India to Finally Get New Artillery Pieces

The long running saga of attempts to purchase a new artillery howitzer for the Indian Army seems to be coming to an end. A process that stretched about two decades primarily due to corruption and contracting issues looks resolved as the South Asian nation formally requested of the United States the ability to purchase BAE Systems’ M177 gun.

The M177 is the standard towed howitzer used by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. It is capable of firing a variety of 155mm shells including the Excalibur guided round to fairly long ranges. It has seen heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan. It makes a good choice for the Indian Army and continues their recent trends of buying from Western suppliers.

The fact that this looks like it will be a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) rather then a contest and award via the Indian procurement system may be due to the all of the issues facing previous attempts to purchase the gun. In the past several contracts and contests fell and companies were banned due to corruption and bribery issues.

The contract is worth about $700 million.

Photo from The U.S. Army flickr photostream.

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Marines Place Order for Excalibur Artillery Rounds

The U.S. Army has been developing the Excalibur guided artillery round for several years. This adds extended range as well as originally laser guidance and now the use of GPS to make the ammunition more accurate and deadly. The Excalibur has seen quite a bit of use in Iraq and Afghanistan as its attributes make it capable of providing long range fire support while minimizing collateral damage.

The current version of the system is the 1a-2 while Raytheon (RTN) is working on the 1b which primarily focuses on improvements to cost and reliability. That contract was awarded a few months ago and is worth about $36 million.

The round is fired from standard U.S. artillery pieces including the self-propelled M109 as well as towed 155mm howitzers.

The Marine Corps has found the system effective enough that this week they placed a “urgent” order with Raytheon for a further 1,000 1a-2 rounds for use in Afghanistan. The contract for the production of this order has a value of $81 million.

Continued improvements in air delivered weaponry such as the Joint Direct Attack Missile (JDAM) which is GPS guided as well as effective use of the Hellfire air-to-ground missile from helicopters had provided much of the fire support in combat operations the last decade. The U.S. has also used mortars, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and other more traditional systems to carry out this mission. Further research and development into extending the range and accuracy of these weapons will only increase their usefulness and capabilities albeit at a high individual price.

The use of something like Excalibur also moves artillery away from when it relied on large amounts of guns delivering many shells over a large area. Precision artillery rounds can achieve the same effects with smaller numbers of rounds.

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U.S. Army Takes Excalibur One Step Further

For the last several years the U.S. Army has been investing in the Excalibur guided 155mm artillery shell. As aerial weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) have proven GPS guidance is a significant force multiplier for munitions. The U.S. still has substantial numbers of towed and self propelled 155mm artillery pieces so improvements in that weapons accuracy helps generate fire power in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The original Excalibur utilized laser guidance similar to the Hellfire Anti-tank Guided Missile (ATGM) fired from helicopters and ground vehicles. Raytheon (RAY) though has been given contracts to add the GPS guidance to the round. In April the company received a contract for production of 2,000 of the 1a-2 version. This Excalibur 1 has been in service since 2007.

The 1b version will see improvements in manufacturing and reliability. A contract was awarded last week for continued development of this by Raytheon. The value is about $36 million.

The improvements of the 1b are based on a series of test firings and development work conducted over the last year or so. It is designed to enter production with a lower cost per round and with higher levels of reliability. It represents an incremental improvement to the Excalibur concept.

The Excalibur is just one part of many different improved weapons in development for the U.S. military. These include the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and new infantry weapons. In many cases these will replace weapons originally developed during the Eighties.

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U.S. Army Continues Excalibur Guided Artillery Shell Production

Raytheon (RTN) has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Army for the production of 155 mm guided artillery rounds. The Excalibur system adds GPS guidance to a extended range round. 155 mm is the standard size of artillery in use by the Army and U.S. Marine Corps in both self propelled and towed models. The contract is for just over 2,000 rounds and has a total value of almost $173 million.

The Excalibur has been in development for several years and went into service in 2007. It has led to longer range and more accurate artillery ammunition. The 1a-2 version ordered with this contract has the ability to hit targets almost 25 miles away and should have a Circular Error of Probability (CEP) of about 10 meters. Raytheon is also working on a development contract to build the 1b version of the round that should be ready in 2012. The 1b will be more reliable and cheaper through design and manufacturing improvements while maintaining the same performance as earlier versions.

With all of the focus on improved air delivered weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) GPS guided bomb it is forgotten that the U.S. and its Allies continue to use systems like mortars, artillery pieces and rockets to provide fire support for their troops engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. As with all such systems incremental improvements in guidance, propulsion and other technology have offered significant improvements to these type of systems and their ordnance.

While artillery may seem old fashioned and out of place on the current battlefield it does offer precise, effective fire support in some situations. The use of a round like Excalibur only improves that capability as it can hit targets and minimize collateral damage. Artillery is also available 24/7 when air support from fixed wing or rotary assets may not be.

It can be expected that such programs will continue to see investment by armies and improvements in range, accuracy and destructive effect will only grow.

Photo from Jim Bahn flickr photostream.

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India’s New Artillery Competition is Halted Again

The eight year struggle for India to buy a new towed and self-propelled 155 mm howitzer is reportedly on hold again due to corruption issues. The current attempt was at the trial stage with prototype artillery pieces. These trials are now on hold. This is due to the recommendation of the Central Bureau of Investigation to blacklist some of the firms involved in the competition.

India’s Armed Forces have desired a modern upgrade to their inventory of artillery for several years. The contract that started in 2002 was put on hold in 2004 because one contender was dropped due to corruption accusations against the South African Denal. Even though this was on another contract India has a policy of banning those companies and avoiding further work with them. Because India also tries to not award sole source contracts this meant the contest had to stop and start over again.

This was done in 2007-2008 with competitions but that contract was also placed on hold as the former director general of the Ordnance Factory Board was arrested and charged with taking bribes from one of the contenders. This company, Singapore Technologies Kinteics (STK), is participating in the current contest along with the United Kingdom’s BAE Systems. Both foriegn companies have Indian partners.

The CBI is now recommending that STK be banned although no charges have been filed. This could lead to an end to the current competition as only BAE Systems would be participating. That would further setback the contracting process delaying even longer the delivery of new artillery pieces.

India has had major issues over the last twenty years with corruption in military procurement contracts. At the same time the country has been trying to develop its own indigenous arms industry and has recently decided to open up their economy and military buying to more Western firms and allow joint ventures. Many U.S. and European aerospace companies desire using India’s economy to produce parts and services for use not only in that country but also to support their sales to other customers.

India though has to work out its contracting issues and finally begin upgrading its ground forces. This includes contracts for new helicopters, tanks and artillery.

Photo from David Paul Ohmer’s flickr photostream.

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English Defense Industry Looking Bleak

It is true that the United States defense budget does dominate the world’s spending on arms and equipment but the U.K. has always had large spending plans as well. Now that the U.K. government of Gordon Brown is facing massive deficits due to social spending and attempts at stimulating their own economy since the global recession began twelve months or so ago defence spending may get a little tight. There has already been discussion of canceling some large programs as well as cutting back on general spending. Like in the U.S. ending these kind of programs will lead to more job losses on top of those already gone in the civilian economy.

That is why stories like this one about the U.S. military buying BAE Systems artillery pieces that will be made in the U.K. will become more common. When you are relying on foriegn sales to keep up jobs for six months at a time it is not a good sign. There are bigger programs at risk for the U.K. such as the Eurofighter or A400M transports. The government is scrambling to maintain the new aircraft carrier contract as the jobs at Scottish shipyards are key to that part of the nation’s economy.

There is no doubt that the U.S. will also see a fall in defense spending as the pressures of debt, health care reform and other priorities will limit the money available from the Obama Administration’s budget.

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