The U.S. Marine Corps sees the 120mm Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) mortar as the 3rd leg of its expeditionary fire support triad. EFSS will be the short-range but easily transportable counterpart to the reduced-weight M777 155mm towed howitzer, and the truck-mounted M142 HIMARS rocket system.
Accompanying Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) in expeditionary operations, EFSS will be the heliborne Ship-To-Objective Maneuver (STOM) force’s primary fire support, before the larger and longer range systems can move into position. As such, the EFSS launcher, its Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV) carrier, a portion of the basic load of ammunition, and a portion of its crew, must all be transportable by a single CH-53E Super Stallion or future CH-53K heavy lift helicopter, and/or a single MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The program’s path has not been smooth, and its vehicle choice in particular has come in for criticism, as it heads toward full-rate production.
Unmanned drones for aerial surveillance are routine now. UAV systems that can use weapons are also routine. What isn’t routine yet is cargo resupply, but the Marines were asking for it in Afghanistan. That’s no easy task, since the country’s geography really hates helicopters. Can a helicopter UAV handle Afghanistan’s high altitude terrain, and show that it has what it takes to get its cargo exactly where it needs to go? The Marines thought so. Adm. Bill Shannon, NAVAIR Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, says:
“We are trying to get this much needed capability to the warfighter as quickly as possible… By evaluating two different systems, we have the ability to accelerate development of technology and use it immediately to support the warfighter while maintaining competition.”
From its inception, the competition has been a battle between Lockheed Martin’s larger-capacity but shorter-endurance K-MAX, and Boeing’s quiet, ultra long-endurance A160T Hummingbird. K-MAX won, and the Marines’ cargo UAV experiment began. It’s still going.
ITAS (improved target acquisition system) was originally designed to provide an advanced fire control system for the TOW anti-armor missile, significantly increasing target detection, acquisition, recognition and engagement ranges. It also offers upgraded hardware for a 30-year old system, as electronics have a rapid turnover cycle and some of its parts were no longer in production. An October 4, 2006 Raytheon release notes that the new 5-year contract continues Army procurement of the systems, and marks the start of U.S. Marine Corps ITAS acquisition.
This DID Spotlight Article provides more information about TOW-ITAS and its uses in battle, which have broadened beyond missile guidance to some roles its designers hadn’t expected. Production resumed in 2005, and the program picked up a 2007 award from the US DoD.
The fate of a nearly-new British amphibious support ship, RFA Largs Bay, was all about timing.
Britain commissioned 4 of the 176m long, 16,200t Bay Class LSD amphibious ships to renew a very run-down capability. The new “Alternative Landing Ship Logistic” ships were built from the same base Enforcer template that produced the successful Dutch Rotterdam and Johann de Witt, and the Spanish Galicia Class. Britain ordered 4 of these ALSL/LSD-A ships into its Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and active use began with RFA Largs Bay’s commissioning in 2006. The ships’ combination of large internal spaces, a well deck for fast ship-to-shore offloading, and onboard helicopters make them potent assets in military and civil situations. By 2011, however, Britain’s fiscal situation was so dire that a strategic review marked RFA Largs Bay for decommissioning. The ship had sailed for just a fraction of its 30+ year service life, which was bad timing for Britain.
Others saw the situation as excellent timing. Especially Australia. They won the tender, and then went on to add a combination of leased, bought, and borrowed vessels to fill in for the RAN’s suddenly-unserviceable amphibious fleet. That hasty collection will have to do, until their new Canberra Class LHDs arrive in mid-decade.
H-3 Sea Kings are used in a variety of roles by the Royal Navy and RAF, from the transport of Royal Marines (Mk 4, Mk 6CR), to search & rescue (Mk 3/3A and Mk 5), Airborne Early Warning (Mk 7), and classic utility roles. These medium helicopters are known for their ability to float, for their ability to fly though icing conditions, and for stability and fine control. One interesting TV show had a Sea King SAR helicopter maneuver its rescue crewman into position, then hover in place while he poured champagne into a glass that was held steady by the TV host on the ground.
Britain’s Sea Kings have been updated with some frequency, and are projected to remain in service until 2016. Many will be replaced by Agusta-Westland’s Merlin helicopter, a variant of the AW101. Until then, these old helicopters need to be maintained, and the Ministry of Defence needed a way to keep the cost under control. Hence the Sea King Integrated Operational Support program (SKIOS).
When reading about modern body armor one often hears about small arms protective inserts (SAPI) or Enhanced SAPI (ESAPI) ceramic plate inserts. While these inserts are more fragile than past generations of inserts, they offer a significant improvement over their 1990s predecessors in terms of both weight and protection. After episodic issues with production ramp-up and quality control, this gear is widely fielded with the US Army and several allied militaries. The US Marines replaced it with the MTV. The Army itself has introduced the Improved OTV. Privately developed body armors like Blackwater Gear were also present in theater. All of these designs rely on a “vest and plates” approach that uses a similar set of inserts to give the vests most of their bullet-stopping power.
This DID spotlight article covers the USA’s purchases in this area from mid-2004 to the end of 2012.
The US Marines have been using the M249 5.56mm light machine gun since 1984. Many were worn from use, and at 15-17 pounds empty, these belt-fed weapons are rather heavy. They can be more hindrance than help in some of the close-quarters urban warfare situations dominating current battlefields, especially since they have a reputation of jamming more often than standard rifles.
Their initial 2005 FedBizOps.com solicitation for an “Infantry Automatic Rifle” (IAR) wanted two big things. First, the gun had to fire from either the open or closed bolt position. This would give it the single-shot and “first through the door” capabilities that the M249 lacks, while allowing for more sustained fire than an M16 can handle without risking ammunition “cook off” in a heated barrel. It also had to be considerably lighter than the M249, at just 12.5 pounds maximum and 10.5 pounds desired weight. In exchange, the Marines decided they were willing to trade the SAW’s belt-fed design for switchable 30 round magazines, which are used up much more quickly but can be changed in battle much more quickly.
The result was not a true light machine gun, but something in between an LMG and an assault rifle. That shift in the 13-man Marine squad has its advocates and detractors. DID offers more background concerning the USMC’s IAR contenders, contracts… and controversy.
In September 2012, Beretta USA Corp. in Accokeek, MD received a 5-year, $64 million firm-fixed-price contract for up to 100,000 of their M9 9mm Pistols. All of the pistols will be manufactured at the Beretta USA facility in Maryland, where an American work force of nearly 300 employees has been making M9 pistols since 1987, and will now continue doing so until Sept 8/17. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 4 bids received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command in Warren, MI manages this contract (W56HZV-12-D-0011). Beretta USA adds that:
“We are very proud to continue supplying the M9 pistols to the U.S. Army… and we look forward to the opportunity of working with the Army to improve the current M9 design with many of the existing solutions available to us in the new Model 92A1 [USMC] and 96A1 pistol families”.
Beretta’s M9 is the standard sidearm pistol for the US military, with over 600,000 pistols delivered to date. SOCOM operators can use other pistols, and the US Marines’ MARSOC special forces formally decided to go back to the stopping power of Colt’s .45 caliber pistol in July 2012. Even so, Colt will need to fix some of the guns’ failures if they want wider adoption in the Corps.
The MK7 MOD 2 Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System (APOBS) is used to clear mines or wire obstacles, and create a safe footpath for troops. APOBS can be carried by 2 people, takes 30 to 120 seconds to be set up, and fires a rocket from a 25-meter standoff position, sending a line charge with fragmentation grenades over the minefields or wire obstacles. The grenades clear the mines, and sever the wires. Developed by the US Army Armaments Engineering and Technology Center in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, APOBS won a US Army top military inventions of the year award in 2004. It replaces the Bangalore Torpedo, which was heavier, took longer to set up, and required 4 times the number of people to carry.
In 2006, small business qualifier Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense Co. in Simsbury, CT received a maximum $150.8 million, 5-year contract for up to 3,000 units. In 2011, however, the Army/USMC contract shifted to Chemring Ordnance, Inc. in Perry, FL…
In August 2012, the US DSCA announced [PDF] Brazil’s official request to buy 26 Assault Amphibious Vehicles with Reliability, Availability and Maintainability/ Rebuild to Standard modifications (AAV RAM/RS), including ancillary equipment and machine guns. The Brazilians will also upgrade their existing fleet to the RAM/RS configuration, along with associated weapons and ammunition, spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools and test equipment, and other U.S. Government and contractor support.
About 10 militaries still use the AAV7, or pre-1984 LVTP variants…