New Frontiers for Raytheon’s Excalibur GPS Guided Shells
Sometimes, a basic improvement opens up entirely new opportunities. Raytheon’s one-piece M982 Excalibur rocket-boosted, GPS-guided shells are costly, but they offer the kind of accuracy that has made artillery relevant again on Small Wars battlefields. Overall accuracy is currently touted as being within 4 meters 90% of the time (3m or less CEP), and the US military recently began buying Block Ib shells. At the same time, the firm is starting to face competition from less accurate but cheaper drop-in solutions like ATK’s PGK, and the wars that propelled Excalibur sales are winding down. What to do?
Part of Raytheon’s response involves a self-funded program to create a new dual-mode GPS/ Semi-Active Laser guidance and navigation unit (GNU) for the Block Ib. Adding the ability to attack moved or moving land targets adds a lot of flexibility on the battlefield, and retains Excalibur’s unique positioning. It also creates entirely new opportunities for Raytheon at sea.
At sea, almost all targets are moving, and speed can be its own weapon for disposable attackers. 20th century engagements from Tsushima onward have demonstrated that fast boat swarms armed with torpedoes can do serious damage, especially in confined littoral waters. Modern navies have been searching for ready solutions, but to date, all have been more expensive than Excalibur shells, while offering shorter engagement ranges. Cost was the death of Raytheon’s own naval NLOS-LS ‘NETFIRES” missiles, for instance, while the firm’s cheap AGM-176 Griffin replacement has a laughable range of just 3 nautical miles. Missile-armed helicopters are the best tactical counters against fast boats, but they can’t always be in the air.
GPS-guided shells are useless in these situations, but laser targeting changes the equation. Raytheon says that Excalibur can fit standard naval 127mm (5-inch) projectile bodies, as well as the unique 155mm AGS guns on board the DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class. If testing bears that out, American cruisers and destroyers would all gain the equivalent of fully-integrated precision strike missiles with a range of over 13 nautical miles, creating a wide snap-reaction kill zone against fast attackers or surfaced submarines.
The US Navy isn’t the only fleet facing this issue, and they aren’t the only fleet who could be interested in this solution. 127mm guns are in widespread use among American allies, some of whom are already using Excalibur on land. Once Raytheon finishes testing, and gets export clearance from the American government, Excalibur could be looking at a large potential export market.
- Raytheon (June 20/13) – Raytheon unveils Excalibur with dual-mode guidance
- DID (Jan 8/13) – US Begins Ordering Excalibur Ib GPS-Guided Shells
- US Navy Fact File – MK 45 – 5-inch-gun 54/62 Caliber Guns
- BAE Systems – LRLAP 5-inch data sheet [PDF]. Co-development with Lockheed Martin to create a version that can be fired from the BAE Mk.45 127mm guns on American cruisers and destroyers. Touts a range of 53 nm.
- Think Defence – Oto Melara 127/64 LW Vulcano Naval Gun System. Oto Melara Vulcano ultra long-range rounds are offered in 127mm / 54 or 64 caliber, and also 76mm / 62 caliber naval guns. A deal with Germany’s Diehl adds dual GPS/laser guidance for 127/64 rounds, and there is talk of developing GPS/IIR guidance.