Oto Melara Munition Gives Naval Guns Low-Tech, ‘Nonlethal’ Precision
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By RICHARD R. BURGESS
In an age characterized by missiles guided by sophisticated electronic seekers and a constellation of satellites, an Italian arms company is taking a different approach to precision munitions. To increase the accuracy of widely used medium-caliber naval guns, Oto Melara, a unit of the Finmeccanica Group industrial conglomerate based in Rome, is employing the concepts of low drag and high speed with a new munition called Ammunition Reduced Time-of-Flight (ART).
ART is designed to be fired by existing 76mm naval guns deployed on warships used by more than 50 nations, including the U.S. Navy’s Perry-class guided-missile frigates and the U.S. Coast Guard’s
Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters and Famous-class medium-endurance cutters.
The ART is a narrow projectile (42mm diameter) shaped like a rocket with tailfins and, at 3.4 kilograms, is lighter than a conventional 76mm shell. The tungsten-iron-core ART is encased in a 76mm shell, centered by a round collar, called a sabot. When the round is fired, gasses build up behind the sabot to hurl the projectile out of the gun barrel. The sabot falls off as the projectile leaves the barrel.
The projectile, lighter and more aerodynamic than a conventional shell, heads toward the target at 1.5 times the speed of a conventional round. Because of its speed, the ART is less affected by wind and target motion and therefore far more accurate than a conventional round. It is so accurate, company officials said, that it is effective as a “non-lethal” weapon.
“ART is so good,” said Oto Melara CEO Carlo Alberto Iardella, “that it can disable a rudder on a ship without sinking it or injuring the crew. That means that ships smuggling sensitive contraband such as nuclear weapons or missiles can be stopped on the high seas if they try to evade law-enforcement organizations.”
ART rounds require no modifications to ships’ guns and are compatible with existing automated ammunition handling systems. No modifications in the ships’ fire-control systems are required, either.
Oto Melara is confident that ART would be a useful weapon to support U.S. President George W. Bush’s Proliferation Security Initiative, which has been joined by 11 nations to interdict weapons of mass destruction at sea. Ten of those nations deploy warships equipped with Oto Melara 76mm guns, which can fire at a rate of 120 rounds per minute.
A version of ART is equipped with a 3-kilogram high-explosive air-burst warhead for use against aircraft, sea-skimming missiles, surface ships, swarms of fast boats and for shore bombardment. Oto Melara and Simmel Difesa, a munitions manufacturer based in Colleferro, Italy, are developing a microwave fuze that behaves like a seeker for the ART. The fuze is non-jammable, insensitive to sea clutter and compensates for wind and other deviations. It detonates in relation to target velocity and position.
Another derivative is the DART (Driven ART), equipped with a guidance computer on the tail of the projectile and steerable canards on the nose. This version can be steered to the target by riding a radar beam from the gun’s fire-control radar, Stephen D. Bryen, president of Finmeccanica Inc., the U.S. representative of the Finmeccanica Group, told Sea Power.
Bryen and Michael Timming, senior vice president for naval systems at Oto Melara, said the fully modularized 76mm gun with ART munitions would be ideal for defense of oil platforms against swarms of small suicide boats. ART could disable them without detonating their explosives.
Timming said the ART is scalable to any size, such as the 5-inch (127mm) naval gun.
The Italian Navy funded development of the ART and has ordered 400 rounds scheduled for delivery beginning this year, making the service Oto Melara’s first customer for the munition. Company officials said the ART will cost 1,600 euros (approximately $1,960) per round.
Late last year, Adm. Ennio Piantini, the Italian Navy’s director general for naval weapons systems, briefed officials of the Naval Sea Systems Command on the ART.
The ART has the potential to be the munition to arm the U.S. Navy’s
new Littoral Combat Ship, Bryen said, if a 76mm gun is selected as one of the mission modules for the ship.
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