Surface Forces: April 13, 2005


After twelve years of effort, and two billion dollars spent, the U.S. Navy is starting over in its effort to develop a five inch (127mm) smart shell. The failed program, called extended range guided munition, or ERGM, tried to turn 127mm shells into GPS guided projectiles. But the system never worked reliably. So the Navy is holding another competition, to allow other suppliers to offer their designs. The original ERGM contractor, Raytheon, is also entering the competition, using their experience spending all that navy R&D money (plus some of their own) to come up new, more reliable, designs. Making this technology work is an evolutionary process. Such guided shells have been around for over two decades. At first, they were laser guided. But these were too expensive, at half a million dollars per 155mm shell (the U.S. Army "Copperhead"). However, better, and cheaper technologies have been developed, that make it easier to get the guidance systems into an artillery shell, and have them work reliably once they are fired from the cannon. The latest army effort, the 155mm Excalibur, has encouraged the navy to consider using that weapon, or at least its technology. The navy is planning on using 155mm guns on new destroyer designs. The larger shell makes a bigger bang when it hits, and provides more space guidance systems. A "dumb" artillery shell will land with 75 meters (or more, depending on range) of the aiming point, the laser guided Copperhead would land within a meter or two. GPS guided shells will land within 15-30 meters of the aiming point. 


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