The U.S. Army has ordered another
thousand Excalibur, 155mm, GPS guided artillery shells, at a cost of about
$85,000 each. Australia ordered 250 of the shells earlier this year. American
and Canadian troops have begun using the Excalibur shell in Afghanistan earlier
this year. A year ago, American troops began using Excalibur in Iraq.
This was timely,
because Islamic warriors tend to use civilians as human shields, and that means
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).
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.
After a year
of use in Iraq, the troops find Excalibur invaluable for hitting just what you
want to hit, and with a minimal amount of bang. 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.
nations, the big drawback with Excalibur is cost. A "dumb" 155mm
shell costs $300 or less, but 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 Swedish engineers, The Excalibur was originally supposed to
cost under $50,000 each, and with more being produced, the per-shell price may
eventually fall to the planned price. Currently, 150 Excaliburs are being
produced each month, and the army wants to double that. 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 twice as much.
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.