US Army Wants 120mm Guided Mortars for the Front Lines (APMI XM395)
The US Army is pushing to get precision mortars developed and deployed to the field in Afghanistan as soon as possible. Mortars are lighter and can be towed by a HMMWV or MRAP, or carried and fired from inside M113 or Stryker APCs, making them easier to deploy than heavier cannon artillery.
When indirect fire support is needed against enemies who are dug in along mountain ridgelines and other high positions, or in an urban area where which building you hit matters a great deal, getting the job done requires precision artillery. That capability has already come to MLRS rockets (M30/31 GMLRS, ATACMS), and 155mm artillery shells (Excalibur), and has been deployed to great effect on the front lines by American forces and their allies. Now it is coming to the USA’s 120mm mortars as well.
The Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI)
The US army has been experimenting with guided mortar development efforts since the 1980s, but the technologies required have only recently become small enough and reliable enough for use. An effort to field a laser-guided mortar began in earnest in 2004, but eventually the Army decided to change its guidance focus.
The Army’s Operational Needs Statement from Afghanistan (ONS-09-7722) specifies a GPS-guided 120mm mortar, with a circular error probable (CEP) of 16.4 feet or less and a 4.3 mile range, said Maj. Jeffrey Hilt, the APMI program lead for the Army, in an interview with Greg Grant of DoD Buzz. The mortar must also be compatible with existing fire control systems, such as the Lightweight Hand-held Mortar Ballistic Computer, work with Soltam’s M120/M121 fin-stabilized smoothbore mortar, and have the same multi-option fuze as the current M734A1 fuze.
Maj. Hilt told DoD Buzz that GPS guidance is preferable to laser guidance because insurgents in Afghanistan frequently duck down behind ridges and rock outcroppings; laser guidance would require a laser marker almost on top of them, buts a soldier on the ground can accurately target a GPS round against an enemy taking cover behind obstacles, or in dead ground.
Three companies were competing to develop a 120mm precision mortar compatible with the M120 system under the Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI): Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Alliant Techsystems (ATK). The 3 companies tested GPS guided versions of the precision mortar in May 2009. The first phase would conclude with flight tests and a competitive “shoot off” amongst industry designs in January 2010, after which the Army would select the winning design.
In April 2010, ATK’s design won. An initial contract for the M9933/M9934 120mm mortar body’s attached guidance and flight kits followed in June 2010.
ATK explains that its Mortar Guidance Kit (MGK) converts mortar bodies into precision mortar rounds by replacing standard fuzes in the mortar’s fuze well with a guidance kit that includes fins, guidance, and fuze. That multi-functional fuze allows the round to be programmed to explode in the air, once it hits a hard surface, or after it penetrates a target. Operators input mission and GPS data from a fire control computer into the round using the Precision Lightweight Universal Mortar Setter Systems (PLUMSS), which combine the GPS and mission data, and loads coordinates and fuzing into the APMI XM395 round. Once fired, APMI’s front fins provide guidance, and folding fins in the tail provide additional stability.
The design owes much to the Precision Guidance Kit for 155mm artillery. APMI’s MGK has more than 90% commonality with the PGK GPS-guidance fuze, developed under US Army PEO Ammunition’s previous Excalibur 155m artillery shell program. On the back end, US Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) helped to modify the Army’s Lightweight Hand-held Mortar Ballistic Computer and Dismounted 120mm Mortar Fire Control System for the APMI.
ATK’s MGK has demonstrated its ability to accurately and reliably guide a 120mm mortar to within 10 meter CEP (Circular Error Probable) at ranges in excess of 6.5 km. Peter Burke, PEO Ammunition’s deputy product manager, Guided Precision Munitions and Mortar Systems, says that APMI is actually under the 10m CEP accuracy goal; he won’t give specific figures, but ONS-09-7722 requirements translate into 5m CEP. As a point of comparison, the average for unguided 120mm mortar rounds is 136m CEP, or 76m with precision mortar pointing systems.
ATK’s MGK/XM395 offering will join a growing list of global 120mm mortar competitors, including the Russian Gran system, and Raytheon/ Israeli Military Industries’ 120GM DAGGER. When combined with similar advances for 155mm and 105mm artillery, and for longer-range 227mm+ rockets, the net effect is to make precision firepower widely available, even when aircraft or UAVs aren’t nearby. If successful, precision mortars in particular would be a “70% solution” that leverages weapons present in every battalion – severely undercutting the rationale for “missiles in a box” projects like the NETFIRES NLOS-LS. It’s no coincidence that NLOS-LS was canceled by the US Army in 2010 – after the 155mm Excalibur shell and 227mm GMLRS rocket had proven out similar snap-in GPS solutions, and just as APMI passed testing and declared a winner.
As of March 2011, US Army PEO Ammunition’s Peter Burke said there is no requirement for precision 81mm and 60mm mortars, as fitting all of the electronics into smaller rounds that can be fired from land-based mortars is seen as “beyond today’s technology.” He adds that the 120mm mortar also has the advantage of packing enough of a punch to justify the extra expense of the guidance system.
Contracts & Key Events
DID is aware that XM395 also refers to a separate laser-guided 120mm mortar project, begun in 2004. For whatever reason, the Pentagon has begun referring to the GPS-guided shells as APMI XM395 rounds, and it’s those weapons that we’re covering here.
Feb 3/11: ATK in Plymouth, MN receives a $50 million contract for the material release production of XM395 high explosive, guided 120mm mortars under APMI . Work will be performed in Plymouth, MN, with an estimated completion date still to be determined. One bid was solicited with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Picatinny, NJ (W15QKN-10-C-0059).
June 15/10: Alliant Techsystems, Inc. (ATK) in Plymouth, MN wins am initial $9 million firm-fixed-price production contract for 1,310 APMI XM395 precision 120mm mortar shells. The entire contract has an estimated value of $18.3 million, using FY 2009 through FY 2011 funding.
The period of performance will be 10 months, from the date of contract award, and the government will utilize PAA (Procurement of Ammunition, Army) funding to support this effort. Work is to be performed in Plymouth, MN, with an estimated completion date of Dec 1/10. One sole-source bid was solicited with one bid received by the Joint Munitions and Lethality Contracting Center in Picatinny, NJ (W15QKN-10-C-0059).
April 21/09: US Army APMI program lead Maj. Jeffrey Hilt reportedly tells a Precision Strike Association conference that ATK had been picked for APMI, following a competitive shoot-off.
Maj. Hilt says that APMI is not a program of record, but may become one if it performs well. Should that happen, however, ATK is not guaranteed to win – another shoot-off and selection would take place. Defense News | Defense Tech.
Nov 30/09: ATK announces a $5 million contract to proceed with APMI Phase 1. The firm used its Mortar Guidance Kit (MGK) to provide GPS guidance to the 120mm mortar during the testing.
Before winning the award, ATK successfully concluded a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) flight test program of its Mortar Guidance Kit (MGK) design.
Raytheon and General Dynamics also won phase 1 contracts, although the value of their contracts were not disclosed.
Jan 12/06: Alliant Techsystems announces completion of the laser-guided PGMM’s Preliminary Design Review. During the PDR, all elements of the system design were thoroughly vetted to ensure the design has the performance capability to meet requirements and the program remains on schedule and on cost.
The PDR is one of 2 critical milestones prior to a Milestone C production decision, and the next milestone is the Critical Design Review later in 2006. ATK intended to begin low rate initial production in 2008 and field the system by 2010, while the Army pushed for an earlier fielding date of 2009. In the end, field requirements overtook those intentions, and the Army opted for a GPS/INS guidance solution instead.
Jan 5/04: ATK announces that it has been picked by the U.S. Army to design and develop the XM395 Precision Guided Mortar Munition (PGMM), and could begin low-rate initial production if an option award is made. Initial terms of the pending contract were not disclosed, but ATK said that the contract could lead to production with total sales of more than $500 million.
The PGMM projectile flies ballistically to a laser-designated target, maneuvers in flight, and delivers its warhead. It is designed to defeat targets at distances beyond 7 km, with 1 meter CEP accuracy, and its modular design will allows enhancements to meet future combat soldier requirements in range and lethality.
ATK Ordnance and Ground Systems in Plymouth, MN, will manage the PGMM program and lead system integration with program support provided by ATK Missile Systems in Woodland Hills, CA; and ATK Tactical Systems in Rocket Center, WVA. The US Army’s Product Manager for Mortar Systems, reporting to the Project Manager, Combat Ammunition Systems, Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, is the material developer for PGMM, and played a critical role in the development of smooth-bore, cannon-launched technology adopted by ATK’s PGMM concept.
- ATK – Mortar Guidance Kit [PDF]
- StrategyPage (April 5/11) – 120mm magic arrives. Notes that the XM395 was a laser-guided mortar program begun in 2004, and not the same as APMI. Which is true, but the US Army and Pentagon releases are now referring to the GPS-guided rounds as “APMI XM395.”
- US Army (March 29/11) – Picatinny fields first precision-guided mortars to troops in Afghanistan. Refers to it as the “APMI XM395”. Actually, the schedule is to field them to one IBCT in theater within the next 6 months.
- US Army (October 2009) – Army 120mm Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI) [PPT].
- DID – EFSS/ITV: The US Marines’ Mobile 120mm Mortar System. Does not currently use APMI, but a guided rifled round called PERM. It remains to be seen whether APMI kits also end up on rifled rounds.
- DoD Buzz (Oct 21/09) – Troops Clamor for Precision Mortars