Latest updates[?]: The F-35's GAU-22/A 25mm cannon has been tested on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base, with the General Dynamics-designed weapon having been developed for both internal and external gun systems of the Joint Strike Fighter. The cannon is mounted on an external pod for the F-35B and C variants, with the Air Force's F-35A variant positioning the weapon internally. The four-barrel system allows the fighter to let loose just 180 rounds per reload, allowing for three short passes at best. That last problem featured heavily in criticism of the Air Force for floating the idea - since backtracked - that the F-35A could serve as the main ground forces protection platform. The program has been busy testing other weapons in recent weeks, including the Marines testing live JDAM bombs in early July. The Pentagon has been mulling what to include in future F-35 weapon tranches, with options including the Small Diameter Bomb II and Joint Strike Missile, as well as several others.
Grim Reapers F-35C
The $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike fighter program may well be the largest single global defense program in history. This major multinational program is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role fighter that will have 3 variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy.
This article will serve as DID’s central repository explaining and contrasting all 3 F-35 variants, detailing the fighter family’s core technologies and features, and laying out the core industrial framework whose “political engineering” has made the program almost impossible to kill. It will also summarize the core arguments that swirl around the fighter’s future capability, and provide useful background links regarding the program and its key technologies.
In February 2011, with unrest engulfing the Middle East, ATK announced a project with Jordan to turn 2 Jordanian CN-235 light transport aircraft into small aerial gunships. In June 2014, they were so pleased by the results that they decided to convert one of their larger C295s.
The aircraft pack electro-optical targeting systems that include a laser designator, aircraft self-protection equipment, and a weapons suite of Hellfire laser-guided missiles, laser-guided APKWS-II 70mm/2.75 inch rockets, and the same M230 link-fed 30mm chain gun that equips AH-64 Apache helicopters. The weapons are all controlled by ATK’s STAR mission system, turning the Airbus light transports into lethal but relatively inexpensive counter-insurgency platforms…
DID has covered a number of contracts for wheeled armored personnel carriers; in Europe, the 3 perennial combatants are GD-MOWAG’s Piranha/LAV, GD-Steyr’s Pandur II, and Patria’s Armored Modular Vehicle (AMV). Now Denel Land Systems has announced a contract from the South African government’s Armscor procurement agency to develop the South African Army’s new generation infantry combat vehicle. The “Hoefyster” program aims to produce an 8×8 wheeled APC in the 25 ton class, designed as a family of vehicles that can be equipped with various turrets and on-board options.
The Rand 8.3 billion program for 264 vehicles involves the largest single contract Denel has landed in its 16-year history, and South African companies will deliver more than 70% of the total value of the contract. The other 30% will be delivered by Finland’s Patria Oyj, whose amphibious AMV will be Project Hoefyster’s base vehicle…
Sometimes, 5.56mm just isn’t going to get the job done – and neither will any other standard rifle caliber. Shoulder fired rockets are heavy, which limits carrying capacity, and can’t fill all needs with their warheads. That’s why most militaries use reloadable 40mm grenade launchers as key supplemental firepower for their infantry squads, while leveraging the round’s array of special-purpose ammunition types.
HK’s M320 seems set to become the US Army’s new under-weapon/ hand-held 40mm grenade launcher. The M320A1 fits on the Army’s M4 or HK’s HK416, while the M320 fits M16 rifles. They appear to be the M203’s successor in the US Army and associated Reserve or Guard units, and like their predecessor, M320s attach or detach from a rifle with no special tools required. Unlike their slightly lighter predecessors, the double-action M320s include a side-loading breach for longer 40mm grenade types, instead of the M203’s slide-forward-to-load operation. An optional day/night sight, and a handheld laser rangefinder for the grenadier, make the system more accurate, as do mechanical sights that maintain their zero via direct mounting on the launcher, instead of the rifle. If required, a detachable sliding buttstock quickly converts the M320 from an under-weapon addition to a single-purpose “bloop tube.”
In 2006 GD was contracted to repackage A-10 ammo for AC-130 Gunships. As is so often the case, there’s a story behind the story. The USA’s fearsome AC-130U “Spooky” Hercules gunships were having their old 40mm Bofors cannons and 25mm GAU-12 gatling guns removed, and replaced with ATK’s 30mm MK44 autocannons.
It didn’t go very well. In the end, accuracy and operational needs trumped standardization, and the 40mm and 25mm guns had to go back in…
In June 2009, Chile’s formal request to buy a variety of artillery-related systems and equip a new mechanized artillery battalion was cleared by the US state Department, and allowed to go forward. The request centered on BAE’s M109 tracked self-propelled howitzer, but it also includes necessities like shells, tracking radars, and accompanying personnel carriers. Chile already operates the M109 self-propelled howitzer, and this order could double its available fleet, to a total of 48.
Chile’s current stock of 24 M109s are the KAWEST version, which were upgraded by Switzerland’s RUAG and sold to Chile at the end of 2004 (Cooperativa.cl, in Spanish). The Swiss upgrades included an L47 gun with 27 km/ 36 km assisted range and 3-round burst capability over 15 seconds, 6 crew members instead of 8, carriage of 40 rounds and 64 charges, improved electrical systems, an integrated inertial navigation and positioning system, day and night capability, and added protection against fire, nuclear EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse radiation), and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) threats.
June 24/11: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Morocco’s official request to buy 8 AN/MPQ-64F1 Improved Sentinel radars, 8 M1152 HMMWV Sentinel transports, 8 accompanying AN/VRC-92E SINCGARS Vehicular Dual Long-Range System Radios, plus Sentinel Software, HMMWV support equipment, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and U.S. Government and contractor support.
The DSCA says that “The Government of Morocco is modernizing its armed forces and expanding its air defense architecture.” They could certainly use that…
US Marines deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan face numerous hazards in close-combat urban environments. Certainly, small arms fire and fragments from IED explosions are high on the list. To lessen those risks, the USMC turned to BAE Systems to develop a transparent, bulletproof shield that can be attached to gun turrets on a number of types of armored vehicles.
It is called the Marine Corps Transparent Armor Gun Shield (MCTAGS), and BAE Systems received a contract in 2005 to develop and produce MCTAGS to replace the Gunner’s Protection Kit used on most USMC armored vehicles.
Latest updates: BAE’s PAS-13 thermal sight to be part of the fire control system.
The infantry soldier is the center of gravity in current wars, and improvements to the individual soldier’s equipment and firepower overmatch often provide most bang for the buck to militaries wishing to make a difference on the ground. They’re not high profile purchases, however, which often creates neglect and delays. 40mm grenade weapons are an obvious choice, given their area suppression abilities and versatile ammunition. Grenade Machine Guns go beyond 1-shot rifle attachments and even beyond multi-shot weapons like the M-32/MSGL, providing medium-range, area effect firepower that decisively beats other infantry weapons within its reach.
The Americans have deployed 40mm GMGs from the outset of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly General Dynamics’ Mk19. That inventory is modernizing, as the USA has begun buying General Dynamics’ new STRIKER 40, with programmed airburst features. Others have been slower. Britain addressed this gap back in 2006, when it began ordering Heckler & Koch GMG systems to equip its Royal Marines. Canada has been much slower to react, but 8 years after its troops entered Afghanistan, the Close Area Suppression Weapon (CASW) project aims to give Canadians the same options that other militaries already enjoy…
Latest updates: Improved 5.56mm; New production facility opening.
81mm mortar (click to view larger)
A weapon without ammunition is useless, which is why ammunition is almost always a strategic national capability whose production must remain in-country. On the other hand, government demand has a tendency to swing up and down within narrow limits, and the demands of efficiency usually lead to a single supplier situation – often using equipment that dates back to World War 2. The USA has run into problems because of its reliance on a single small arms ammunition plant, for instance, and has moved to modernize and diversify its base. Its ally Australia is modernizing key ammunition facilities, and trying to modernize its industrial approach as well.
Then there’s Britain, whose long-term defense contracting practices are establishing world-class benchmarks. The UK MoD had been working on an arrangement that secures national supply needs from British sources, and ensures that modernization investments continues to improve industrial efficiency. Hence the new 15-year, GBP 2+ billion “Munitions Acquisition Supply Solution” (MASS) program, inaugurated in August 2008.