XM1111 MRM: Clank Softly, and Carry a Better Shillelagh
Ever since anti-tank missiles proved their lethality on the battlefield, designers and officers have wanted to create tank rounds that could act like guided missiles. The pursuit hasn’t always gone well. The force created by a tank gun’s firing isn’t very hospitable to delicate electronics, which has resulted in some prominent failures. The M551 Sheridan light tank and its MGM-51 Shillelagh missile, for instance, became a negative example to the industry as a whole during its brief career in the 1960/70s.
Electronics have moved on since then, however, and advances in electronics’ size and composition are beginning to make the concept thinkable once more. Israel’s laser-homing Lahat missile equips some Merkava tanks, will reportedly equip India’s new Arjun tanks, and has been qualified for use with the Leopard 2 tank family. It can be fired from missile launchers, and also offers 105mm or 120mm tank guns a range boost to 8km, the ability to kill heavily protected tanks from the top, and effectiveness against slow flying aerial targets like helicopters and UAVs. Russia’s shorter-range 9M119M Refleks (NATO designation AT-11 Sniper) round is also available on the market, to equip late-model Russian and Chinese tanks.
The USA’s 160+ billion Future Combat Systems program aims to revive the light tank with its Mounted Combat System variant of its MGS tracked vehicle family. It won’t have the M1 Abrams’ armor protection, and its light 120mm gun won’t have that tank’s firepower punch, either – unless a guided round can even the odds, and give it beyond line-of-sight capabilities. Enter the XM1111 Mid-Range Munition.
The XM111 Mid-Range Munition
The US Army’s Future Combat Systems site describes its “Mounted Combat System” 27-30 ton light tank as weapon which:
“…provides Line-of-Sight (LOS) and Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLOS) offensive firepower capability allowing BCTs to close with and destroy enemy forces. The MCS delivers precision fires at a rapid rate to destroy multiple targets at standoff ranges quickly… It is capable of providing direct support to the dismounted infantry in an assault, defeating bunkers, and breaching walls during the tactical assault. When employing the Mid-Range Munition (MRM), the MCS also provides BLOS fires to destroy point targets through the integrated sensor network.”
The XM-1111 Mid-Range Munition program is the key to providing those capabilities. The guided round is jointly developed and managed by Army Research and Development Command (ARDEC) and the Office of the Project Manager – Maneuver Ammunition Systems (OPM-MAS) at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ. The aim is to create a round for the MCS that can also be fielded on the M1A2 SEP Abrams tanks, reaching initial operational capability by 2013.
In the early stages of the program, 2 contracts were awarded in a competition to validate the original MRM requirement. One contract was for for a kinetic energy penetrator round (MRM-KE: Alliant Techsystems et. al.), and one was for a chemical energy explosive warhead round (MRM-CE, Raytheon and General Dynamics OTP).
The MRM-CE proposal went on to win. Rodger Elkins, director of advanced tactical weapons for Raytheon’s Advanced Programs product line said that:
“For the beyond-line-of-sight mission, we believe that the chemical energy warhead, with proven lethality against the primary target of threat armor, is the best solution. It provides better effects against the secondary targets of buildings, fortifications and light armor than a less versatile kinetic energy penetrator.”
Raytheon’s XM-1111 MRM design will use a dual-mode seeker that combines an imaging infrared (IIR) sensor and a digital semi-active laser seeker. The dual-mode seeker has already been developed and successfully demonstrated during a 2-year, Army-managed science and technology program.
Of course, it must also kill tanks equipped with options like explosive reactive armor, or it will leave the MCS dangerously vulnerable. One classic approach is to employ a top-attack profile to punch through the tank’s weakest armor, as the Lahat does. This is naturally consonant with beyond line of sight capabilities, which require a semi-ballistic flight path. The other approach, which is not mutually exclusive, is to use a tandem warhead. DID is investigating with Raytheon and GD-OTP to find out more.
Contracts and Key Events
Jan 19/09: Raytheon announces success in MRM firing tests. In designate mode, the round was initially guided to the target with a laser designator before switching to imaging infrared seeker guidance.
In autonomous mode, the round was fired in the general direction of the target before the imaging infrared (IIR) seeker searched for and acquired the target. The autonomously fired round struck the threat target from a beyond-line-of-sight range of 5.2 kilometers/ 3 miles. This was the first completely autonomous imaging infrared-guided shot for the MRM program.
Dec 21/07: Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson AZ received a $19 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for system development and demonstration for the medium range munitions program. Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/07. This web solicitation was announced on May 11, 2007, and 2 bids were received by the U.S. Joint Munitions and Lethality – Life Cycle Management Command in Picatinny, NJ (W15QKN-08-C-0054).
The award is actually a bigger deal than first appears. Raytheon Company, teamed with General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTP), announces that this award heralds their victory in the U.S. Army’s $232.3 million, 63-month System Design & Development program to develop the XM-1111 Mid-Range Munition for the Future Combat Systems’ Mounted Combat System. Raytheon Jan 2/08 release.
March 1/07: Raytheon conducts the first beyond-line-of-sight mission using a dual-mode IIR/laser seeker on their MRM-CE projectile. The test firing from an M1A2 Abrams tank at Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ demonstrated the projectile’s ability to successfully acquire laser designation and transition the tracking function to the imaging infrared sensor against a T-72 tank target. The sensor guided the munition to a direct hit at a distance of 5.2 kilometers (3.5 miles). Raytheon, via Spacewar.
Sept 25/06: Raytheon announces the first beyond line of sight mission with a test firing of its MRM-CE guided projectile with digital semi active laser sensor. The projectile, fired from an Abrams M1A2 SEP (system enhancement program) tank at the U.S. Army’s Yuma, AZ Proving Grounds, scored an extended-range, guided direct hit on a moving T-72 tank at a distance of 5.4 miles/ 8.7 km. Raytheon release.
May 1/06: Alliant Techsystems announces that it has successfully demonstrated maneuverability of its guided Mid Range Munition Kinetic Energy (MRM-KE) precision projectile at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma AZ, firing the round from an M1 Abrams main battle tank. After exiting the barrel, the rocket motor ignited to propel the round to a speed of approximately Mach 4, whereupon the projectile performed a series of pre-programmed maneuvers designed to assess its agility in a high Mach regime and achieved its range target of more than five and one half miles. ATK will use the test data from this successful flight to continue development of the program.
ATK’s unique projectile design employs a number of embedded thrusters that give it significant maneuvering capability at high speeds. At the same time, by using no moving parts, the round is capable of surviving the significant G-forces associated with gun-launched projectiles. It uses a combination of millimeter-wave and laser seekers to combine independent guidance with active targeting.
March 21/05: ATK is awarded a $23 million contract for work on dual mode seeker technology including semi-active laser and millimeter wave seekers in support of the MRM program.