After four years of effort, the U.S. Navy finally managed to cancel a
high tech munitions project. This is unusual. For over a decade, the navy kept
running into more technical problems developing its new Extended Range Guided
Munition (ERGM). This was a 127mm (5 inch) shell for warships (cruisers and
destroyers) to use in providing support for ground operations. The rocket
boosted ERGM had a range of over a hundred kilometers, and used GPS guidance
and small fins to put the shell to within 30 feet of where it is aimed. ERGM
carried submunitions for attacking personnel and armored vehicles.
the ERGM began in 1996. The new shell was supposed to be ready by 2000. But one
technical problem after another kept delaying it. Even then, many felt that ERGM was unlikely to prove very practical. In the
1980s, the U.S. Army developed a similar "smart shell" for its 155mm guns. Called
the "Copperhead," it eventually entered service, but was so expensive (nearly
$300,000 a shell) and specialized (someone had to shine a laser light off the
target), that few were used even when they were available (as they were in the
1991 Gulf War.)
was to cost over $50,000 a shell, and troops on the ground would rather have a
$20,000 smart bomb anyway. The biggest problem with ERGM was not going to be
making it work. No, the problem would be keeping it working. Each shell had
special batteries that had to be replaced every few years, and the electronic
and mechanical systems in the shells would have faced their biggest challenge
sitting in a bunker, or deep inside a ship for years at a time. Your ordinary 5
inch shell costs about $200 and takes long term storage quite well. But
ERGM acquired a life of its own and
resisted many efforts to kill it. Until now.
is going to seek a replacement, and that may end up being the U.S. Armys 155mm
(six inch) Excalibur GPS guided shell.
This entered service two years ago, and is very popular with the troops.
While each Excalibur shell costs over $100,000, it's smaller explosive charge
and 24/7 availability, makes it worthwhile to the troops.