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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — It’s not hard for Staff Sgt. Kevin Andress, an artilleryman with two tours in Iraq under his belt, to recall the times when standard munitions were rendered useless and assaults aborted because of the potential for collateral damage.

Now, as Andress and his fellow soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment prepare for a March deployment to Iraq, the unit will be better positioned to fire on enemies in tight urban settings.

The reason: The unit — part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division — will be outfitted with a new GPS-guided munition designed to hit urban targets with pinpoint accuracy.

“There are at least 100 times we could have used this munition (on previous deployments),” said Andress, referring to the Army’s Excalibur precision-guided artillery projectile.

All week, 4-27 soldiers immersed themselves in how to use the Excalibur technology, which was fielded in Iraq for the first time earlier this year. So far, reports from units in Iraq have been very positive, according to the battalion’s Maj. Joseph Leardi.

While the goal for conventional munitions is accuracy within 50 meters of a target, Excalibur hits within 10 meters.

“When fighting in an urban environment, conventional artillery fires lose some of their practicality. Excalibur gives us back our ability to put cannon fires on the enemy even in some of the most challenging situations,” said Lt. Col. Michael Mammay, 4-27 commander.

The 155 mm artillery projectile, which 4-27 will fire from its Paladins, weighs 100 pounds. The round isn’t the only hefty thing about Excalibur, which costs around $100,000 per shell. However, the manufacturers are required by the Army to get that cost down to around $30,000 as production moves forward.

In addition to heightened accuracy, the munitions have a range of 40 kilometers (about 25 miles), about twice as far as conventional artillery.

Lt. Col. Noel Grubb, from the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Sill, Okla., spent the week in Baumholder along with a team of trainers, helping 4-27 soldiers learn how to operate Excalibur.

“It’s perfect for the environment we’re finding in Iraq,” Grubb said.

During the training, soldiers learned how to handle and load the munitions, work with the new software and simulate a launch.

“They’ll be ready to fire once they get there,” Grubb said. During one exercise, soldiers worked to zero in on a target.

“We’re trying to make it as close as we can,” said Sgt. Dean Owens, whose team of 4-27 soldiers are responsible for identifying potential targets.

On this particular mission, Owens’ team got to within four meters of their target.

With such precision, small urban targets are now in range.

“This is very important in an urban environment, as it allows us to strike a target with minimal impact to surrounding structures, which minimizes the risk of collateral damage,” Mammay said. “One thing we want to do is to give the maneuver commander options. Having a weapon like this is another option.”

Staff Sgt. Daniel Ayala-Rios, a 4-27 section chief, said the system has been surprisingly easy to learn.

“This was the first time using it for everybody. Everyone’s been asking a lot questions. We all feel comfortable and ready to use it,” he said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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