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Putting Warheads (More Accurately) on Foreheads

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Raytheons innovative satellite-guided 155mm artillery shell was used in operations in Iraq last weekend to kill a top local al Qaeda leader south of Baghdad.

Bloomberg News Tony Capaccio reports a salvo of XM982 Excalibur artillery shells were targeted against Abu Jurah and 14 associates in a house near the town of Arab Jabour.

The two-shell salvo fired by Soldiers from the Armys 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment is particularly significant because it could mean the re-emergence of field artillery as a viable weapon in the highly restrictive combat environment of an urban counterinsurgency.

The statement e-mailed from Baghdad said Abu Jurah was "the top target" in al-Qaida south of Baghdad, responsible for a terrorist cell that made improvised roadside bombs and suicide-vehicle bombs and fired mortars at U.S. troops.

The attack marked the U.S. military's first acknowledgement that the new precision-guided weapon has been used in Iraq. In combat testing before deployment, the weapon demonstrated accuracy within 20 feet (6 meters) of its target, a precision designed to minimize civilian casualties and accidental U.S. military deaths in a war that is increasingly urban.

An unguided 155mm shell can miss its target by as much as 900 feet or 280 meters. The Excalibur has a 50-pound warhead. The Army wanted a weapon with a much smaller warhead than the 200-pound charge on its only precision-guided ground-based mobile rocket system, officials said.

Abu Jurah was killed by troops from the Army's 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment, who fired the two Excalibur shells, destroying the meeting house, the statement said.

For Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon, successful combat use is a milestone in a $1.4 billion program for up to 30,000 shells costing about $39,000 apiece.

Raytheon is under contract to make the first 500 rounds. The Army program office at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., says Raytheon will produce at least the first 3,000 shells and could compete to make the remaining 27,000.

The roughly 6-inch-diameter Excalibur uses a combination of Global Positioning System satellite guidance and inertial navigation to hit targets at ranges of up to 40 kilometers, or about 25 miles.

By comparison, a conventional artillery shell's range is about 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles; rocket-assisted shells can go up to 30 kilometers, or about 19 miles.

The Excalibur program went into development in the late 1990s and became a joint project of the United States and Sweden in 2002.

Over the last several years, artillery units in the Army and Marine Corps have been reshuffled and given collateral or provisional duties because commanders fearful that the use of unguided artillery could result in civilian casualties that undercut U.S. efforts to forge a peace in Iraq have declined to use cannon and large mortars or rockets in their AORs. Instead, artillerymen have been increasingly employed as infantrymen, civil affairs technicians or military police.

With the Excalibur, the calculation has changed. Artillery is far more responsive than air power and since its tied closely with the infantry, more likely to be used instead of airpower due to its familiarity with infantry fire support officers.

Clearly this is an exciting time for artillerymen who are growing tired of helping build and guard Iraqi institutions instead of blowing them up.

-- Christian

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