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Arizona Daily Star June 29, 2005

Raytheon's high-tech ammo

By David Wichner

Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems has won a $22.1 million contract to jump-start production of the world's first satellite-guided artillery shell for the U.S. Army.

Raytheon will deliver initial production models of the Excalibur XM982, a 155 mm guided artillery projectile, to the Army by the end of this year, more than a year ahead of schedule, under the contract announced Tuesday.

Raytheon, the world's biggest missile maker and Southern Arizona's largest private employer, is developing Excalibur with Bofors Defence of Sweden, which also will field the weapon.

The first Excalibur rounds will be delivered along with advanced targeting systems to Army units that operate the Paladin self-propelled howitzer in Iraq, Raytheon said. Excalibur also is compatible with the Army and Marine M777 lightweight howitzer and 155 mm guns now under development.

The roughly 6-inch-diameter Excalibur uses a combination of Global Positioning System satellite guidance and inertial navigation to hit targets at ranges of up to 40 kilometers, or about 25 miles.

By comparison, a conventional artillery shell's range is about 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles; rocket-assisted shells can go up to 30 kilometers, or about 19 miles.

During testing last November, an Excalibur flew 20 kilometers and struck within 3.4 meters, or about 11 feet, of a target point. In a subsequent test, it landed within about 7 meters, or about 23 feet.

"What really gave them the confidence that it could be done was the test shots," said John Halvey, Raytheon's Excalibur program director.

Halvey noted that the Excalibur tests called for accuracy within 10 meters, while unguided munitions fired at 20 kilometers may err by up to 200 meters.

Though not technically "rocket-assisted," the Excalibur achieves its extended range by firing a gas jet that disrupts the vacuum created behind the hurtling projectile to reduce drag, Halvey noted.

"It's similar in laymen's terms to what NASCAR does with a spoiler," he said.

An Army official said the Excalibur is being fielded early to help troops minimize "collateral damage" from inaccurate artillery rounds.

"There's always a need for longer range," said Scott Cawood, international action officer for the Excalibur program at the Army's Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. "It doesn't matter how far out it goes; the precision is the same."

The $22.1 million contract will pay for the Excalibur rounds along with testing, manufacturing tooling, test equipment, training, and shipping and storage containers.

The Army expects about 150 to 200 Excalibur rounds to be provided under the initial contract, Cawood said.

When Excalibur production is scaled up by 2010, the munitions are expected to cost $30,000 each, compared with about $1,000 for an unguided artillery shell, Cawood said.

But that doesn't mean the Excalibur can't be cost-effective. One Army study showed it would take 147 shots with unguided shells to take out a target that could be dispatched with three Excalibur rounds, Cawood said.

While some critics have questioned the cost of guided projectiles, an analyst who is a frequent critic of military programs said the Excalibur's accuracy would make it worth the cost.

"It's an outstanding bullet," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Virginia-based think tank.

"The cost of the munition may be comparable to a satellite-guided bomb, but the cost of manning a firebase is a lot less than the cost of an air base," Pike said.

He added that Excalibur's longer range means each artillery location can cover more ground.

Some critics of guided artillery projectiles have argued that their relatively high cost may make commanders more reluctant to use them.

"That is a concern we have, so we spend quite a bit of time with the users," Halvey said. "We're going into an artillery community that is used to firing very inexpensive artillery rounds."

The Excalibur program went into development in the late 1990s and became a joint project of the United States and Sweden in 2002. Work on the contract will be performed in Tucson, Sweden, New Mexico and Oklahoma.


Copyright 2005, Arizona Daily Star