Advanced Ammunition: Defeating Impossible Enemy Threats
For more than 30 years, Northrop Grumman has protected U.S. warfighters through the development and delivery of weapons and ammunition that reliably outmatched the range, precision and firepower of any fielded enemy weapon systems.
That commitment to combat superiority played out successfully in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm when U.S. and coalition forces overwhelmingly defeated the Iraqi Army — the world’s fifth largest army at the time — in just 100 hours. Unfortunately, U.S. adversaries have not stood still since then, developing new, longer-range, higher-lethality weapons such as armor-penetrating anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) that pose significant potential danger to our warfighters.
Putting Warfighters First
Today, Northrop Grumman is continuing its partnership with the U.S. Army to regain the “combat capabilities high ground” by developing several new advanced ammunition types for the company’s Bushmaster® Chain Gun®, an autocannon integrated extensively on U.S. and allied combat vehicles, ships and attack aircraft.
“We’re continuing to build on the company’s expertise in programmable airburst munitions and proximity fuzes to give warfighters every advantage they can get,” said Rylan Harris, director of advanced ammunition for the company’s Armament Systems business unit. “We’re also developing an even smarter weapon system called guided medium caliber ammunition. Guided medium caliber ammunition will allow warfighters to reach out and defeat enemy combatants decisively at ranges that are not possible today, and do so before the enemy can launch their own attack.”
Providing Smart Options: Programmable Airbursts
Northrop Grumman recently partnered with the U.S. Army to begin fielding a family of programmable airburst munitions (PABM) called the Mk310. A PABM is ideal for defeating combatants armed with ATGMs or those hiding behind structures or geographical features. Its fuze — the device that detonates the PABM — can be set, prior to firing, to detonate the warhead upon impact, at a specified distance beyond impact, or in the air at a preset distance from the gun.
“If an enemy is hiding behind a rock or a wall, we can program a PABM to fly a few meters past the rock or punch through the wall before exploding,” explained Harris.
“Other airburst munitions often use time-based fuzes to measure distance traveled by a round (before airburst),” said Harris. “By contrast, our PABMs count the revolutions of the projectile to measure that preset distance to the target.
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Defeating Airborne Ingenuity: Advanced Algorithms Isolate Targets
Northrop Grumman is also helping the Army develop a device called a proximity-fuzed munition. As its name implies, a proximity-fuzed munition senses when it is within the desired distance of a target, then detonates its warhead. Proximity-fuzed munitions are ideal for sensing — and defeating — moving targets, especially swarms of small unmanned aerial systems.
The gee-whiz aspects of the proximity-fuzed munition, explained Harris, are its rugged, high-reliability sensor electronics and powerful onboard computer.
“Rounds fired from a 30mm or 50mm cannon experience force loads ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 Gs,” he said. “We’ve learned how to build these rounds so that they perform well after experiencing that very violent event known as gun launch.”
The proximity-fuzed munition also includes an advanced algorithm that allows it to discriminate between a target and background clutter, then optimize its airburst distance to maximize the lethal effects on the target, Harris added.
Changing the Trajectory with Power Generation Technology
The new Guided Medium Caliber Ammunition, now under internal development, will culminate Northrop Grumman’s work in advanced ammunition. In addition to incorporating the company’s PABM and proximity-fuzed munition technologies, it will also use true “leap ahead” technologies that generate onboard electrical power and provide continuous trajectory guidance in a single integrated package.
“Guided Medium Caliber Ammunition will give warfighters a new level of burst-point accuracy that will increase the likelihood of hitting targets with maximum lethal effect, whether that target is a swarm of drones, an ATGM-armed combatant at standoff distances, or a fast-moving small boat intent on harming a Navy ship,” said Harris. To help minimize potential collateral damage caused by overshooting a target — a hazard of traditional ammunition — both proximity-fuzed munitions and guided medium caliber ammunition will include a self-destruct feature that causes their projectiles to airburst after a set distance, whether it sees a target or not, he added.
Delivering on the Promise to Support Those in Uniform
“Integrating all of our advanced ammunition initiatives into a new, smart munition for a fielded gun system will be the ultimate way to put world-class ammunition into the hands of warfighters,” proclaimed Harris. “And that’s what my team lives for.”