The Army rebuilds its big guns

Defense News:
US Army Brig. Gen. David Bassett visited this remote desert artillery range to see something that has become increasingly rare in Army acquisition circles: a major developmental program that looks like it’s going to work.

Although the system isn’t entirely new, the decades-old Paladin 155mm mobile howitzer system has undergone such a radical upgrade that “it’s managed essentially as a new program” Bassett said, in between outgoing rounds at the test range.

With wholesale replacements of the electronics gear and firing drive, and increased maneuverability, speed and crew protection, the new Paladin “is going to be the leader” of the platforms in the Armor Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), he said, “and the other programs are going to be struggling to keep up with where it has now gone.”

Beginning in August, the old Paladin chassis will begin to be shipped to the Anniston Army Depot, Ala., where they’ll be stripped of usable parts for the new system. The same engine, transmission, drives and tracks used on the most recently upgraded M2/M3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles will be incorporated onto the new vehicle.

The new Paladin also brings back the electric gun drive system from the Non-Line of Sight cannon canceled in 2009 as part of the scrapped $20 billion Future Combat Systems program. NLOS replaces the old hydraulic firing system.

Once those parts are harvested, the new Bradley chassis built at BAE Systems’ facility in York, Pa., will be sent to a new production facility the company is building in Eglin, Okla., for final assembly.

Using existing parts on new systems is a production method the Army is also employing on its Stryker V-Hull program — also at Anniston — and Bassett said “the idea of leveraging both our organic base and our commercial base together for a platform is really kind of the new normal. Most of the programs we run right now leverage both of those capacities.”

While weighing about 10,000 pounds heavier than its predecessor, the new Paladin — at 78,000 pounds — has been built with the capacity to grow to about 110,000 pounds while traveling at about 38 mph. That is actually faster than the previous model while being more maneuverable than the current Bradley, according to Adam Zarfoss, director of artillery programs at BAE.
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That is a heavy gun that will have to pick routes of advance that can handle that much weight. the speed will allow it to keep up with other assault vehicles in a combined arms operation.  Since the initial days of the war in Iraq the US has not used heavy weapons like this in routine operations.  But the army appears to getting ready for more conventional warfare.  Getting these weapons to the battle space will be a challenge.  During the Rumsfeld era, the military was more focused on lighter weapons systems that used rockets in place of artillery.

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