Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS)
Dragon Fire/Dragon Fire II
The Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) was expected to be the principal indirect fire support system for the vertical assault element of Marine Air-Ground Task force executing Ship-to-Objective Maneuver. As designed the EFSS is a rifled-towed 120mm mortar, designated XM326, plus prime mover based on the Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV). The entire mortar/vehicle combination can be internally transported aboard MV-22 and CH-53E aircraft. Vehicles would operate in pairs, one vehicle to tow the weapon (Prime Mover-Weapon or PM-W) and another to tow an ammunition trailer (Prime Mover-Trailer or PM-T). EFSS-equipped units would provide the ground component of a vertical assault element with immediately responsive, organic indirect fires at ranges beyond current infantry battalion mortars. A seperate program was established to combine the USMC's Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) with the XM326 mortar as the LAV-EFSS.
The Marine Corps put out a Mission Need Statement for an EFSS that would provide all-weather, ground-based, close supporting, accurate, immediately responsive, and lethal indirect fire support for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). The EFSS would be the principal indirect fire support weapon for Marine Expeditionary Units and vertical assault elements of a Ship-To-Objective Maneuver force. The EFSS would be capable of successfully engaging a spectrum of potential point and area targets, including motorized, light armored, and dismounted personnel targets, command and control systems, and indirect fire systems. The EFSS was required to be internally transportable by Marine Corps rotary wing and tilt rotor aircraft. The EFSS requirement also specified a sufficient cross-country mobility to provide continuous supporting fires in support of dismounted MAGTF operations.
The gun's history began in 1996 when the Marine Corps Combat Development Command identified a need for a lighter, mobile indirect fire capability with increased agility and lethality. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory subsequently experimented with an indirect fire concept demonstrator developed by the US Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Command (ARDEC), which was dubbed the Dragon Fire by then Commandant General Krulak.
The Dragon Fire experimental system was developed to explore applying automation to an artillery system. It successfully demonstrated that automation could be reliable, as well as significantly improve precision and responsiveness. The Dragon Fire was also designed for integration onto a LAV chassis to form a modular artillery system, allowing commanders to tailor artillery mobility to immediate tactical requirements. During testing, the 120mm rifled mortar tube and rifled ammunition proved to be accurate and capable. This tube permitted effective use of standard smoothbore mortar ammunition. Coupled with 6400-mil traverse and computer-controlled aiming, the original Dragon Fire was a very effective weapon.
However at 7,000 pounds it was too heavy for many applications. Dragon Fire II was designed to address the shortfalls of the Dragon Fire I design and to apply new technologies and software to the system. Many technologies developed in the Dragon Fire II system had direct application to the EFSS program spiral development and LAV-EFSS program. The Dragon Fire II was also tested as a potential dedicated counter-fire system for the Counter Rockets, Artillery, and Mortars (C-RAM) project for Iraq and Afghanistan.
When General James L. Jones, 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed a review of the Marine Corps field artillery, one resulting idea was the Expeditionary Fire Support System. "In the past 10 years or so, we have decreased our fire support systems too far," said Jones in a September 2000 interview with Field Artillery Journal. "We got rid of a lot of our artillery weapons in the name of efficiency, in the name of mobility and we hinged ourselves to one field artillery system, the M198 towed 155-mm howitzer. The M198 is a wonderful artillery piece, but it's not very mobile... We have atrophied our Marine ground fires inventory to a dangerous point. We're out-gunned and out-ranged by just about everyone. So I am fixing the artillery [and] bringing robustness back to the Marine artillery."
The EFSS would be the final system of a land-based fire-support triad that included the LW155 and HIMARS. It would accompany MAGTFs in any type of expeditionary operation. It would be the primary indirect fire support system for the vertical assault element of the ship-to-objective maneuver force. The EFSS would be transportable by helicopter and tiltrotor aircraft, and would possess the greatest possible range and flexibility of employment for OMFTS.
The EFSS was expected to expand the maneuver commander's spectrum of fire-support options and be capable of successfully engaging a range of potential point and area targets, including motorized, light-armored, and dismounted personnel targets. Improved Command-and-control would afford the MAGTF commander increased flexibility in tailoring his fire-support systems to support the scheme of maneuver. The EFSS-equipped units would be especially well suited for missions requiring speed, tactical agility, and vertical transportability. The EFSS design and configuration would ensure that its tactical mobility, both in the air and on the ground, was equal to that of the supported force.
Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was originally required in FY06. Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) planned to follow an Evolutionary Acquisition and Spiral Development strategy to reduce cycle time and speed delivery of the initial capability. The program was subsequently delayed, with the expected IOC date as of March 2008 being later that year.
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