Tag Archives: resurrected weapons

Resurrected Weapons: XM-29

The saga of attempting to improve the effectiveness of the average infantryman continues today. Now it’s the turn of the Americans. In the late 1990s, the US Military wanted to try to replace the M-16. Again. And the conclusion of the experts was that bullet-launching technology had peaked with the M-16, and there weren’t any good ways to improve it further. So more lethality would have to come elsewhere.

Considering the problem of an enemy behind cover, the committee decided that the right answer was to have some kind of man-portable airburst munition. And this led to the design of the XM-29 OICW.1

The XM-29 had three components. The critical one was the grenade launcher. It was a bullpup-looking affair, firing 20mm grenades from a six-round detachable box magazine. These were quite a bit smaller than everyone’s favorite 40 mm grenades, so as to be workable in a magazine, but there still weren’t many of them. Which led to the second component–the “KE Module”, which was a 5.56 carbine made by HK. It had a conventional configuration, and only an 8″ barrel. Further complicating things, the one trigger on the carbine had to also work the grenade launcher, but you had to be able to separate the two modules and use them individually (after a trigger unit was added to the grenade launcher. Plus, there was a massive thermal sight/laser rangefinder/fire control computer unit on top to coordinate the airburst over the head of the enemy. The idea was that the operator would use the rangefinder to determine range, manually program in the distance for airburst, and then fire a grenade.

Unsurprisingly, the result was big, heavy, and very expensive. Fully loaded, the XM29 weighed 8.2 kg, or a hair over 18 pounds. That’s ridiculous. It was big and unwieldy. Oh, and did I mention the cost? The XM-29 was projected to costvover $10,000 per unit. Plus, airburst grenades are roughly ten times as expensive as regular, contact-fused grenades.

All this might be forgiven if it worked. It didn’t. Oh, the carbine bit fired ok. But there were tons of problems with the airburst mechanism. And when it worked, it was judged insufficiently lethal. The 20mm round created fragments that were too small, there was insufficient explosive for a very large kill radius, and a whole bunch of fragments and energy are going to be directed upwards, away from the target. I can’t imagine that it would have been all that combat effective to have to manually program in airburst distances when enemies were firing back either.

After dumping a whole bunch of money into the airburst 20mm rounds, it was finally decided that they were unworkable. The only way to get sufficient lethality was to up the caliber. 25mm was settled on, but this would mean an even bigger grenade launcher unit. Between the ballooning weight and rapidly escalating cost, the project was terminated, and split into the XM-25 (which I’ve talked about here) and the XM-8 carbine (which I’ll talk about later).

So that’s the overview. What do we think of this project? Well, the basic concept might be sound, since I’m all in favor of raining death upon my enemies, but the execution is terrible. It would be much better if the grenade module could attach to an existing rifle to reduce costs, like the Korean K11 program. This also uses a 20 mm grenade module though, and I share the US Army’s concerns about inadequate killing capability of the 20 mm grenades.2 The 25 mm grenades of the XM-25 are more effective, and a 25 mm launcher is far too big to mount on a rifle.

An even better solution would be to get airburst 40 mm grenades. There, the launchers and the grenades are already in the system. Lethality has already been proven, and there’s already cheap grenades in the system. You simply have to work out the guidance and fusing, but you’d have to do that anyway with an XM29-type weapon.

Verdict: Funding Denied by Borgundy War Department Ordnance Procurement Board

1.) Objective Individual Combat Weapon. They chose the stupidest name they could.
2.) I have no idea if the South Koreans are satisfied with the performance of the 20 mm, or if they’re banking on the enemy being unarmored, malnourished North Koreans who are also easily frightened or something.

Resurrected Weapons: The HK G-11

We’re going to look at some prototype rifles that never got off the ground. First is the most exotic, the HK G11.

Back in the 80s, the Bundeswehr issued the G3. They hadn’t yet gone over to 5.56mm yet. And they noticed the classic problem of soldier marksmanship: Most soldiers are very poor shots in combat. But what to do about this problem? Automatic fire is hard to control. It can be done with sufficient training, but we’re talking about the average grunt here. A burst of three or so rounds might sound like the ticket, but subsequent shots tend to miss high and right (or left) based on body mechanics and how they interact with recoil. Consistent high right missing isn’t super helpful for getting a higher hit percentage out of a weapon. What if the burst was out of the gun before the recoil impulse got to the shooter? Three superquick rounds. That might give you the spread you’re looking for.

A brief side note: the US Army, with their cool guy M16s noticed a similar problem, and would launch a search for a similar solution, the Advanced Combat Rifle program, based on similar reasoning to the above.

So we want a burst mode that’s super quick. 2,100-rounds-per-minute quick. That’s gonna be tough. And we’re going to want regular rates of automatic fire if we set the selector to full auto. Here comes the complexity. The engineers at HK considered the problem, and decided on an enabling technology: caseless ammo.

Without that pesky case, there’s no extract/eject portion of a normal operating cycle. Less to do means it’s easier to do it all quickly. Yay! Plus, caseless ammo is way lighter than cased ammo. A gain for the logistics geeks. Plus, this would be a SCHV round: 4.73×33 mm1. This worked to to being significantly lighter than M855 5.56. Rough back of the envelope calculations shows that for about the same weight as a G-3 and 100 rounds of 7.62×51 mm, a soldier could carry a G-11 and 500 rounds of ammunition.

Now let’s get back to America. To get adoption, the US Army wanted the ACR rifle to have a 100% higher hit probability than an M16A2. The G-11 was one of the entrants. Plus it had to be durable and reliable, etc.

A few other notes on the G-11, the rifle to fire these tiny caseless rounds. It weighed about 3.6 kg empty, had a Hensholdt unmagnified reflex sight, and a 45 round box magazine. The G-11 had integrated storage for two additional magazines for quicker reloading, sort of like the redi-mag system. It also had a bottom ejection port for ejection of misfires, or administrative clearing. You might imagine the mechanism to handle the 2,100 round per minute hyperburst plus regular full auto would be complicated and it was. And caseless made it worse. But it worked.

For the hyperburst, the barrel, firing chamber, and magazine assembly were all free floated and recoiled together. Picture a modern howitzer, except much smaller. And the nature of the mechanism meant that you’d get the three projectiles out before that recoiling assembly hit the back of the receiver, which is how they avoided transmitting the recoil for a little while.

Reloading was an interesting design too. Cartridges were in a box magazine above the rotating chamber, and were dropped in tail-first and then rotated 90 degrees into firing position. Turning a cocking lever further would dump a cartridge out the bottom if needed.

Now, let’s talk about the problems. You see, the cartridge case, that pesky bit that we deleted to cut weight and simplify the firing cycle, actually gives us a lot. For one, the cartridge case makes it easy to unload the gun. You can pull pretty easily on the rim of a cartridge case. You can’t pull easily on a compressed powder block. And you’ll want to unload it if a round fails to discharge and you need to get rid of it, or if you’re just done at the range and putting your weapon back.

The cartridge also protects all of your propellant. A cartridge case is relatively durable, and is insensitive to scratches and nicks that might arise from rough handling. It is also reasonably water resistant. No such luck for the caseless round. There were problems with damaged cases and extraction was a pain.

Further, the mechanism got weird because there’s no case to provide a seal at the back of the chamber where the firing pin is, or to seal off the barrel behind the fired bullet. Enter more complexity and a little plastic bit that went at the end of the caseless round to seal the barrel. Barrel sealing problems persisted, though.

Less obviously, the cartridge also provides a great way of getting rid of heat. A bunch of heat from firing the gun goes into heating the cartridge, not the chamber, and then the hot spent cartridge is ejected. Goodbye heat! HK had to contract with Dynamit Nobel for some special insensitive propellant that was then lacquered and used that for the rounds.

Lots of engineering and testing got these problems sorted, more or less. And here’s where the story gets vague. Depending on who you ask, there may or may not have been some thing that weren’t quite sorted. But they were sorted to the satisfaction of the Bundeswehr, who was about to adopt the G-11 in 1990, and there are plenty of documents to back that up. But then the cold war ended. Goodbye Soviet Union, goodbye scary threat, hello expensive reunification. And here the Germans decided against the G-11, which would be massively expensive. Remember, you’d have to set up new weapon and ammo production lines, and the ammo production lines would be entirely new methods. It’s not just a different size of brass/steel cased bullets. NATO wasn’t about to retool with the Soviet Union gone. So instead the Germans moved to (finally) adopt 5.56.

As for the ACR project, well, that was really more of an investigation than a serious replacement effort. And even though soldiers liked the compactness,2 reliability, and capability of the G-11, and even though the G-11 exhibited a significantly higher hit probability than the M-16 (or the G-3 for that matter), it did not meet the 100% higher hit probability, and was not adopted.

Where does that leave us, then? Well, it’s time to decide how we rule on this. And the G-11 has an advantage over some of the other weapons we’ll look at in that it’s doing some things that an M-16/SCAR/whatever-5.56-carbine-you-issue-now can’t do. Namely, that fancy hyperburst, and way more ammo for the weight. Plus, since the ammo in question is square, it packs more compactly too. So there’s a logistics win and a weight of fire win. Both of which I really like. Some of the G-11K2 prototypes even were fitted with picatinny rails to mount different optics, so I don’t even have to worry about having that done.

That said, there are some concerns we’d like to put to rest. Since it’s been a while, let’s get a few LRIP guns to make sure the manufacturing process is still good, and do some high round count testing. Plus, I’d like to do some gel tests and intermediate barrier3 tests. Even if that means some projectile design updates to make the terminal effects satisfactory, I can’t forsee any major problems left.

Verdict: Approved for LRIP and phased adoption by the Borgundy War Department Ordnance Procurement Board

1.) Or thereabouts. I’ve seen some variation betwen 4.7-4.9 mm or so.
2.) Despite looking like a space 2×4, troops even liked the ergonomics
3.) Usually sheet metal and tempered glass, i.e. car parts.

Resurrected Weapons: Sprint ABM

Suppose you were to take on the challenge of defending against ballistic missiles. The big ones, mind–intercontinental ones with thermonuclear warheads. You might conclude that you’d need a layered defense, with different missiles to attack the ICBM in flight. Of course, the trickiest interception problem is the goaltender’s, i.e. the last line of defense. How to intercept a missile when your shot is the last one is a really tricky problem, and one such solution is the topic of today’s resurrected weapon post.

Behold, the Sprint antiballistic missile system!

It was a relatively short ranged system, with a claimed operational radius of 40 km, and a flight ceiling of 30 km. But that’s to be expected. It’s supposed to be the last attempt to stop an incoming warhead. Of course, since other missiles were to have had the first go, the incoming warhead was beginning its decent. In order to stop it, Sprint had to be mind-bogglingly fast.

The Sprint missile was a two-stage affair, which accelerated at 100 Gs. This sustained acceleration would turn any human passengers into paste. Good thing it doesn’t have any. Sprint would go from zero to Mach 10, or 3.4 kilometers per second, in under five seconds. Given this tremendous velocity, it would intercept a target it’s maximum interception altitude of 30 kilometers in less than fifteen seconds.

In order to make this speed work, Sprint had a number of interesting features for the time. It was cone shaped, and was sheathed in an ablative coating to withstand the extreme1 temperatures generated by the missile. The silo doors were blown off by explosive charges, and the missile was kicked from its silo by a second set of explosive charges, pushing a large piston. Once clear of the silo, the first stage burned for only 1.2 seconds before dropping away.

Sprint had a novel and rather dirty way of defeating incoming warheads. Sprint’s payload was a W66 enhanced-neutron warhead. This low-yield warhead was designed to spray high-energy neutrons, to disable the electronic systems of the incoming warhead, or to cause the warhead to fizzle2 prematurely. Of course, this neutron blast, and the resulting possible fizzle, is not exactly clean, so Sprint was intended for use as a terminal defense system for ICBM silos.

Guidance of Sprint was also a difficult challenge. To keep fragile electronics out of the missile, a large and powerful radar set was emplaced on the ground, and a radio command guidance system was used. At the speeds Sprint traveled, it would be enveloped in a plasma sheath, which would make radio communication difficult. To get around this, the radio beam was made very narrow and very powerful.

So what do we think? As is, it’s kind of specialized. But there’s a market for ABM systems these days, and it bears some further testing with a more conventional fragmentation warhead, and possibly more capacity for maneuvering at speed.

Verdict: Project approved for further research funding by Borgundy Air Force Procurement Board

1.) About 3,400 degrees Celsius or so. Very hot. That speed comes at a price.
2.) A technical term in this case for a subcritical nuclear reaction.

Resurrected Weapons: GPU-5/A Gunpod and the GAU-13/A

The US Air Force has hated the A-10 with a burning fiery passion, and has been doing their best to kill it since they got it. I guess they think of it like that ugly sweater you get at Christmas from your crazy relative that your parents make you not throw in the trash. This is because it takes pilots and money away from glorious aerial combat and nuclear weapons delivery and puts them to work moving mud for the ground pounders. One of their schemes from the late 80s to oust the Warthog centered around making an F-16 variant that could handle hardcore ground attack actions.

On paper, this seems easy. The F-16 can carry anything the Warthog can. The F-16 can sling Mavericks just as well as the A-10 can. And it would get precision guided bomb integration first. And it can carry regular iron bombs too. Perfect, right? Well, not quite. The A-10 has a massive gun, the aptly named GAU-8/A Avenger. This beast of a gatling gun is chambered for the 30x173mm round, and is absolutely massive. The A-10 was built around this beast, and it’s an accurate, powerful tank killer. It also has a terrifying buzz saw sound. This gun is sweet.

So, the USAF decided to try to put that gun on the F-16, since the F-16 had only a regular 20mm Vulcan cannon. The answer was the GPU-5/A gunpod. To work in a pod, they decided to scale back the Avenger a bit into the GAU-13/A. The GAU-13/A has four barrels instead of seven on the Avenger, and has the rate of fire reduced to about half that of the Avenger (2,400 rounds per minute instead of 4,200 rounds per minute). From a technical standpoint, the GAU-13/A is driven pneumatically using bleed air, instead of being driven by the A-10’s hydraulic system.

The pod held 353 rounds of ammunition, which isn’t a lot at 2,400 rounds per minute. But fully loaded it only weighs 862 kg, and it can be mounted on any NATO-standard large bomb rack. It was tested on the F-16, F-15, F-4, A-7, and even the small F-5.

What could be better? Well, they got tested during the first Gulf War, and all the illusions were shattered. The GPU-5/A pods were mounted on F-16s, but the accuracy was appalling. While a bomb mount can easily handle the weight, it was never designed to deal with the stresses of firing a massive gun like the GAU-13/A. Additionally, the integration with the F-16’s targeting systems was poor. It was used for all of a day and then removed and replaced with more effective stores. The A-10 can deliver accurate bursts from the Avenger; the F-16 just wasn’t able to match it. You’d need specialized pylons at least, which takes away some of the attraction of the GPU-5/A pod.

This is to be expected. These days, we’ve grown accustomed to multirole types and forgotten some things about dedicated designs. The F-16 was never designed to be a CAS plane, and it has a bunch of issues that are way more important than whether or not it carries a giant gun. The F-16 is fast, and burns fuel quickly. It can’t hang around low and slow for hours like the A-10 can. Slow is good for the A-10 because it helps the pilot spot targets visually. Fast is good for the F-16 because it needs to be able to catch MiGs. The F-16 can be tasked with short order CAS missions, but it can’t hang around without refueling. And that’s ok, it’s just silly to try to make it do something that it can’t. The Air Force scrapped the project shortly afterward.

For once I agree with them. Interestingly, if the US Air Force wanted to be rid of the A-10, they should just let the US Army operate fixed wing aircraft. Or even make a specific exemption for the A-10; the Army would love them. Were A-10s available in the procurement games, we would be all over them. As things are, we’ll make do with attack helicopters, like the US Army.

Verdict: Funding Request Denied by the Borgundy Air Ordnance Procurement Board

Resurrected Weapons: RUM-125 Sea Lance

Submarines have been a serious threat to shipping since the Great War. Recently, the Russians are putting subs to sea like they did in the Cold War, ready to menace the shipping lanes once more. And submarines are more deadly then ever, with modern torpedoes like the Mk. 48 ADCAP having a range of upwards of twenty seven nautical miles. By detonating under the keel, they can split many ships in half. And, unlike antiship missiles, there aren’t many good ways to deal with torpedoes. You’re basically limited to a few decoy systems. So what’s a surface ship to do? Why, attack the sub, of course. This usually involves helicopters that can drop sonobuoys and dip sonars. They can also drop torpedoes if they find a sub.

What if the surface ship needs to engage a submarine directly? Suppose the helicopter isn’t nearby, or is out of torpedoes, or the surface ship detected the sub with her own sensors? Modern lightweight (read: anti-submarine) torpedoes have a range of anywhere from about five to about twelve nautical miles, depending on what speed setting they’re using. That’s a bit less than half of what the submarine’s torpedoes can do, giving him the shot long before you have it. What other options do we have for engaging?

We could use a rocket to get the torpedo closer before we drop it. If you have Mark 41 VLS cells, you could use the RUM-139 VL-ASROC, which puts a Mk. 46 torpedo about fifteen nautical miles from the launching ship. There are versions available with the more recent Mk. 54 lightweight torpedo, which has a much better seeker. Depending on speed settings, this gives us very nearly the range that the opposing sub has with his torpedo. Detente.

For those of you who’ve forgotten your high school French, or you uncultured swine who never had any, detente is a French word that means “you both get to die”. Yay. Personally, I’d rather not die, and would love to have the range for the first shot given a good sonobuoy contact and no torpedo-equipped helicopters nearby. For this, we come to another casualty of dwindling budgets in the ’90s, the RUM-125B Sea Lance.1

The Sea Lance has a bigger motor and a better inertial navigation system. It still fits in a regular Mk. 41 VLS cell. The RUM-125B was originally specced around the Mark 50 lightweight torpedo, but an enterprising designer could fit most any NATO lightweight torpedo in, since they’re all about the same size. The RUM-125B had a range of thirty five nautical miles, so if you see him first, you can shoot him first, helicopters or no. With a powerful weapon like this, it makes the surface ship a more active participant in the search for subs, rather than just a mothership to provide fuel.

But wait, there’s more. You may be wondering why the designation started with B. It didn’t. B is just the normal, conventional-warhead
model. Throw a torpedo, have it engage. When you really, really want range, when Ivan’s sub just absolutely, positively has got
to die, and when you want to really piss off greenpeace, there’s the RUM-125A. This missile variant can lob a 200 kiloton nuclear depth bomb out to a range of one hundred nautical miles. So you’re probably going to be safe from that blast. Maybe. It’s not very accurate, but then, it doesn’t have to be. This is the mother of all depth charges. Guaranteed to crush hulls, kill marine life, and cause an international incident, or your money back!

That’s not all. There were variants (designated UUM-125A and UUM-125B) that could be launched from submarines. These would get launched from the torpedo tubes in a buoyant capsule that would float to the surface and then launch the missile. It’s a great way to give attack subs a long range punch if they’re aware of a sub threat. Or just want to nuke the whales.

So go ahead, Captain Viktor Tupolev. Push your pissant Alfa-class boat as hard as you want. You’ll only die overheated.

Now, if only Sea Lance would work on those pesky land whales on Twitter.

Verdict: Approved by the Borgundy War Department Procurement Board

1.) Yes, this is a lower designation number. Trust me, it’s more advanced. Or don’t. More for me.
2.) This post is all in nautical miles, because we’re talking about things at sea. If you’re a communist, and prefer metric units, multiply all range figures above by 1.85.

Resurrected Weapons: 50mm Supershot

IFVs are great for adding firepower to infantry units. And the standard arms race between gunmakers and armormakers has the added complication that the IFV has to carry some infantry to actually do its job. So, unlike tanks, it gets progressively harder to increase the gun caliber in an IFV if you actually want to carry an appreciable number of shells. One such answer can be found with a little inspiration from wildcat cartridge makers. We can take our regular autocannon round, neck the cartridge out so that it’s a straight-walled cylinder, replace the barrel with a bigger one, and get a more powerful round without sacrificing ammo capacity. The most potent such example was proposed in the 80s, and is known as the 50mm Supershot.

The base round is the 35x228mm autocannon round used in the Bushmaster III chain gun. Figuring that one couldn’t go much larger without serious complications (cf. the CV9040 with the 40mm Bofors and its pitiful ready capacity of 24 rounds), ammo designers in the 80s decided to try to make the 35mm round bigger. Necking it out gives you a diameter of 50mm, so that’s the caliber they went with. The resulting round is somewhat longer though to get the power right, since the rounds are semi-telescoped (i.e. the propellant doesn’t totally surround the round). Way cool. The 50mm Supershot gives the same propellant capacity as the 40mm Bofors round, which is a big plus. It’d be a hard-hitting KE round, and would have the capability to launch a significant amount of high explosive.

Development of the 50mm Supershot stopped with the end of the cold war. That hasn’t stopped us before though. What’s a bigger problem here is actually market forces. First, 35mm is not a very popular cannon round, which means there’s a much smaller pool of potential users to pool development costs and production runs amongst. 35mm is a big round, so those who favor the suppression fires type armaments are going to look elsewhere. Where the CV9030 holds 160 ready rounds of 30x173mm, the CV9035 holds only 70 ready rounds of 35mm. Even those nations who have gone with the 35mm (e.g. the Dutch) are likely to accept that as sufficient for the foreseeable future; the Dutch chose the 35mm as a hedge against uparmored BMP-3s which haven’t materialized, so why would they upgrade further?

The second problem is rival rounds, specifically the 40x255mm CTA. This round is fully telescoped, so the actual cartridge size is 65x220mm. That said, it’s remarkably compact and can be fit efficiently into ammo storage spaces. Because of the shortness of the round and the alternative feed system, you can fit more 40mm CTA rounds than 35mm rounds into a given volume. Plus, the 40mm CTA holds as much propellant as the 50mm Supershot, so you’re not giving up anything in the way of launching power. If we wanted firepower, the 40mm CTA is the way to go. When converting the Bradley to use the 40mm CTA, designers were able to fit 105 ready rounds, which is pretty impressive. If the designers worked with a purpose-designed turret, they could almost certainly fit somewhat more. Finally, the CTA round has already been developed and is entering production and service now, whereas the 50mm Supershot would need some time and money to complete development. On the other hand, we currently field 35mm guns, and more firepower on our IFVs is always a win.

Verdict: Referred to the Borgundy Army Ordnance Board for testing and development

Resurrected Weapons: ASP-30

And now another casualty of the end of the Cold War and the “Peace Dividend”. To understand it though, we first need to look at the state of emplacement weapons circa 1980 (or now–they haven’t changed much). By ‘Emplacement Weapon’, I mean something large, movable by a group of men, that’s mounted on a tripod in a more or less fixed position, on a pintle in helicopters and light vehicles, or mounted in a remote weapons station. More specifically, I’m interested in the Browning M2 HMG and the Mk. 19 automatic grenade launcher, and replacing both.

The Browning M2 was designed in 1918, and has seen a long and storied use as an antiaircraft gun, as the armament of the vast majority of fighters in the Second World War, as a pintle weapon, as a weapon for remote weapon stations, as a gunpod gun, and even as an impromptu sniper rifle. It does many things well, like penetrate light armor, and reach out to about 1,800 meters. There are even some pretty fancy armor piercing incendiary rounds available. All wonderful things, but it can’t throw small but useful quantities of high explosive very well. The rounds are too small for that.

On the explosive-throwing front, we have the Mark 19, which was born out of the need for explosives-throwing on the Mekong Delta in 1966. It shoots 40x53mm grenades, which have more velocity than the standard 40x46mm grenades used in underbarrel grenade launchers like the M203. Even so, the grenades fly an arcing trajectory, and aren’t very easy to aim at longer ranges, despite the site having overly optimistic markings out to 1,500 meters. It’s another super useful support weapon, since throwing lots of explosives is always helpful. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could combine the advantages of both? Explosives, armor penetration, flat trajectory, and good range, all in a single weapon.

The ASP-30 promised to do just that. It fired the 30x113mm B round, getting a flat trajectory and effective range out to 4,000 meters on an energy basis. Even when tested on a simple pintle mount, the ASP-30 can match the range of the M2. Due to the relative volumes of the shells, the 30x113mm high explosive dual purpose rounds have about the same amount of explosives as the 40x53mm HE grenades of the Mk. 19. Those M789 HEDP rounds are also capable of defeating the armor of BMP-1s and BMP-2s, which is quite a bit more armor penetration than the .50 BMG. As a bonus, the 30x113mm B rounds are already in the NATO inventory, being used in the M230 autocannon on the AH-64 Apache.

So what do we give up? In a word: weight. The ASP-30 weighs in at 52 kg, which is 14 kilos more than the Mk. 19 or the Browning M2. This hurts mostly on the manpacking front. While more weight is something that needs to be dealt with, the ASP-30 has been tested on vehicles as light as HMMWVs, and as weight-concious as helicopter door gun mounts. It’s a big gun, but it’s workable in vehicular applications. Infantry will have to wrestle with it quite a bit more, probably with a multiple people lugging the big ASP. That said, it’s a really big capability gain, giving a two-for-one deal for light vehicles and as a RWS mounted system for light and heavy vehicles. More firepower, more range, plus it would mean reducing the number of sets of spares that have to be stocked. With savings like that, Fishbreath might even be interested.

Verdict: Approved by Borgundy War Department Procurement Board.

Resurrected Weapons: ADATS

The US Army has never been really big on air defense. This is mostly because the USAF has been really good at establishing and maintaining air superiority. However, in the 80s, the US Army decided to stop taking this for granted. They made the excellent Stinger MANPADS and the exceptional Patriot long range missile system. There’s a gap between these two systems, and to fill it, they collaborated with Canada on ADATS. This system entered Canadian service in 1989, but the US Army version ended up going overbudget and was cancelled1 as a part of those early-90s defense cuts that I love to hate. Let’s take a look at the system and see if it was any good.

The ADATS missile is a short-range system. It’s 2.05 meters long, 152mm in diameter, and has a finspan of 50cm. It weighs 51 kg. It’s capable of a top speed of Mach 3 and has a range of about 10 km. These numbers are similar to those of Tor, though Tor is rather larger and has a bit more range. In terms of tasking, both missiles have a similar primary role and guidance mechanism. Tor is radio command guided, but ADATS is laser beam riding. Similar guidance principles, different methods. Interestingly, ADATS makes more use of electro-optical targeting systems. Like TOR, it has a 3D air search radar with a range of 25 km that can track 10 targets simultaneously. ADATS uses an infrared imager to select targets and engage them. Tor has an electro-optical system as well, but it’s more or less a backup; normally Tor uses an engagement radar.

So Tor has better range, and ADATS can operate in “low profile” mode a bit better, since it’s less radar focused. The more obvious difference can be seen by looking at the warhead, or expanding the acronym. ADATS stats for Air Defense Anti Tank System, and it has a curious warhead that combines a fragmentation effect with a shaped charge effect. I’m honestly not sure why they did this–it adds a bunch of cost and gives a capability that, while cool, doesn’t seem to be prima facie useful all that often. Also, given how much armor MBTs tend to carry, I’m not sure how effective it would be on the off chance an enemy tank platoon stumbles upon a SHORAD unit. It seems like it would be easier to just issue some Javelin missiles to the air defense units for close-in protection. Or just have some regular Bradleys handy.

I’m also a little curious as to what the dual-effect warhead added to the cost of both the project and to the costs of the individual missiles themselves. Again, a simple fragmentation warhead seems like it would have helped a lot in terms of costs, but I can’t do a counterfactual comparison.

Which brings us to the verdict. This is hard. On the one hand, ADATS is a pretty cool system. On the other, I can’t help but think that a simpler, antiaircraft only system makes more sense. Plus, it’s currently competing with things like SL-AMRAAM, which near as I can reckon is roughly the same cost and provides proven kinematics, better range, and a fancy active seeker. SL-AMRAAM in the Bradley-ADATS vehicle/turret unit would be pretty cool though. There’s probably some cool wargaming one could do to see which guidance system would be more effective.

Verdict: Referred back to Ordnance Board for further analysis.2

1.) Why the Canadians got theirs but we didn’t is beyond me. Seems if it could enter Canadian service, the missile should have been fine. Yes, the Canadians integrated it on an M113, but putting that turret assembly on a Bradley hull isn’t too hard.
2.) See? I don’t always approve these.

Resurrected Weapons: AGM-136 Tacit Rainbow

A standard problem for a SEAD1 escort package is that if the enemy figures out what’s about to go down, they may shut off their SAM system radars, which makes it very hard to engage these radars. Switching off the radar has been as standard trick to spoil an antiradar2 missile (ARM) shot since the Vietnam War. Normally, one would expect SEAD aircraft to have to loiter over the target area, which is far from ideal. Loitering SEAD aircraft are vulnerable to fighters or short range IR guided missiles. An alternative concept was put forward in the ’80s with AGM-136.

AGM-136, which went by the unbearably dorky name ‘Tacit Rainbow’, was designed to provide an ARM that could loiter. Built on a cruise-missile type frame, it could be carried in the bomb bay of a B-52 or on the pylons of a wide variety of multirole fighter and strike aircraft. There was also a variant to be launched from the M270 MLRS. The idea was to use these reasonably low-observable platforms en masse against an enemy air defense network. If they found targets, they would seek out and destroy them like any other ARM. Otherwise, they could loiter in the target area waiting, making sure that the enemy did not switch on their SAM radars to engage the incoming strike package.

Like many advanced weapons of the late Cold War, the AGM-136 hit a number of cost overruns, because it had to fly in a preprogrammed area, recognize, and prioritize hostile radar emitters and then engage them. It was eventually cancelled in 1991. Advances in cheap microelectronics since the late 80s, plus the abundance of cheap GPS receivers, would make the AGM-136 a much easier development project today. It’s a nice supplement to EW aircraft like the EA-18G Growler, and would greatly help the survivability of strike packages while not requiring a correspondingly large investment in specialized platforms. With the increasing proliferation of higher-end air defense systems (even Iran has S-300s now), our strike packages will need all the help they can get. A platform like the AGM-136 is a great way to extend the survivability of non-stealthy platforms like the Viper or the Super Hornet.

The one thing that we’d like to investigate further is the ground-launched variant. In general, we would question whether the system would have enough fuel to fly from forward artillery positions to the target area and loiter while a strike package does its business. Near the front lines, we would not expect much in the way of powerful, long range air defense systems, simply because they would have to move quite a bit. On the other hand, they might prove to be cheap insurance over annoyingly potent short range systems like SA-15.

Verdict: Approved by Borgundy War Department Procurement Board, pending a rename.

1) Suppression of Enemy Air Defense
2) More often this is rendered Antiradiation missile, but I always thought Antiradar sounded better, and takes less explaining to the non-expert reader. Plus it’s easier to type.

Resurrected Weapons: CBU-98/B

Here’s a new segment that’ll highlight some old weapons that never made it to the big time. I’ll also give my verdict of whether or not I approve of it as a possible system for Borgundy. Our first weapon is a runway denial cluster munition, the CBU-98/B. The idea here was to combine two other, proven effective systems in one cool bomb.

The first of those is the French Durandal bomb. This bomb was designed with a parachute to slow it’s fall as it oriented itself groundward. Then, a rocket motor would fire and drive the penetrator warhead into the runway surface before detonating, to maximize the destruction. It’s a pretty cool weapon designed to put really big holes in runways. Runways are great targets, because you can’t move them, you can’t hide them, and you can’t really armor them. Perfect! Except that runways, being a big strip of asphalt or concrete, aren’t all that hard to repair. The key is usually making lots of widespread destruction.

That’s where the second weapon comes in, the British HB 876 mine. Dropped from Hades cluster bombs (a BL755 variant) or from JP223 dispensers, these small mines are scattered about a runway. They have a nifty dual effect warhead: one part is a Misznay-Schardin Effect warhead that generates an explosively formed penetrator, and the other part is a pretty standard fragmentation jacket. So it combines antivehicle and antipersonnel effects into one cool mine. The bottom has a self-righting device to insure that it deploys appropriately.

The CBU-98/B was designed to put these two together in one bomb. First, for runway demolition, it contained eight BLU-109/B penetrator submunitions. They function exactly like the Durandal, except are significantly smaller, having 2.95 kg HE warheads instead of Durandal’s 115 kg (total) twin charges. But hey, you can put a bunch of them in one bomb. Additionally, the CBU-98/B also contained 24 HB 876 mines to cause problems for combat engineers trying to repair the runway. The whole package went in a standard SUU-64/B dispenser and weight about 385 kg or so.

So what do we think of this weapon? We really like it. Putting runways out of action is an important mission, and we do like penetrator weapons and cluster effects. They have the bonus effect of pissing off the hippies, which is good. Some questions of cost remain, as do whether or not the increased amount of damage when compared to a comparable sortie of more conventional bombs is significant enough to warrant the procurement. My instincts tell me this is probably the case. You could get more destruction with a bunch of bigger conventional bombs with unitary warheads, but a set of CBU-98s are going to take up fewer pylons and weigh less. It would also be a useful cruise missile warhead, saving aircraft the dangerous and difficult runway overflight mission.

Verdict: Approved by Borgundy War Department Procurement Board.