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Army Pushes Precision Mortar

Afghanistan is an infantryman’s war. Afghan insurgents have mastered fighting small unit actions in mountains terrain where they use skillfully prepared fighting positions on ridgelines and high ground. Springing ambushes from prepared positions, Taliban insurgents offer fleeting targets to direct fire weapons; which explains in part why the Army has received an urgent request from soldiers in the field for a precision guided mortar and has accelerated its efforts to develop and deliver the new weapon.

The “accelerated precision mortar initiative” is all about providing added firepower to the rifle platoon, said Army Maj. Gen. John Bartley, program manager for the Brigade Combat Team, who said the Army’s requirement is to precisely deliver indirect fire from as small a tube as possible. “You can hump a mortar, you can’t hump a Non-Line of Sight Launch System,” he said, referring to the “rockets in a box” missile system that came out of the now dead FCS program.

The Army is looking at a range of potential sizes for the round, from 60mm on up to 120mm, which is currently the most commonly used mortar “Ideally, you would like to give one to everyone… what is the art of the possible is to be determined.” The Army has not decided whether the precision mortar will be laser guided or will use GPS.

The new mortar will be fielded via “capability packages,” formerly known as FCS program “spin outs,” new technologies and other enhancements, such as an improved command and control network, that will be rolled out in two years packages for fielding to the Army’s Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.

The U.S. military has been slow to enter the precision guided mortar field. A number of countries, including Russia and Israel, are developing guided mortar rounds that are laser guided, use infrared homing, anti-radiation or GPS. The Israeli built Fireball 120mm mortar round has a 1 meter Circular Error Probable, compared to the 110 meter standard.

The Taliban make extensive use of man-portable mortars for indirect fire support in close combat. Mortars have long been attractive to guerrillas because they’re cheap, easy to use, agile and very lethal. American troops often see Taliban fighters moving along distant ridgelines or valleys but don’t have the range with their direct fire weapons to target them.

I wrote a post yesterday on the move on parts of the military to provide more firepower to small infantry units. As Joint Forces Command chief Gen. James Mattis said, more thinking and resources must go into how troops fight once they get out of their vehicles.

As the Army finds itself fighting guerrillas in urban or mountainous terrain, it has begun to shift its thinking in terms of needed weapons from big platforms, such as Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle and Paladin self propelled howitzer, to how to provide added firepower to the dismounted rifle platoon fighting a hybrid enemy in complex terrain, said Lt.. Gen. Michael Vane, director of the service’s Capabilities Integration Center at Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Industry has noted the shift and is rushing to develop smaller, lighter, more accurate and more lethal weapons to the infantry. The Javelin anti-armor missile, built by Raytheon, has seen extensive battlefield use in Iraq and Afghanistan, not against enemy tanks, which the guerrilla enemy doesn’t have, but against buildings, bunkers and other fortifications. It has become the direct fire “weapon of choice” for light infantry and special operations units, said Raytheon’s Alan Landry, a director in the company’s Land Combat Product Line. It can precisely engage targets out to two-and-a- half kilometers.

Raytheon is developing a new warhead for the Javelin that is intended to be more effective against enemy infantry. It has shaved almost 15 pounds off the weapon’s overall weight and has developed a new precision terminal guidance that allows the Javelin gunner, via a data link and video terminal, to deliver the previously fire-and-forget missile directly onto its target.

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