GPS-guided artillery shoot at Grafenwöhr draws international interest
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 28, 2015
VILSECK, Germany — American soldiers here are testing a new fuse with a guidance system that both increases accuracy and decreases the risk that errant rounds will detonate.
It’s the first time U.S. troops in Germany have used the shells, which are mounted with the M1156 precision guidance kit. The testing, which began Thursday, continues Tuesday. It is being conducted by Artillerymen from the 173rd Airborne and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. Representatives of several foreign militaries observed the training on Thursday and Friday.
“Circular error probable is the measure we use for the accuracy of artillery,” said Army Lt. Col. Anthony Gibbs, product manager for guided precision munitions and mortar systems. “With this fuse, we’re able to take that from a couple hundred meters, roughly, down to a 50-meter circle.”
The M1156 precision guidance kit with which the fuses are equipped includes a global positioning system and fins to steer the shell.
An artillery shell fitted with a regular fuse will land where only it’s aimed. A PGK-equipped shell has the ability to pick up a GPS signal and make minute corrections while in flight so it can land much closer to the target, effectively turning an unguided round into a smart shell.
“It does not arm if it’s going to fall a certain distance from the target,” he said. “Basically, draw a circle around the target. If it’s outside of that circle the round will not arm and the round will not go off. It allows us to limit collateral damage in the target area.”
This capability has piqued the interest of several NATO member nations, including Germany, which had representatives observing the test fire at Vilseck on Thursday and Friday. Army officials at the range said they hoped to garner even more attention in October, when they’re scheduled to run another test of this new fuse, this time on a German weapons platform system.
While attention-grabbing, the PGK fuses come with a price. Army Col. Willie Coleman said the new GPS-enabled fuses cost less than $10,000 apiece.
The Army uses a variety of “dumb” fuses, each with their own price point. One of the most common — the multi-option fuse costs approximately $500 each, said Tim Rider, a spokesman for the Picatinny Arsenal, the research and development group that manages much of the U.S. military’s ammunition supply.
Coleman argues that the cost is well justified. Not only will artillery units no longer have to essentially waste their initial shot — fired as a spotter — but the increased accuracy will cut down on the total number of rounds that need to be fired
An earlier version of this fuse has shown promising results in Afghanistan since being supplied as part of a 2013 urgent materiel release. “It’s the future of artillery. No other army has something like this. It’s definitely a game changer.”
The fins, or canards, on the M1156 Precision Guidance Kit fuse are part of the guidance system that the Army says greatly increases accuracy of rounds. Here, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team practice loading the shell before live fires at Vilseck, Germany, July 23, 2015.
MICHAEL S. DARNELL/STARS AND STRIPES