Arizona Daily Star November 22, 2005
Raytheon naval bid shaky
By David Wichner
When the Navy launched the Extended Range Guided Munition program in 1996, it was billed as a precision-guided replacement for the big 16-inch guns of battleships like the USS Missouri.
Nine years later, program delays and cost overruns have put Ray-theon Co.'s bid to reshape the future of naval artillery in jeopardy.
The Navy has essentially opened the $600 million ERGM program to a competition, and a decision may come down to a "shoot-off" between competing technologies.
If perfected, GPS-guided shells will minimize "collateral damage" and allow much closer support of ground troops than unguided shells can safely allow, a military analyst said.
"It's basically one-bullet, one target," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. "That just completely alters what you can do with artillery."
But making the concept work has proved difficult.
Raytheon - which inherited ERGM when it acquired the defense-electronics business of Texas Instruments Inc. in 1997 - has had mixed results.
During the most recent tests, in October at New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range, just one out of four ERGM rounds functioned as designed. Before the October tests, three other ERGM projectiles were tested, and only one functioned as designed, according to the Navy.
Despite the problems, program managers at Tucson-based Ray-theon Missile Systems say they're confident in the ERGM's capabilities.
Accuracy much improved
With a range of up to about 57 miles, the rocket-assisted ERGM uses a combination of Global Positioning System satellite guidance and inertial navigation to hit within 20 meters of a target, according to Raytheon and the Navy.
In contrast, the battleships' 16-inch Mark 7 naval guns could lob shells weighing a ton or more about 24 miles, with an accuracy within a couple of hundred meters.
Raytheon says it believes it has solved some of ERGM's most daunting technical problems, such as hardening delicate GPS guidance and other electronics to survive a supersonic blast out of a gun barrel, said Gary Hagedon, Raytheon's ERGM program director.
Hagedon noted that in July, Raytheon won a $22 million Army contract to jump-start production of a land-based guided artillery shell, the Excalibur XM982, which uses some of the same technology as ERGM.
"The issue on ERGM is not the design; the issue is, there has not been a lot of effort put into component reliability," Hagedon said.
For example, he said, during the most recent test, the three ERGM rounds that did not meet all the test requirements failed not because of the failure of advanced technology, but because of relatively simple problems.
In one case, Hagedon said, a rocket booster failed to ignite after the ERGM was fired from the gun; in the other two cases canards - small wings used for guidance - failed to pop out.
Clock ticks for Raytheon
Raytheon may be running out of time to fix such problems.
The Government Accountability Office in March issued a report stating that seven of ERGM's 20 "critical technologies" were not mature.
As of mid-2004, the Navy had spent $598 million on the ERGM program, the GAO said. The Navy has estimated each ERGM round initially would cost about $50,000, though that cost could decline in production.
Earlier problems and delays prompted the Navy in May 2004 to issue a separate, $30 million contract to Alliant Techsystems Inc. to demonstrate an alternative extended-range guided munition.
But Minneapolis-based Alliant - which makes the rocket booster for Raytheon's ERGM - has had its own problems with its Ballistic Trajectory Extended Range Munition.
Alliant canceled a planned Nov. 4 test of its projectile after a rocket motor failed during a test a few days earlier, company spokesman Bryce Hallowell said.
"We're rocket makers, so it's frustrating for us," he said.
Hallowell noted that Alliant's projectile is designed to travel more of an arching, "ballistic" trajectory than Raytheon's ERGM, which makes it simpler in design and more resistant to countermeasures.
In written responses to the Star's queries, the Naval Sea Systems Command said the Navy remains committed to developing a precision-guided naval projectile, but there is no timetable for a decision.
Not much urgency to move
Navy officials have previously said they would hold a "shoot-off" to compare technologies, and Alliant's CEO recently said he expects such a contest within the next 18 months.
Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, said the Navy wants a precision-guided round for the 5-inch guns of its next-generation DD(X) family of high-tech destroyers, cruisers and smaller craft.
"In principle, it should be cheaper (than firing 16-inch shells). In principle, you should be prepared to shoot a lot of them," he said.
On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be much urgency to develop ERGM amid a tight budget, Pike said.
"Naval gunfire support for landed Marines - it's not something they've been called to do much," he said.
Meanwhile, a small but vocal group of battleship veterans and military pundits - including retired Marine colonel and Iran-contra figure Oliver North - say the 5-inch-diameter ERGM projectile is a poor substitute for the 16-inch, big shells fired by the old "battlewagons," like the USS Iowa. North and such groups as the U.S. Naval Fire Support Association want the battleships and their guns restored to service.
That's not likely to happen, Pike said, given the billions of dollars it would cost to resurrect the battleships.
© Copyright 2005, Arizona Daily Star