Lots Riding on V-22 Osprey
The V-22 Osprey has attracted both praise and criticism during its long journey through development toward front-line deployment. Its characteristics have also had an impact on other weapons programs being developed for use with the aircraft. This article deals with two of those programs being developed to help strengthen the USMC’s badly eroded artillery capabilities.
One is the $74 million Internally Transported Vehicle (ITV) program; the United States Marine Corps says testing on American Growler, Inc’s vehicle is on track. The ITV – often incorrectly identified as the “Growler” – fits in the narrow belly of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The Marine Corps eventually expects to field about 600 to 700 of the two-ton, $120,000-a-copy tow trucks if they are accepted for fielding. ITVs will be delivered in two basic configurations: a Light Strike Variant (LSV), designed for Marine Corps infantry and reconnaissance battalions; and, the Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) Prime Mover (PM), designed to tow the EFSS 120mm rifled mortar and the EFSS ammunition trailer. A decision to field them should be made by October 2007, a Marine Corps spokesman said.
EFSS commenced spiral acquisition with the award of the program to GD-OTS in October 2004. On November 10, 2004, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD-OTS) was awarded a contract for the development of a weapons system transportable to the field within the V-22 Osprey. The contract had an initial value of $18 million and a total value of approximately $300 million (including ammunition) if all options are exercised.
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems will play the prime contractor role for the EFSS program. They are cooperating with General Dynamics Canada for the EFSS ballistic fire control computers, Tec-Masters for integrated and contractor logistics support, and the Thales-EADS Deutschland joint venture TDA Armaments SAS for their RT 120 Rifled Mortar System and ammunition. The November 2004 contract includes options for initial production and fielding that potentially could raise its value to approximately $300 million.
The EFSS weapon system will consist of 2 tow vehicles, the RT 120 “Dragon Fire” rifled mortar, and an ammunition trailer. One vehicle will tow the RT 120 mortar, and the second vehicle will tow an ammunition trailer which holds up 36 mortar rounds in factory-recyclable steel containers. The RT 120 is a French-designed 120 mm mortar that can fire smoothbore or rifled ammunition. It has a range of 8.2 km/ 5 miles, or 17 km/ 10 miles with rocket assisted projectiles currently under development. The MO 120 RT is currently in service with the French Army and other 23 armies worldwide, including 3 NATO countries.
The vehicles are manufactured by American Growler, Inc. of Robbins, North Carolina. The company moved its 40-employee facility from Ocala, Florida to North Carolina in early 2007 to begin building test vehicles for the program. Currently the Marine Corps is in the final stages of testing 16 ITVs already purchased, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Jeff Landis said.
EFSS represents the short-range leg of a “triad” of weapons that comprise the Marine Corps land-based fire support capability.
The medium-range leg is the BAE M777A2 air transportable 155mm howitzer. The lightweight 155mm howitzer is a joint British/US effort that uses titanium to bring its weight in at just 3,745 kg/ 8,240 pounds – 7,000 pounds less than the 155mm M198 howitzer it replaces. Maximum firing range is 25 km/ 15 miles with unassisted rounds, and 30 km/ 18 miles with rocket-assisted rounds, about the same as the M198.
In July 2004, the M777A1 successfully completed a series of tests with the V-22, where it was carried as an external load for a distance of 69 nautical miles. The A2 version is the same except for a software update that enables the howitzer to program and fire the M982 Excalibur GPS-guided shell. Excalibur gives the M777A2 howitzer a maximum range of 40km with accuracy on target within 10 meters.
On March 24, 2005 BAE Systems was awarded a $834 million contract for the full rate production of the M777 light weight 155mm howitzer. Under this contract, BAE will manufacture 495 howitzers to be delivered to the US Marine Corps Air Ground Task Forces and the US Army Stryker Interim Brigades from 2005 until 2009. The M777A2 version of the howitzer will be the version issued to all U.S. Army and USMC units, and previously-equipped M777A1 howitzer units will receive a software upgrade to bring their systems to A2 standard.
M777s will eventually replace all USMC cannon systems; ultimately, the USMC expects to procure 380 tubes and the US Army 273. Britain will also deploy the weapon, and a small number of M777A1s are currently serving with Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.
The long-range leg of the triad is the Highly Mobile Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), a smaller, truck mounted version of the M270 MLRS. Its launcher can mount a 6-pack of 227mm GPS-guided M30 rockets with a 70 km/ 42 mile reach, new P44 four-mode guided rockets that can hit moving targets from similar ranges, or 1 ATACMS missile with a 300 km/ 180 mile range.
In other words, the system provides enhanced firepower and range to satisfy General Support, General Support Reinforcing, and Reinforcing artillery roles. HIMARS is intended to provide the MAGTF commander a very mobile set of medium to long range artillery support throughout the battlefield, restricting the enemy’s options while offering flexibility for the commander, and adding weight to the main attack or other points of emphasis. HIMARS can be employed as a battalion or battery, depending on the tactical situation.
At 12 tons, the HIMARS exceeds the V-22’s cargo hook capacity limit of 15,000 pound/ 6,804 kg limit for external cargo. Movement into theater will be by aircraft, including C-130 Hercules tactical transports, and by amphibious shipping. Movement in theater will be by road. HIMARS is being produced by Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control and mounted on Armor Holdings’ 5-ton capacity FMTV trucks. The US Marines plan to field 38 HIMARS, with 24 already under contract; total US procurement is expected to reach 900, and HIMARS has also been purchased by the UAE.
(Story effort also by Nat Helms)
Additional Readings & Sources
- NAVAIR V-22 Program Office
- DID (Oct 4/07) – V-22 Osprey: A Flying Shame? In the wake of TIME Magazine’s cover article, DID looks into a far more detailed set of allegations concerning Osprey testing and capabilities, and invites NAVAIR to respond.
- Global Security – Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV) High Mobility Weapons Platform
- Global Security – Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS)
- Thales Land & Joint Systems – Expeditionary Fire Support System [PDF format]
- Deagel.com – MO 120 RT
- Army Technology – M777A1 155m Ultralightweight Field Howitzer, United Kingdom
- BAE Systems (July 25/07) – M777 Lightweight Howitzer Update Gives More Range And Accuracy. Describes the minor modifications that make up the M777A2, which will be the fielded version.
- Armed Forces Journal (October 2007) – The Case for Cannons. “In May, soldiers from the Army’s 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, fired two XM982 Excalibur precision-guided, extended-range 155mm artillery rounds that consecutively penetrated the roof of a single house known to be a terrorist haven in the northern region of Baghdad…”
- Army Technology – HIMARS High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, USA
- USA Today (Dec 28/05) – Corps pays $100K for retooled jeep
- DID (March 28/05) – $834 Million for Ultra-Lightweight M777A1 Howitzers
- GD-OTS (Nov 22/04) – General Dynamics Awarded Contract for New Marine Corps Expeditionary Weapon System
- Thales (Nov 22/04) – Major success in the United States: TDA to supply weapon system for US Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fire Support System. Thales estimates that the total value of TDA’s share could be EUR 80 million if all EFSS contract options are exercised.