WASHINGTON — The Army is using internal development and small-business ideas to figure out how to fire artillery faster, exploring every facet from how projectiles are stored all the way to automated reloading.
Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, who is in charge of Long-Range Precision Fires modernization, told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference that he is “a little bit embarrassed” to describe to innovative small companies how the Army handles ammunition in an artillery battalion, realizing that the process hasn’t changed in over 50 years.
“When you evaluate the amount of time and man hours these soldiers doing these tasks, one-by-one unbanding projectiles and inspecting them one-by-one, inventorying them one-by-one,” Rafferty said. “What if we could automate some of those tasks? And then how much more effective that unit would be in its operational mission, if those soldiers were preparing for the next mission, were doing reconnaissance, were sleeping, eating, doing maintenance, point security,” Rafferty said. “Would that unit be available for missions rather than be out because it has to resupply?”
The Army has teed up three lines of effort to tackle the entire chain of handling ammunition, loading and reloading in order to fire faster.
While capability garnered from these efforts could feed into current weapons, they will also be incorporated into the Extended Range Cannon Artillery system that the service is planning to deliver to the force in 2023, according to Rafferty.
That programs aims to increase the range and lethality of artillery, but will also have an increased rate of fire.
While the Army is busy determining which operational units will first get the new weapon, and how many of them, officials are also reconfiguring the existing architecture of its original prototype autoloader “to get one that’s a little bit easier to integrate but reducing the capacity,” Rafferty said.
The design effort for that is “on track” at the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, he said. “We’ll see a demonstration of that capability next year.”
The second line of effort is being managed out of Army Futures Command’s Army Applications Lab which turned to small business innovators to figure out a way to increase the rate of fire of self-propelled howitzers.
Through the lab, the Army launched the program using a Small Business Innovation Research-based (SIBR) Special Program Awards for Required Technology Needs (SPARTN) contracting mechanism.
The program is in the solicitation phase, Rafferty said, but seeks to attract small business to come in and map the interior process of the Howitzer and figure out where automation can be applied to help improve the rate of fire in other ways besides the autoloader the Army is developing internally.
The Army anticipates closing the solicitation phase over the next six weeks, Rafferty said, with a plan to select up to 15 small businesses to develop concepts over a short period of time. The service would then down-select to a smaller number to go into