Funding Approval given for Army mortar replacements

To be effective in the increasingly complex environments now being encountered, Army’s Land Force needs its manoeuvre elements to be highly mobile, protected, and integrated into a single information environment, implemented over a secure terrestrial communications network, so as to rapidly direct precision joint fires of artillery and other weapons systems from all three services.

4th Oct 2012



 LAND 136 Phase 1


 Funding Approval given for Army mortar replacements

Byline: Geoff Slocombe / Victoria


To be effective in the increasingly complex environments now being encountered, Army’s Land Force needs its manoeuvre elements to be highly mobile, protected, and integrated into a single information environment, implemented over a secure terrestrial communications network, so as to rapidly direct precision joint fires of artillery and other weapons systems from all three services.

Army’s firepower is to be updated now that First Pass approval has been given by the Government for Defence to investigate replacement of the Army’s aged F2 81mm mortar system under LAND 136 Phase 1 (Land Force Mortar Replacement), cost-capped at $100 million.

Defence has recently signed a $63 million artillery control systems contract with Rockwell Collins Australia for the acquisition of a further 96 digital terminal control systems (DTCS). According to a Defence spokesperson “The 3 June 12 announcement by the Defence Ministers referred to the acquisition of 96 DTCS specifically for LAND 17 Phase 1B. Extra DTCS units for the mortars being procured under LAND 136 Phase 1 will be ordered once the Project has received Second Pass Approval by Government.”

The DTCS allows Special Forces and artillery forward observers to identify targets with greater accuracy through the use of precision targeting software. The contract provides Army with control terminals, tactical full motion video systems, laser target designators, highly accurate GPS devices and training. Australian troops will use these systems to call on fire support from land, sea or airborne weapon systems.

The current F2 81mm mortars were designed in the UK during the 1950’s and have been in service for over 40 years. Funding approved will cover project development and risk mitigation, including networking studies on how to integrate modern, robust lightweight mortars through DTCS control terminals into the ADF’s joint fires environment.

Replacement of the current F2 81mm mortars will be by a similar number of 81mm mortars. Smaller bore mortars, however modern, are not being considered.

THE ARMY JOINT FIRES ENVIRONMENT

When a number of small combined arms teams are operating in close proximity and have advanced to contact with adversary forces, each must be able to orchestrate precision joint fires within a short, but critical, time. This means that all the coercive kinetic effects weapons immediately available from land, sea or air must be able to be rapidly called-in or de-committed in a scalable manner through a single networked information environment. This is a very demanding task with many complications.

The communications and command aspects of joint fires require a network which is high bandwidth, secure, reliable and has a long reach to all parties. (For more information – see “Terrestrial Communications - Seeking the Holy Grail” APDR September 2012).

Combat identification of “blue” personnel, equipment and locations is of the very highest level of importance. (See “Friend or Foe? Avoiding the tragedy of fratricide in land operations” on page 44 of this edition.)

Getting the joint fires function right could well be a pre-condition for the ADF’s future advantage in combat, eliminating the adversary while avoiding targets denied legality by the theatre’s rules of engagement, and at all times preventing the tragedy of fratricide.

A major advance has been the training of US and Australian accredited Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) to coordinate joint fires in forward locations. They exercised most recently during RIMPAC 2012. A significant challenge is to establish this integrated system with units and individuals trained and equipped to perform under JTAC direction in a wide range of joint fires situations.

TACTICAL USE OF MORTARS

Mortars are really only useful for warlike operations in close contact with the enemy. Primarily the mortar provides high angle indirect fire which is effective against targets not available to direct fire weapons. They are area rather than pin-point weapons.

The choice of mortar projectiles, in combination with other weapons, permit a commander to destroy an enemy, suppress their fire, reveal their night-time movements with visible and infra-red illumination flares, and suppress their ability to observe friendly force movements by using smoke mortar bombs. They can also be used for harassment while field artillery is being moved, and to deceive and confuse an enemy as to a commander’s real intentions.

Small teams can seek to close on the adversary without presenting an obvious target for counter fire. This requires the new networked mortar weapons to fire with precision and discrimination, avoiding the need for the combat team to break contact and relocate to ground safe from the effects of their own mortars.

Sometimes there are questions about the differences between howitzers and mortars. Both have short barrels and fire indirectly with high angles of ascent and descent, mortars typically even higher than howitzers. Mortar bombs are dropped into the barrel and fire automatically on reaching the bottom. Howitzers are breech loaded and fired like conventional long barrel artillery guns.

LAND 136 PHASE 1 – LAND FORCE MORTAR REPLACEMENT

The opening background statement for this project in the public version of the 2012 Defence Capability Plan (DCP) is “This project will replace and enhance the Army mortar capability with a modern, robust and sustainable organic mortar capability, digitally networked within the joint fires environment. This includes the acquisition of lightweight mortars and a Digital Terminal Control System to permit integration into the joint fires network”

A decision will be due FY2013-14 to FY2014-15 with initial material release and initial operating capability (IOC) a couple of years later.

The DCP notes that “The likely acquisition strategy will consider either Open Tender or Government to Government arrangements such as FMS. Market research indicates that there are no local manufacturing suppliers for this capability. Australian industry involvement could be expected in training and Through Life Support (TLS) activities of the project.”

“The TLS concept for this project will consider, as a minimum, supportability options for fleet management, repair and maintenance, storage and distribution, provision of technical data and training. The support concept will also take advantage of current in-service capacity and facilities or OEM support, or a combination of both. Contracts for such support will generally be considered at the same time as acquisition”.

“Phase 1 interfaces with several other Defence projects including LAND 17 (Artillery Replacement – Towed Howitzer), JP 2072 (Battlespace Communications), JP 2085 (Explosive Ordnance Warstock), JP 199 (Establishment of Special Operations Command), Army Minor Project 29.44 (Weapons Training Simulation System) and Army Minor Project 48.44 (Mortar Computer Fire Control Replacement). LAND 136 Phase 1 linkages relate to products delivered by these projects, as well as networking interfaces that need to be validated.”

APDR asked if there would be a Request for Information (RFI) followed by a Request for Tender (RFT), to which the Defence spokesperson replied “Defence engaged with industry prior to achieving 1st Pass. It is unlikely that both a RFI and a RFT will be issued.”

MORTAR SYSTEMS

The main mortar fire control functions are navigation and GPS determination of the exact mortar platform location; determining weapon pointing; settings for smart projectiles; interface with sensors; tactical and technical fire control data processing of the ballistic kernel; while maintaining on-line secure communications for fire support and situational awareness. Most of these functions can be digitised, subject to command oversight.

In London 29th-31st October this year, Defence IQ’s Future Mortar Systems 2012 Conference will have an international audience to share knowledge on key developments in the world of mortars. The organisers claim “The 2012 conference will explore the developments that are transforming the mortar into the weapon of choice for the war fighter; excelling at its traditional role but capable of rivalling precision and direct fire systems.”

Apart from many sessions describing recent operational experience and capability developments by various NATO forces, the Conference has several sessions on insensitive munitions i.e. which retain effective military capability but which are relatively safe - under their normal conditions of use they are very unlikely to explode or burn spontaneously - despite the fact that they are composed primarily of very hazardous material. Surprisingly there do not appear to be any sessions on mortar DFCS.

A key element of any DFCS is speed of response between sensor and shooter, which implies a high speed high bandwidth secure communications connection linking joint assets and using digital technology. Digitisation provides significant improvements in calls for fire and response to those calls, plus supply of current and predicted meteorological and logistics data.

Critical new software and hardware solutions are involved. Adopting a standard architectural approach has resulted in effective digital networked solutions which are completely compatible with previous manual systems.

The NATO group on Surface to Surface Ballistics has created a widely used set of shareable fire control software. This has built on the NATO Armaments Ballistics Kernel (NABK), a four layer software model - Fire Control Inputs Layer, Equations of Motion Layer, Computation Layer and Fire Mission Layer. Australia is well-placed to take advantage of these developments.

DOES SIZE MATTER?

The current F2 81mm mortar used by the ADF typically has a range from 100 metres out to over 5,000 metres depending on the bomb used, with a circle error probable (CEP) of 40 metres. Because a mortar is typically used against an area target this CEP is not a problem.

More recently developed mortar bombs from General Dynamics (GD) Ordnance and Tactical Systems, who have signed a teaming agreement with BAE Systems to develop and demonstrate the 81mm roll controlled guided mortar (RCGM) with global positioning system (GPS) guidance to boost the soldier's combat effectiveness, show a significant improvement in accuracy.

Accuracy still depends on meteorological conditions plus precise identification of the mortar’s current position and the target’s position. The ‘bracketing’ technique may still be relevant, although any improvements through the use of digital fire control systems will be an advantage, particularly for close-in targets.

There will be future offensive operations where the 5 km limit for 81mm mortars is a problem because of the nature and distance of the ground between the fire base and the intended target. This is where a step up in size to a 120mm barrel and different types of mortar bombs are required. These can increase the range from over 7,000 metres up to 10,000 metres, but with a penalty of much greater weight.

When asked by APDR if 120mm mortars will be considered, a Defence spokesperson responded “A 120mm solution will not meet the user weight requirements. The lightweight aspect of the acquisition is to meet the user requirement for the system to be man-portable. To reduce the load carrying burden on the user, the eventual equipment solution is to be lighter than the in-service F2 81mm.”

NEXT STEPS

APDR commented to a Defence spokesperson “Modern mortar technology includes gas vents to allow air to escape so the bomb ‘free falls’ in the barrel, resulting in a higher rate of fire. There are also technology improvements to speed barrel cooling. Will mortars with gas venting resulting in a higher rate of fire be considered preferentially by the LAND 136 Phase 1 project?” The spokesperson’s response was “The capability benefits generated by improved or innovative technologies will be considered but not to the detriment of the key user requirements which are for a lightweight mortar system that is capable of integration into the Joint Fires environment.”

There is no doubt that the existing F2 81mm mortars have nearly reached the end of Life of Type (LOT) and that replacement is due. Implementing a DFCS for these mortars, and integrating it into the ADF’s Joint Fires Environment, will be a major step forward in capability.

Let us hope that while the ADF is trained and prepared to use these effective new weapons when they achieve IOC, the need to fire them in anger does not arise any time soon.

 

 

 

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