Weapons: 60mm Mortar Grows Mighty



February 1, 2008: The U.S. is introducing a new mortar tube for its 60mm and 81mm mortars. New metals (Inconel 718 alloy) and manufacturing methods (flowforming) have reduced the weight of the mortar tubes 30 percent, and increased the robustness of the mortar tube. However, that does not result in an enormous decrease in weight. That's because the entire mortar system consists of three components (tube, bipod and baseplate) of approximately equal weight (about 15 pounds each for the 60mm weapon). So the lighter tube only reduces the overall system weight about ten percent.

For the infantry, however, every pound counts. The U.S. Marines are buying some of the lightweight 60mm and 81mm tubes. The marines are particularly keen to see how the lighter M224 60mm version works. The marines use the 60mm for infantry companies, giving the company commander his own artillery. Modern 60mm mortar shells, which weigh about 3.5 pounds each, have a range of 3,500 meters. For many decades, the max range of 60mm mortars was more like 2,000 meters. The longer, range shells, and the availability of mini-UAVs at the company level, make the 60mm mortar a much more potent weapon. The UAV can spot targets behind hills or buildings, and then adjust the mortar fire until the target is destroyed.

Infantry mortars were invented during World War I (1914-18), but have been largely unchanged since then. The current U.S. mortar designs were introduced in the 1980s, but the new tube, longer range ammo, and guided shells (in larger calibers than 60mm) are rather recent developments.

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