Home » Budget Industry » Pentagon: New Rounds For Old Guns Could Change Missile Defense for Navy, Army


Pentagon: New Rounds For Old Guns Could Change Missile Defense for Navy, Army

USS Shoup (DDG 86) fires a MK 45 5-inch gun during a live fire exercise during Rim of the Pacific 2016. US Navy Photo

USS Shoup (DDG 86) fires a MK 45 5-inch gun during a live fire exercise during Rim of the Pacific 2016. US Navy Photo

The Pentagon’s office tasked with tweaking existing and developing military technology for new uses is pushing development of ammo meant for the electromagnetic railgun for use in existing naval guns and artillery pieces.

The initiative will recast existing weapons as potential air defense platforms through a change in ammunition.

About year and a half ago, researchers at the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office and inside the service realized that there was more short-term promise for not only the Navy but the Army to use the Hyper Velocity Projectiles (HVP) rounds overseen by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in both services existing powder guns, said SCO head William Roper said last week.

“To me they were just interesting test articles a few years ago, but thanks to that service input and us funding some high-risk demonstration we now think that we can do pretty revolutionary things with existing powder guns – think howitzers, Paladins, the Navy’s five-inch guns. We’ve shifted emphasis to that,” Roper said during a Wednesday talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“Not that we’re not interested in railgun –we are – but if you look at the delta between fielding in quantity – we have [more than] a 1,000 powder guns, we have very few railguns.”
Last year, Naval Sea Systems Command told USNI News it was interested in taking the HVP being developed for the railgun and using the round with its Mk 45 deck guns found on its guided missiles cruisers and destroyers.

A range of hyper velocity projectiles from different weapon systems. BAE Systems Image

A range of hyper velocity projectiles from different weapon systems. BAE Systems Image

The HVPs can theoretically fired from the Mk 45 at Mach 3 – faster than the speed of a conventional unguided round but slower than one from a railgun. The Army plans similar testing with its 155 mm M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers with the HVP.

“Capabilities in development would enable larger caliber guns to launch HVPs at air and missile threats over medium ranges (10–30 nautical miles),” read a May report on air and missiles from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA).

The use of the powder guns as the first HVP platform changes the order of how the Pentagon originally thought of how the HVP and railgun programs would evolve.

An artist's conception of BAE Systems' Hyper Velocity Projectile. BAE Systems Image

An artist’s conception of BAE Systems’ Hyper Velocity Projectile. BAE Systems Image

“The railgun was initially a surface-to-surface weapon and we in the Navy realized that it was more useful for air defense. Then the realization came that you can use that same projectile in a powered gun and achieve a lot of the same effects that you were trying to achieve with the railgun,” Bryan Clark co-author of the CSBA report told USNI News last week.
“It gives you the speed – though not as fast – it gives you enough speed to use it in an air defense type of application.”

At the moment, the Army and the Navy both rely on missiles to intercept both ballistic and cruise missiles that can cost in the tens of millions of dollars but have ranges of hundreds of miles.

Comparatively, according to the CSBA study, the guided HVP round from a powder gun or a railgun could range from $25,000 to 50,000 at ranges of 30 miles.

M109A6 Paladin howitzers are seen under a cloudy sky at the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment motor pool at Fort Hood, Texas on March 22, 2013. US Army Photo

M109A6 Paladin howitzers are seen under a cloudy sky at the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment motor pool at Fort Hood, Texas on March 22, 2013. US Army Photo

The SCO-led research effort will work to create HVP sensor and a fire control regime that will find its way eventually to the railgun project, Roper said.
“So when the railgun is ready to field it will be able to just be dropped in place as a better launcher as opposed to being a great technology that we have to build a new architecture for,” he said.
“We’re going to take the bet and let’s see if we can field this and let’s completely flip the paradigm of missile defense.”

The HVP-powder gun initiatives is one of several projects of the SCO (pronounced Sk-Oh) – the years-old office that was only recently publicized by the Pentagon as part of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s push to emphasize high technology programs. Carter said the SCO’s mission was to “confound potential opponents.”

In addition to the HVP work, the SCOs more than 20 projects in the last several years include modifying the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) into a supersonic anti-surface weapon.

  • Curtis Conway

    This is how our development dollars should be spent. One technology, with multiple aspects and applications across all services, that can be employ a sabot to come out of most any gun, to do most everything within 30 nm. Success will almost immediately turn hundreds (potentially thousands) of tubes across all services into versatile solutions to most any problem. A problem I see is the system updates to the various software packages.

    • Colin Campbell

      I’m wondering about gun tube wear. In order to get those speeds they’ll need a propellant that burns faster and hotter. The army and navy may need to create a strategic stockpile f replacement gun tubes.

      • Secundius

        Ahead of you on that one, just about to post answer!/? Normal Barrel Wear is between a Minimum 1,500-rounds and Maximum 3,000-rounds. New Gun Propellant uses EX-99 Propellant, which extended Barrel Wear to 8,000-rounds. Missile Propellant Doesn’t Burn as Hot as Gun Propellant, so effects are Minimal. All the Gun Tube serves as a Launching and Aiming Mechanism. And Gun Tube Rifling, Imparts Spin to Projectile (Missile) for Greater Accuracy…

      • Curtis Conway

        With propulsion and guidance taking a greater role in the employment of this weapon type, I predict that barrel life will be extended. I could be wrong, but my estimation is the use of sabot technology will extend the life of the tubes.

  • Secundius

    The Problem isn’t that the Technology EXISTS, but the FUNDING Associated WITH the Technology. US Congress, is going to be Reluctant to Spend for Ten of Thousands of Rounds if there NEVER Used…

    • NavySubNuke

      1. *they’re as in “they are” —- not “there” as in “over there”
      Normally I’m not a grammar guy but I felt compelled to point this out since you just posted this: “You would think after so many years, that they would have “Actually” learned by now that most of the People on the USNI News Website. Actually Have Working Brains. Spelling is a Separate Issue…”
      2. Congress buys tons and tons of munitions every years – they won’t have a problem buying these especially if the Navy shows they can shoot down an incoming missile with a $30K bullet rather than a $1M+ missile.

      • Secundius

        Training Small Arms Ammunition ALONE, amounts to ~1.6-Billion Round per Year. But at ~3 cents per round that affordable. It NOT Affordable on the ~$25-K to ~$50-K per Round. In WW2 we (the USA) USED more ammunition in ONE DAY than we USE in One Year by 2016 Standards…

        • NavySubNuke

          Nonsense – the newest 120MM round – the M829A4 costs $10K per round. M982 Excalibur rounds cost about $68K per shot.
          Contrast that with guided missiles which cost over $1M per shot or even a JDAM kit which costs about $25K per bomb and I don’t really see why congress would have a problem buying these – certainly not based on a price per round of $40K to start.

          • Secundius

            JDAM Kit’s may Cost ~$25-K per Kit, but the 500# their Attacked to probably 1/100th the Cost. Because most were Manufactured in the 1950’s. But EVEN the M982 Excalibur, can be used against other Naval Ships…

          • NavySubNuke

            That’s actually not true any longer – we ran out of those a few years ago and started buying new build Mk-8X series bombs.
            But the reason we had so many Mk-8x’s lying around is because congress has no problem buying thousands of bombs/missiles/bullets — which further erodes your stated position.

          • Secundius

            I don’t know is Mk-8x is a Typo? But ~ cost for Mk.82 500# Dumb Bomb is ~$2.5-K per Bomb. I Stand Corrected…

          • NavySubNuke

            In this case the “x” can stand for any digit 1-4 since the Mk-80 series of bombs ranges from Mk-81 (250 lbs) to the Mk-84 (2000 lbs).

          • Secundius

            NONE of the Armed Helicopters I Maintained in the ’70’s were EVEN capable of Carrying Mk.8x Dumb and/or Smart Bombs. Unless Rolling them Out the Back of a CH-47C Chinook, COUNTS…

          • NavySubNuke

            If rolling them out the back gives them enough rotation to arm the fuze and detonate on impact than I think it counts 🙂

          • Secundius

            Probably not. But the way a Chinook takes flight, it would have gone through the Cockpit First…

          • Secundius

            Small Arms Training Ammunition is usually of Bore Diameters of 40mm or Less…

  • USNVO

    They really need to get their numbers straight. A 70lb 5in/54 projectile with a full service charge has a muzzle velocity of roughly 2700fps or Mach 2.4 or so significantly more than half of the reported Mach 3 (roughly 3300fps at sea level) of a HVP. It is not like the speed of sound or the muzzle velocity of a MK45 is some great secret.

    • Secundius

      You would think after so many years, that they would have “Actually” learned by now that most of the People on the USNI News Website. Actually Have Working Brains. Spelling is a Separate Issue…

  • life form

    Sam, you post a lot of interesting stuff. Thanks.

  • Colin

    Unless the projectile is self propelled, the recoil impulse is going to destroy the gun.

  • Lazarus

    The rail gun’s barrel life is insufficient for use as an AAW weapon. Existing gums don’t achieve hyper muzzle velocity and rail gun rounds so not a good choice for a powder weapon. Current threat ASCM kinematics are hard enough for SM 6 to beat, let alone an unmaneuverable gun round. Sounds like a waste of $$&, time and effort better spent in bringing the rail gun to IOC.

    • USNVO

      Barrel Life? Really, how many rounds do you think they are firing? They are obviously talking about guided rounds using hit to kill. Note that they specifically talk about the HVP sensor and fire control, so the logical individual would think terminal homing and getting the terminal round into the target basket.

      The problem is actually way easier than an SM-6. Let’s assume some type of IR sensor with mid course guidance to get the round into the engagement basket, which seems the most likely. Mach3+ launch provides all the speed you need to conduct intercept at least to the horizon at Mach2+, there is no fuzing issues, no multi-pathing issues, no warhead timing issues, no director scheduling, etc. Just a 15lb guided projectile hitting the inbound ASCM and doing it dirt cheap with a weapon already on the ship.

      Add a railgun, and now you can do it even further, say 200nm at a fraction of SM-6 cost and size. Use rocket terminal maneuvering similar to THAAD, and you can do it in space as well.

    • Byron G.

      Article says “guided munition”.

  • Bad Penguin

    Great, Another $50 round to kill a $3k truck.

    • Secundius

      How Much Ammunition was Spent to Shoot Down a Single $80-K Mitsubishi Zero “Kamikaze…

      • Fred Baumann

        Where can I buy a $3K truck??!?

        • Secundius

          Try “Auto Trader”…

  • Colin Campbell

    I wonder if anybody’s thought about adapting the M-256 gun for air/missile defense?

    • Secundius

      Conventual M831A1 Practice Tracer Round has Anti-Aircraft Capabilities and Rheinmetall GmbH is experimenting with a Missile/Barrel Launch System. At the Moment its a matter of Missile Size…

  • john

    Is this round guided or unguided? If unguided they will seldom hit a target moving at mach 1 due to environmental fluctuations in wind, humidity, etc. Take all of the money being spent on this program and put it into solid state fiber optic laser research. MW lasers cannot arrive quick enough for the US military. And when they do how does anyone break down the missile defense? 100 ms per target, 100K Kelvin temperature inside the missile, four targets per second. A MW laser will cut through four feet of one inch plate steel a second. Metallic plasma is going everywhere. The missile will just melt. Better yet put the thing on a B-21 bomber and get rid of stealth. At 40,000 feet there is little moisture and little atmosphere. That MW laser will be able to destroy AA missiles at hundreds of kilometers. It would also do the same thing to aircraft.

    • USNVO

      Obviously they are talking about a guided round using hit to kill. If the round can survive the impulse of firing at Mach 3+, which doesn’t seem to be a concern, then making the same average speed of Mach 2 of the ESSM to a similiar range seems achievable, and it could be done at a fraction of the cost (no warhead, no fuze, no motor, no director/illuminator, etc). Plus, it can be easily integrated into the GFCS and utilize existing magazines, gun systems, etc.

    • Byron G.

      in the article, it refers to a “guided munition”.

  • Glenn Sebolt

    I can’t imagine this has an alternative for Army and/or Marine Artillery. Consider the space these munitions would take up in their various ammunition carriers and Self Propelled Howitzer Cabs which would lesson the space typically used for High Explosive, Smoke, Illumination Rounds, Improved Conventional Munitions, etc which actually serve a everyday purpose. Would the idea then be to install some version of a stationary Coastal Defense Artillery along our coasts? You couldn’t station them at locations such as Fort Sill, Fort Hood, Fort Ord, etc as the range would be far to great to be realistic. Seems you would have to have some kind of Fire Control Radar as well and where would these come from? I suspect Counter-Fire Radar’s currently employed may not be able to do the job so what then? Would you install ground based Aegis Systems? There might be some role on a limited basis for Artillery Direct Fire in an anti armor role but the Army last I knew was practicing that on a limited basis using High Explosive Rounds but that being said there might be a role here that is usefull depending on what may or may not be an adverse effect of the entire gun systems to incluse the traverse and aiming systems.

  • Byron G.

    Brilliant. Do it !