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The Army has accelerated purchasing a high-tech artillery shell that can be fired from 14 miles away yet explode within 30 feet of its target to avoid civilian casualties, USA Today reported Monday.

An urgent request from commanders in Iraq for more accurate artillery to reduce civilian deaths prompted the Army to speed production of the Excalibur shells, according to the Government Accountability Office. In May, the Army awarded an $85 million contract to buy Excaliburs — the most ever spent for the shells, USA Today wrote.

The need for precise weapons was underscored by Friday’s airstrikes in Afghanistan by the U.S.-led coalition that President Hamid Karzai said killed at least 89 civilians, the paper reported. The coalition has acknowledged civilian casualties and said it would investigate.

One Excalibur shell can destroy targets that would require dozens of conventional rounds. The Excalibur uses Global Positioning System signals to home in on targets, while traditional shells are aimed in a general direction, USA Today noted.

Excalibur shells cost $89,000 per round, compared with $300 for a conventional 155 mm shell, the paper wrote.

Soldiers fired the first Excalibur shells in Iraq in May 2007 to root out insurgents from Baqouba in volatile Diyala province, according to the report. Better accuracy means the shells can be fired within 50 yards of friendly troops, a critical concern when infantrymen come under sniper fire in urban areas.

At least seven Excalibur rounds have been fired in Afghanistan, the Army told USA Today.


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