Artillery: Krasnopol Craps Out


December 15, 2006: India continues to have problems with their Russian made,  Krasnopol laser guided 155mm artillery shells. India has been having problems with these shells since it first got some to use in 1999, during the border war with Pakistan in the Kargil region of Kashmir. Only about 28 percent of the shells fired, performed as advertised. The shells either missed the target, or failed to explode. Despite this, India agreed to buy 8,000 Krasnopol shells, for $40,000 each, in early 2002. India thought some of the problems were with the laser designators, and bought designators some from Israel, to replace the Russian ones.


Krasnopol was originally designed, in the 1990s, for use in the Russian 152mm howitzer. The Indian shells were modified to work with Indian 155mm guns. The Russian manufacturer said it had fixed the problem, but additional tests recently revealed that there was still a high percentage of shells that did not hit the target, or, if they did, did not explode. 


Getting "smart shells" to work effectively is nothing new. Back in the 1980s, the American 155mm Copperhead round was developed, at great expense, to take out tanks with one shot. The Copperhead was laser guided. That is, it homed in on laser light that a forward observer was creating by pointing a laser at the target. It was the same technique used with laser guided bombs. But this was expensive technology. Each of the 3,000 Copperhead shells eventually built, cost several hundred thousands dollars (the price varied, up to half a million bucks, depending on who was doing the calculating). While a hundred dollar, "dumb", artillery shell will land with 75 meters of the aiming point, the Copperhead would land within a meter or two. But so what? It turned out there were many easier, and cheaper, ways to destroy enemy tanks. This was demonstrated during the 1991 Gulf War, when a few Copperhead shells were used, successfully, but to reactions of, "whatever."


The Indians want to use their Krasnopols to take out enemy bunkers in mountainous terrain, where a barrage of dumb shells might cause avalanches, or otherwise tear up the terrain, and make it difficult for their infantry to advance. A new American smart shell, Excalibur, is to be used in urban fighting, where you just want to hit one building, and enable nearby infantry to quickly rush in. Excalibur has been delayed over a year because of reliability problems.