M1203 NLOS-C: Future Combat Systems’ Howitzer
The USA’s $160+ billion Future Combat Systems faced a mild restructuring in February 2007, and in July 2007, work began on Phase 1 spinouts to the active force. In order to speed replacement of the M109 mobile howitzers, some members of Congress had been pushing to speed up fielding of the M1203 NLOS-C 155mm mobile howitzer as a replacement for the USA’s aging M109s, even if this meant breaking Future Combat Systems’ unitary acquisition model by making NLOS-C a separate program. That didn’t happen, thanks in part to FCS critic Senator McCain’s [R-AZ] interesting intervention, but the message was clear.
Unfortunately, even NLOS-C will break the C-130’s 20-ton cargo weight limit by a considerable margin (estimate: 27 tons, which works well in an Airbus A400M but not the C-130J Hercules). As such, FCS’ armored vehicle core is unlikely to ever deliver its most important touted benefit: deployability. On the other hand, NLOS-C does offer new and fully modern mobile howitzers, an aim that has clear Congressional support. As such, the FCS program is making the NLOS-C the lead example for FCS’ tracked Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) family.
This will be DID’s Spotlight article covering the NLOS-C sub-program, from its core platform and fit within Future Combat Systems, to its program and contracts, to additional research materials. The program was canceled in 2009, but elements of its technologies will survive elsewhere…
NLOS-C is a tracked vehicle with a reported weight of about 27 tons, carrying a 2-man crew instead of the M109’s 5. It will carry a 155mm, 38 caliber cannon (often written as 155/38; the M109’s M284 gun is 155/39), with fully automated ammunition handling and loading that’s similar to other modern systems like South Korea’s K-9/K-10 system. This allows for rapid switching of round types, speeds up rate of fire, and reduces the number of people needed to operate the weapon.
The howitzer will carry 24 ready rounds (vs. 36-39 for the M109), and have an automated rearm function that’s about 50% faster than the M109’s. The goal is 30-second response to fire requests that’s similar to the M109A6 Paladin and M109A6 PIM – with the additional benefit of multiple round simultaneous impact (MRSI) capability from a single cannon, thanks to the rapid fire enabled by its fully automated system.
All NLOS-C cannons will also be capable of firing smart shells like the GPS-guided M982 Excalibur, which have already been fielded on M777 ultra-lightweight howitzers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Army lists 1,223 square miles of coverage, which translates into a box 34.5 miles/ 57.5 km on each side. Assuming an M1203 in the center of that box, it translates into a firing range of 17 miles/ 28 km.
The cannon will be mounted on a tracked vehicles of the Future Combat Systems Manned Ground Vehicles (FCS MGV) family, and will weigh 27-30 tons. The MGV chassis’ are expected to have 75-80% commonality, which is expected to lead to significant reductions in design, production and sustainment costs, as long as the new design and technologies don’t add corresponding increases.
One of those new technologies is a hybrid-electric drive system, which can now be found in some cars but not in many combat vehicles. The traditional engine is de-coupled from the drive train, and is designed only to recharge the energy storage system and power the vehicular systems. The drive train itself is powered by electric motors, creating an all-electric vehicle.
FCS MGV’s are using hybrid-electric power for a number of reasons. One important reason is the fact that their units have far more electronics et. al. inside, which leads to higher electrical power requirements. This is already an issue in currently-fielded vehicle upgrades, and demand for electricity within the vehicles is expected to rise over time. Hybrid-electric vehicles’ rechargeable energy storage system helps to offset this change, and also allows vehicles to perform key surveillance roles and other tasks with their engines switched off. When combined with the much quieter engine sound of a running hybrid engine, hybrid-drive vehicles offer important tactical stealth benefits if their power output and reliability can meet the required benchmarks. Finally, a hybrid drive military vehicle reaps the same kind of benefits hybrid drive cars offer in terms of improved fuel economy and less reliance on oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels.
Vehicles in the MGV family will include:
- XM1201 Reconnaissance and Surveillance Vehicle (RSV)
- XM1202 Mounted Combat System (MCS, 120mm direct fire support)
- XM1203 Non Line of Sight-Cannon (NLOS-C, 155mm howitzer). Production expected in late 2008.
- XM1204 Non Line of Sight-Mortar (NLOS-M, 120mm)
- XM1205 Recovery and Maintenance Vehicle (FRMV)
- XM1206 Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV, M2/M3 Bradley successor)
- XM1207 Medical Vehicle – Evacuation
- XM1208 Medical Vehicle – Treatment
- XM1209 Command and Control Vehicle (C2V)
A total of 8 NLOS-C prototypes mounted on MGV chassis will be produced between 2008 and 2009. They will be used for testing, safety certification and evaluation of the artillery system and chassis.
The NLOS-C P1 will fire an additional 500 rounds through early 2009 to obtain a safety release that will allow Soldiers to move, shoot, and communicate from an NLOS-C in spring 2009.
Beginning in 2010, Soldiers at the Army’s Evaluation Task Force are scheduled to receive the first 18 NLOS-C platforms. The vehicles will be used in simulated combat scenarios and conditions, which will produce a final set of changes to the vehicles’ design before the final production configuration.
The US Army currently hopes to begin fielding NLOS-C to combat units by 2014.
NLOS-C: Contracts & Key Events
June 23/09: NLOS-C is officially canceled, as the USA abandons the Manned Ground Vehicle portion of Future Combat Systems. DoD Buzz:
“The Army’s flagship FCS modernization program was officially cancelled today with the stroke of a pen wielded by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Ashton Carter. The $160 billion program was really cancelled back in April by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but today’s acquisition defense memorandum makes it official.”
See also StrategyPage.
May 7/09: NLOS-C gone. Military Deputy for Budget Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Mgt and Comptroller) Lt. Gen. Edgar Stanton, at a Pentagon briefing:
“…with respect to the FCS program, the FY’10 budget calls for the Army to accelerate spin-outs now to all 73 Brigade Combat Teams. Initially, we were going to spin-out Future Combat System capabilities to 15 BCTs. And so that approach is now going to change, and we will accelerate to all 73 BCTs starting in Fiscal ’11. It will take a few years, and probably until Fiscal ’25, to complete that fielding.
Secondly, with respect to FCS, we’re going to halt the development and the procurement of the Manned Ground Vehicle. And then, thirdly, cancel development and procurement of the Non Line of Sight Cannon.
The Army’s modernization strategy will now focus — rather than on FCS, on a versatile mix of network BCTs that leverage mobility, protection, precision and information — in order to be effective across the full spectrum of combat operations.”
April 6/09: Cuts recommended by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates include Future Combat Systems’ manned ground vehicles. At this point, it’s not entirely clear if NLOS-C’s popularity will help it survive as an independent spinout program, or whether it would be canceled. DoD Statement | DID Coverage | Defense Update.
Feb 6/09: BAE Systems announces that dummy rounds mimicking the shape and mass of the BAE/Raytheon’s Excalibur GPS-guided shell have been fired from NLOS-C. The test firing was designed to verify proper fit, function and stable flight.
Sept 23/08: The Future Combat Systems program successfully fires the first artillery projectile from the manned ground vehicle NLOS-C prototype, at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. It also sets out he program’s schedule through 2010. US Army release.
March 27/08: The Boeing Co. in St. Louis, MO received a $56.7 million cost-reimbursement contract for advance procurement of materials, tooling and test equipment for 6 future combat systems NLOS-C vehicles.
Work will be performed primarily in Minneapolis, MN and is expected to be complete by Dec 30/08. One bid was solicited on Aug 17/07 by US Army TACOM-LCMC in Warren, MI (W56HZV-08-C-0146).
Feb 28/08: BAE Systems is using its Mission Equipment Vibration Table (MEVT) in Minneapolis, MN to put NLOS-C through more than 10,000 miles and 20 years of equivalent wear. The idea is to pinpoint and correct reliability issues in advance, especially given reliability requirements that are reportedly up to 10-times higher than seen on vehicles operating in combat today. Note that the 27,000 pound capacity MEVT is only testing the mission module, which weighs only 10 tons and includes the automated ammunition handling. Testing the entire chassis would exceed its weight limits.
BAE Systems developed the MEVT in September 2006. It attempts to replicate gun fire shock, vibration, thermal, humidity, and dust contamination all in one environment, attempting to emulate future terrains such as trench crossings, ditches and blockades, as well as various climate conditions such as extreme heat and sub-zero temperatures. BAE Systems release.
Aug 22/07: FCS Lead Systems Integrator partners Boeing and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), along with industry teammates BAE Systems and General Dynamics, have selected Elgin, OK as a principal site for FCS Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) integration and assembly work.
FCS MGV partner BAE Systems will construct and manage a 150,000 square-foot facility at the Ft. Sill Industrial Park in Elgin. The facility will initially house production integration and assembly activities for the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) initial production platform, the first of 8 FCS vehicle variants. Completion of the new facility is anticipated in 2009. Boeing release.
Aug 15/07: The US Army unveils its first hybrid-electric propulsion system for a new fleet of Manned Ground Vehicles (MGVs), which will be tested and evaluated at the Power and Energy Systems Integration Laboratory (P&E SIL) in Santa Clara, CA. This is the first time the US Army will be integrating a functional hybrid-electric drive system into a combat vehicle, a path that has also been taken by Sweden’s SEP. US Army release.
July 18/07: FCS Lead Systems Integrator partners Boeing and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) announce that the Army has authorized planning for FCS low-rate initial production, including long-lead items for the first FCS capability Spin Out and Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) early production units.
Boeing’s release adds that: “The latter is focused on the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) initial production platform, which will be fielded in 2010 according to a Congressional mandate.” See also US Army release.
Sept 29/06: The FCS Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) is unveiled at BAE Systems’ Land and Armaments division in Minneapolis, MN. Boeing release.
February 2006: The CTD vehicle completes testing in Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, having fired more than 2,000 rounds. Source.
December 2003: United Defense (now BAE Systems) received a $2 billion contract from Boeing to begin engineering development and demonstration of 5 MGV variants: infantry carrier vehicle, maintenance and recovery, medical, NLOS-M and NLOS-C. Source.
FY 2003: BAE says that the total contract with BAE Systems for the NLOS-C Concept Technology Demonstrator was $331 million. Within that total contract authorization, BAE Systems (then United Defense) designed and built the Concept Technology Demonstrator (CTD), which is not an NLOS-C prototype but is used to demonstrate some of the key technologies
The company also conducted numerous technology trade studies in support of the NLOS-C objective design to support the FCS Lead Systems Integrator in their progress toward the FCS Systems Requirements Review. Source.
January 2003: The U.S. Army and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency selected United Defense to team with General Dynamics Land Systems and the FCS lead systems integrator (Boeing/SAIC) in the design of the ground vehicle portion of FCS. Source.
- US Army, Official FCS Site – Non Line of Sight-Cannon (NLOS-C) XM1203
- GlobalSecurity – Non Line of Sight Cannon (NLOS-C)
- BAE Systems – NLOS-C Concept Technology Demonstrator FAQs
- NDIA National Defense Magazine (May 2010) – Army Resuscitates Mobile Artillery Program. Some NLOS-C technologies will move to the M109 Paladin PIM
- Field Artillery, Maj. Vincent J. Tolbert, AC (March-April 2006) – NLOS cannon: Meeting the demands of Future Combat [PDF full issue, 19.5 MB].
Future Combat Systems Program
- DID (March 23/08) – GAO Future Combat Systems Report: 2008 Sees 2009 as a critical year.
- DID (May 22/07) – Future Combat Systems in the Crosshairs.
- DID (Feb 9/07) – USA’s $160+ Billion Future Combat Systems Restructured
- DID (Dec 21/05) – FCS Spin-Out Plans Detailed
- DID Spotlight – Have Guns, Will Upgrade: The M109A6 Paladin PIM Partnership. This is effectively the M1203’s companion program, which aims to deliver substantial upgrades to the existing M109 fleet – including a new tracked vehicle base that borrows a number of components from the M2/M3 Bradley.