The U.S. Army is developing a
second generation version of its Excalibur, 155mm, GPS guided artillery shell.
This new model will reduce the cost per shell from about $85,000 each, to
$50,000. Australia and Canada have also bought, and used, Excalibur in
Afghanistan. U.S. troops use it there, and in Iraq. Sweden will receive
Excalibur in two years.
"B" version of Excalibur won't be available for four years, and will
have inertial guidance, in addition to GPS. This means that, if GPS signals are
jammed, the shell will still be very accurate (landing within about fifteen
meters of the aim point, compared to five meters for GPS.) Inertial guidance
has long been used as a back-up in GPS guided smart bombs (JDAM). The new
version of Excalibur will also use new, cheaper and more reliable components.
Currently, several thousand Excalibur shells are being produced each year, and
that will continue to increase.
comes in very handy when Islamic warriors use civilians as human shields. In
those situations, you have to be precise when you go after the bad guys. The
Excalibur shell enabled the artillery to take care of these chores. A typical
situation has enemy gunmen holding out in one building of a walled compound or
village. In nearby buildings, there are women and children. While killing the
enemy is good, killing the civilians can be a very bad thing. Smart bombs
should be able to fix this, except that sometimes one of the smaller smart
bombs, the 500 pounder, has too much bang (280 pounds of explosives).
artillery shell should do the trick (only 20 pounds of explosives each), but at
long range (20 kilometers or more), some of these shells will hit the
civilians. That's because at that range, an unguided 155mm shell can land up to
100-200 meters from where you aimed it. This is where Excalibur comes in handy.
The GPS guided Excalibur shell falls within a ten meter circle (the middle of
that circle being the "aim point") no matter what the range. This
kind of accuracy enables the troops to take out the enemy with one shot, and
being an artillery (which is controlled by the army) weapon, is easier to call
in than a smart bomb (air force) attack. U.S. Army attack helicopters also have
their Hellfire missiles, which provide a bit less bang than the Excalibur shell
(and cost about the same). But while weather (especially sand storms) can
interfere with helicopter operations, Excalibur is always ready to fire.
nations, the big drawback with Excalibur is cost. A "dumb" 155mm
shell costs $300 or less, although when you take into account the civilian
lives saved (and good will retained), it's a different story. Moreover,
friendly troops can be closer to the target when Excalibur is used, meaning
your infantry can get into the shelled target quicker, before any surviving
enemy can get ready to shoot back.
Excalibur shell is worth it in other ways. Ten 155mm shells (of any type, with
their propellant and packaging) weigh about a ton. Ammo supply has always been
a major problem with artillery, and Excalibur is the solution. With Excalibur,
fewer 155mm shells have to be shipped thousands of miles, and looked after until
they are used. One Excalibur shell can take out a target that would require
10-20 unguided shells.
was developed in the United States, in cooperation with the Swedish firm
Bofors. The Excalibur was originally supposed to cost under $50,000 each, and
with more being produced, and the introduction of the "B" version,
the per-shell price will fall to the planned price.
electronics and control systems that fit inside a 155mm diameter shell, and
survive being fired out of a cannon, proved more difficult than expected.
That's why a GPS guided smart bomb only costs about $30,000, while the first
hundred or so Excaliburs cost more than three times as much.
smart artillery shells is risky. The U.S. Navy recently cancelled a project to
develop a similar 127mm shell, and is now looking into adopting the Excalibur
technology for a GPS guided 127mm shell that works. Smart shells are a nice
idea, but getting from here to there is a risky and expensive process.