The Indian Army(IA) has started the process of procuring an initial 1,200 Raytheon Missile developed M982 Excalibur precision-guided artillery shells from the US.
By DEBAJIT SARKAR
The Indian Army(IA) has started the process of procuring an initial 1,200 Raytheon Missile developed M982 Excalibur precision-guided artillery shells from the US. These 155mm/52-cal shells will be used by the Indian Army’s M-777 field howitzers and the K-9 Vajra self-propelled howitzers. Last year an in-house competitive assessment of various available 155mm precision-guided rounds was carried out by IA in which SMART-155 from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, Germany’s GIWS and Nexter Systems’ Katana projectile were also studied. Excalibur’s prime contractor Raytheon Missile Systems and BAE Systems describe the Excalibur as a – true precision weapon, impacting at a radial miss distance of less than two meters from the target. The IA is no stranger to guided artillery munition.
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In the past, they have utilized the Russian Krasnopol 155mm laser-guided shells. With the introduction of the Excalibur, the effectiveness of an artillery salvo will be greatly improved with a mere fraction of shells needed to take on point targets. For area targets, a torrent of inexpensive shells still makes sense, but the potential is massive for a variety of weapons and shell types. GPS guided artillery shells are probably more suitable for larger calibre weapons where their low rate of fire would be compensated for with first shot precision, but for lighter weapons where rate of fire can compensate for the lighter projectile, precision will mean they can engage more targets and their lighter weight probably makes them more capable in shoot and scoot roles. Shaped charges tend to derive their penetration from their diameter, so a 155mm/52 calibre round all other things being equal, is better at penetrating than a smaller calibre. Smaller circuit cards and enhanced shock protection for electronics made guidance achievable for the M982 Excalibur artillery shell.
Artillery is all about range and payload, the latter more important than the former most of the time, and here the M982 doesn’t disappoint. The Excalibur Precision Bus is capable of delivering a variety of warheads. This means unitary high-explosive blast-fragmentation warheads can be used to target structures like bunkers. Mechanized forces can be targeted with Sensor Fuzed Munitions and enemy artillery can be targetted with cluster bomblets. Sensor Fuzed Munitions will also be ideal for enemy infantry suppression like use against snipers or machine gun positions or indeed ATGM teams.
The M-777 and K-9 will certainly be integrated with the Indian Army’s C4ISR system. This will make artillery much more effective plus it will mean that sat guided ordinance becomes a much more practical thing to develop. A 155mm shell hitting a target does more damage than a 110kg HE 203 mm round that misses by 50 meters. Precision means the army needs less explosive and less shots at target. Being able to directly hit exactly where you what means penetrating heavy structure can be performed with shaped charge warheads instead of a lot of HE rounds and a strong shell case. This capability will come in handy every time the Indian Army launches a massive fire assault against terrorist launch pads located in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Currently, an indigenous GPS guided artillery shell does not exist. That’s primarily because satellite receivers that are optimized for using coordinates supplied by India’s Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) satellite constellation haven’t been designed yet. However, this scenario can change if the Indian private sector is looped in. For instance, many of the critical items for the Pinaka rocket developed by DRDO, are now being designed by the private sector. As the recently held DRDO’s “Dare To Dream” innovation contest revealed, the Indian private sector is more than willing to step up the plate, accept the responsibility and develop cutting edge technologies like a swarm of micro UAVs, wearable communication technologies and composite materials among other things. Therefore, by co-operating with DRDO the Indian private sector can play a major role in developing technologies like Trajectory Correction Systems that can greatly improve the accuracy of the Indian Army’s rockets and artillery shells. IRNSS will be critical to the changes being made to the Indian military. This will also allow the designing of guidance kits that fit in the nose fuse position of existing artillery shells that has both the IRNSS guidance system and also steerable control vanes to steer the projectile in flight. Presumably money is being spent on IRNSS receivers that IRNSS guided ordinance will become much more common.
Raytheon is currently developing a laser spot tracker that will allow Excalibur to hit moving targets and counter efforts to jam the GPS. A sea-based Excalibur variant is also under development. Is the Indian Navy interested in procuring the naval variant of the Excalibur for their Mk 45 Naval Gun is not known but then Raytheon can join hands with Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) to develop such a round for the Indian Navy.
(The author is a subject matter expert on competitive intelligence and market research in the aerospace and defence industry. Views expressed are personal.)