if it's even still in service, or has been withdrawn (or just used up until the stocks were depleted).
(ArtyEngineer, neutralizer, any others, can you back this up or dispel it? Much obliged, either or.)
With the tech we have today in materials, component design, miniaturization, and fabrication & manufacturing,
designing Copperhead with the same tech levels that are in the current Excalibur would create a more price/production friendly PGM than what we got in the Copperhead 15-20 years ago (at least I think so).
The PGMM 120mm mortar munition uses GPS to get into the right target vicinity, then its laser seeker allows for the pinpoint
accuracy that GPS doesn't offer (at least no yet, officially).
So suggesting some sort of hybrid Copperhead/Excalibur that uses both GPS and laser seeking isn't all that unrealistic.
Even one of the newest JDAM models offers an additional laser seeker mechanism to improve its terminal targetting.
But like every other laser-seeking device, it still relies on someone or something with a designator to "paint" the target.
If the INS that will be developed for Excalibur B proves as capable as it appears is hoped for,
then is there any reason such an INS can't be incorporated into PGMM types and JDAMs to improve/maintain their precision when GPS signals are compromised and laser designation is not an option?
Such an Inertial Navigation System may be small enough, durable enough, reliable enough, and accurate enough to allow the next generation of those PGK-type fuzes to be even better.
Maybe finally then the USN can get its collective sh*t together enough to finally get themselves a price-friendly, production-ready enhanced-range 5-inch PGM...something every user of the 127mm guns around the world wouldn't mind having.
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neutralizer       10/11/2008 11:15:59 PM
I'm not sure that unit cost of Copperhead was in itself an issue.  Whole life costs were because even with simulators a few still needed to be fired each year by a battery because they were terminally controlled by an observer (live fire training was needed if the using army was serious).  This meant the quantities needed for training were substantially greater that the required war stocks!  There were also some other control issues.  Interestingly it's now becoming clear that a munition that can be terminally controlled by an observer is needed, contrary to some pundits Excalibur is not the total answer, there's this inconvenient reality that targets move, hitting where they were a couple of minutes ago is a waste of the taxpayers dough.  The French have tested a Russian 155mm laser guided shell, about a decade ago the Russians were quoting these at about $10,000 a pop, it would seem that India may have used them from their FH77Bs when there was the last bout of serious shooting in Kashmir.  Can't beat a price like that.  If the Canadians had any sense they be talking to the Russians with chequebook in hand.
Where does this crap about Australians using Excalibur in Afg come from?  It's fiction.  Australia may or may not have ordered some or even acquired some for trials.  However, the only Australian artillery in Afg is a small number of soldiers who are fully integrated into a UK 105mm battery operating UK L118s with all the bells and whistles and carrying UK small arms.  A tad difficult for them to fire Excalibur.   The artillery generally supporting the Australian force in Afg (with the NL) are NL PzH2000, perhaps NL has acquired some and they are being fired in support of Aust troops.
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ArtyEngineer    Copperhead   10/12/2008 1:35:34 AM
I dont know a single person who has had a successful Copperhead shot!!!!  In fact in many circles its known as the "Copperdud"  I know a few guys who were involved in teh testing of it out at Yuma and even they say it wasnt teh most reliable of munitions but back in teh day when we were planning to throw everything including the kitchen sink at the soviets massed armor formations it still went into service.
Where did you see the claim that the Australians had shot excalibur?  You are correct its crap, they havent even taken delivery of any of theirs yet AFAIK.  Also unlikely that teh NL PzH 's have fired them as no integration testing has been done to my knowledge
Regarding the above article, it makes it sound as if the current Block 1A-2  excalibur doesnt have inertial guidance when in fact it does.  Block 1B will simply have a less expensive Inertial system.
I mentioned elsewhere that teh Block 1B would have a rocket asist as opposed to teh current base bleed in the Block 1A-2 currently out there.  Im not sure that was correct.  I think they are sticking with base bleed for teh minute.
Regarding giving teh Excalibur family a Moving Target Kill (MTK) capability, its being talked about but going to be pretty tricky to do!!!!  If the plan is to stick with a pure GPS/INS guidance its going to mean somehow establishing digital comms with teh round in flight from teh FO's position to feed it updates!!!  Good luck with that is all I can say!!!!
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esmoore5       10/12/2008 3:53:55 AM
Since a laser-guided round for the M-1 tank has already been tested:
Maybe adding laser guidance to Excalibur, or developing a new laser-guided 155mm round for engaging moving vehicles might be doable without too much trouble.
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esmoore5       10/12/2008 3:59:55 AM
Hmm, the link I posted above doesn't seem to work, let's try it this way:
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doggtag    SpaceWar link on MRM-CE   10/12/2008 10:57:59 AM
First off,
Neutralizer & Artillery Engineer,
thanx a bundle.
Re: the Russian PGMs (Krasnopols) that India used a bit against its disputes with Pakistan.
Heard it thru the grapevine (internet forums here and there, a while back) that the Indians were somewhat disappointed,
as they didn't always work.
Latest AviationWeek DTI (Oct 2008), page 8 upper left,
suggests the Russians are working on an improved model (155mm M2) : 5km more range (to 25km now from 20km), almost double the payload (11kg now from 6.4kg).
The Russians have been producing gun-fired laser seeking rounds for quite some time: most of their 125mm armed tanks can use at least one type, and the 100mm gun on BMP-3s and the like even has one.
Surprised the US and our NATO allies and such never put as much faith in those munitions until now (MRM-CE & -KE for BLOS ability in the FCS MGV MCS, Israel's LAHAT, and others).
Re: Raytheon's MRM-CE over there at SpaceWar.
I'm actually more interested in what was about 2/3 down the page: the brief article on ATK's Saber munition that it foresses as a potential for a cheaper Excalibur future increment...
Speaking of ATK, if anyone's interested where they're taking (or would like to) extended range future PGMs,
we have the following links:
The BTERM project...if the USN ever decides what it actually wants to do, since the 155mm AGS/LRLAP combo obviously isn't going to see widespread use.
{   ht*p://   }
Their PGK offering, (one of my personal faves) little more than a smart fuze that screws into the nose well of a "dumb" shell and gives some measure of increased precision downrage. Got some pdfs somewhere on anticipated future developments of this one, too, that suggest improved components and software will allow the nose canards to manipulate the shell into a shallow glide slope, and better azimuth correction (with a miniscule range increase from it, compared to an outright extended range system of a complete munition that's designed with wings and fins from the outset).
{   ht*p://   }
But this puppy from ATK, the VLRM-AB  ,is what's really got my interest.
AE, you once started a thread where the PzH2000 and its 52-cal tube shot some of that South African long range ammo (Assegai? VLAP?) to 60-some km, and expected 75km could be reached under ideal conditions.
Very curious to see what ATK could achieve from this beastie, and if tube length will really make much difference (38, 39, 45, or 52-cal tubes)...
{   ht*p://   }
They've developed this ramjet artillery shell with data they gleaned from their FASTT  program (tested in 2005).
{   ht*p://   }
If they're already trying to develop stuff like this with company funds,
I wonder how much they'd sock the Government for the full program to "further refine technical hurdles" if the program ever receives serious interest for a production system...?
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ArtyEngineer    DT   10/13/2008 2:25:25 AM
The ATK booth was beside the BAE booth at the AUSA show and I had a few good chats with them regarding some of their cool stuff!!!  And before you ask "No I cant share"  :( sorry.  The projected capabilities of the PGK are outstanding.  Some people are actually worried about promoting how good it is in case that in some way hurts the Excalibur program which still needs significant development to reach its full potential with regards to range payload types and possibly the previously mentioned MTK capability..
By teh way Im also feeling a bit stupid about my query on where Neutraliser read teh Australians were using the Excalibur in A'Stan.  I just noticed that claim in the first paragraph of the SP Article.  Doh!!!!
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doggtag       10/13/2008 3:40:32 AM

The ATK booth was beside the BAE booth at the AUSA show and I had a few good chats with them regarding some of their cool stuff!!!  And before you ask "No I cant share"  :( sorry.  The projected capabilities of the PGK are outstanding.  Some people are actually worried about promoting how good it is in case that in some way hurts the Excalibur program which still needs significant development to reach its full potential with regards to range payload types and possibly the previously mentioned MTK capability..'s almost like you delight in doing that to us!  : P
I've got a couple or so pdfs on the PGKs either on the other computer here (awaiting a new PSU, that I'm pissed didn't get here for the weekend),
or they're in one of the comps I can surf with at work.
Vaguely, I remember the discussion was along the lines of which follow-on increments would go from 2D to 3D flight profile manipulation, to some sort of shallow glide slope capability that could get a small range increase accordingly without any additional base elements.
As for any moving target engagement abilities being done autonomously (no external source designating the target),
I'm wondering if we could see a soft-launch munition, similar to a small charge kicking the munition out the gun, then its own propellant system (solid grain, ramjet, etc) boosts it to a greater speed on a longer acceleration curve than gun tubes allow,
in such a way that some of these latest multimode seekers (P44's comes to mind) could be incorprated without the need to strengthen the electronics for high velocity gun launches.
But there again, such a complicated munition could be expensive to the point we might as well just use a typical missile.
...and I still think it would get ATK, or somebody, some serious customer business if they can demonstrate effective that PGK fuzes compatible with 105 and 155mm dumb shells will also, at some point, be adaptable, successfully, to 127mm naval shells (so nations need only buy one fuze type and not two or three).
Because a lot of navies still use them, and the 5-inch guns aren't going away anytime soon.
Better still is a scaled-down PGK suitable for 76mm naval guns, as not everybody is going to pony up the funds to convert all their OTO 76's to the Davide/Strales config to be compatible with those DART guided rounds...
No worries, AE.
You needn't spill a lot of beans on what you can or can't talk about.
Sometimes, the rest of us need only watch where other tech is going, and we can deduce together whether or not something could/would/should feasibly, most likely work a certain way,..or not.
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