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Artillery: Oldies But Goodies
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November 7, 2008: Although several countries are building new self-propelled 155mm artillery vehicles, there are still over three thousand 1960s era U.S. M109 guns out there. Most are not going to be replaced any time soon, so there is an active market for upgrades. The most famous upgrade is the M109A6 Paladin version, which was introduced in the 1990s (nearly a thousand so far). The A6 features improved mechanical, electrical and electronic components. Many non-U.S. users are now introducing some of these improvements. The most useful changes are new engines, GPS navigation systems and new electronic fire control systems (that work with GPS to enable the gun to open fire more quickly and accurately.)

The U.S. is working on a replacement (NLOS-C) for the half century old M-109 design. The prototype of the 155mm NLOS-C, cobbled together in six months, after the new Crusader SP artillery system was cancelled in 2002, fired several thousand rounds in three years of field tests. The NLOS-C incorporates many new technologies. This includes an auto-loader (from the Crusader) and a more modern 155mm gun (the M-777, a towed, British designed system) and an APC chassis with a hybrid-electric engine (to reduce fuel consumption.) This all weighs 27 tons, about the same as the 32 ton M-109. But the NLOS only has a two man crew, compared to five in the M-109. Congress originally demanded that NLOS-C be in service by 2008, but now 2010 or '11 seems more likely.

Meanwhile, the new Excalibur GPS guided shell, which entered service in the past year, could change everything. Excalibur appears to work in combat, and this is radically changing the way artillery operates. Excalibur means 80-90 percent less ammo has to be fired, resulting in less wear and tear on artillery systems (M-109 or NLOS-C), less time needed for maintenance, less time replenishing ammo supplies, and more time being ready for action. The NLOS-C uses GPS and networked computers to take care of navigation, fire control and communicating with its customers (the infantry and armored vehicles of the combat brigade it supports). Each battery (4-6 guns) has several support vehicles with ammo resupply, maintenance and such. Thus while each NLOS-C only has a crew of two, there are additional support personnel available to help with maintenance. This is another new development, a crew too small to do all its own maintenance, that will require a lot of testing.

If the new NLOS-C  self-propelled gun works out, the M-109s may disappear a lot more quickly. But maybe not. Currently, the army plans to keep M109s around until 2050, just in case.  With cheaper and easier to replace electronics, and the GPS guided shells, the M-109s appear perfectly capable.  You never know, and it pays to be careful.

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Mrbinga       11/7/2008 10:53:04 AM
Wasn't there some talk a while back about mating a Paladin turret and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle turret and producing more a less a new Self propelled artillery system?
 
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cowboy11c       11/8/2008 1:56:23 AM
I don't remember if it was a full size artillery piece, or a 120mm mortar.  I think the mortar would be more appropriate.
 
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Alex J.       11/8/2008 1:00:10 PM
Seems like there should be a market for something like a GPS guided BM-21. Accuracy was the biggest problem with rockets, and the launch would put less stress on the electronics. A dumb rocket is more expensive than a dumb artillery shell, but the guidance would be more expensive than both put together. An individual rocket would weigh more than a shell, but you'd need fewer anyway and the launcher could weight much less.
 
I know there was/is also a laser guided 120mm mortar round, which is similar to my idea (cheap launcher, low velocity projectile). You'd have fewer space constraints in a rocket. Insurgents fire rockets from tripods made of sticks or by leaning them against boulders. With guidance, a powerful punch could come from a very small package.

We also have GPS guided  MLRS, but those are much larger than is needed in most circumstances, and require a large launching vehicle.
 
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ArtyEngineer       11/8/2008 4:26:04 PM

Wasn't there some talk a while back about mating a Paladin turret and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle turret and producing more a less a new Self propelled artillery system?

In short, NO!!!!  M109 Turret on a Bradley chassis is not goin to work for more reasons than I have time to go into.  What is happening however under the latest upgrade program for the M109 series called "Paladin Integrated Management" or PIM, is to make as much of the running gear and drive train common with the Bradly series of vehicles.  This is a logistics driven decision to simplify logistics and maintenance in the Heavy Brigade Combat Teams (HBCT's).
 
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ArtyEngineer       11/8/2008 4:28:58 PM

I don't remember if it was a full size artillery piece, or a 120mm mortar.  I think the mortar would be more appropriate.

A Bradly based 120mm Mortar carrier has been developed and is being actively marketed at the minute.  Aimed to replace the M113 series Mortar carrier currently in use. Not turreted though, Mortar carried in rear and fires through open top hatches.
 
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