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U.S. Army engineers develop greater lethality and speed to support future combat vehicle

U.S. Engineers at Picatinny Arsenal have reached key milestones in developing an advanced armament system that integrates a medium caliber weapon, ammunition, fire control, and sensors to effectively engage targets at extended ranges. Ed Lopez explains on U.S. Army’s website.
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The 50mm Advanced Lethality and Accuracy System Medium Caliber (ALAS-MC), including the XM913, which has been in development at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal. The system is designed to support future combat vehicles with its ability to integrate a medium caliber weapon, ammunition, fire control, and sensors to effectively engage targets at extended ranges (Picture source: U.S. Army/Courtesy)

The next generation armament system technologies are in direct support of the Army Modernization Priorities within the development portfolio of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team (NGCV CFT). The system is designed to demonstrate a decisive lethal punch that enables gunners to make the right firing decision quicker, with greater accuracy, at farther distances, to establish dominance on the battlefield. “The combination of enhancements not only give gunners greater versatility, but we anticipate that overall gunner operations could be as much as three times faster,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick, project officer for the new system at the Advanced Armaments Division of the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, located at Picatinny Arsenal.

The Advanced Lethality and Accuracy System for Medium Caliber (ALAS-MC) is expected to provide superior medium caliber weapon system performance and lethality as compared to currently fielded systems worldwide. Moreover, it is designed to provide greater target standoff, improved precision and accuracy.

Key features of the system include a high explosive airburst munition for optimized effects against personnel targets, behind walls and in the open; an armor-piercing munition for optimized effects against materiel targets; integrated fire control enhancements; graphical user interface and enhanced laser rangefinder. Integrated into the design are the 50mm autocannon, known as the XM913, capable of firing both XM1204 High Explosive Airburst with Trace (HEAB-T), and XM1203 Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot with Trace (APFSDS-T) munitions. The HEAB-T and APFSDS-T cartridges were designed and developed by Picatinny engineers and manufactured by General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

“These technologies, coupled with an advanced fire control system, optimize the system’s lethality to maximize the number of stowed kills and provide a lethal capability that will enable overmatch against our pacing threats,” said Robert Tani, Ground Combat Development Team Lead, Medium and Cannon Caliber Munitions Division. Stowed kills is a general term for the estimated amount of kills or damage the ammunition stowed on the vehicle can achieve. The improvement in stowed kills is significantly aided by the enhanced lethality provided by a novel HEAB-T warhead jointly developed between Picatinny engineers and MATSYS, Inc.

The XM913 weapon developed in partnership with Northrop Grumman Defense Systems improves upon traditional chain gun technology. New design improvements will enhance the weapon’s precision and accuracy through optimized mechanical design and advanced weapon control systems.

Picatinny engineers believe that in the future, the HEAB-T will most likely be the standard ammunition, replacing the High Explosive (HE) ammunition in service today that relies solely on a point detonating fuze capability. In contrast, the ALAS-MC HEAB-T uses a fuze that introduces a multimode programmable capability. This flexibility will enable settings of point detonate (PD), point detonate delay (PDD), and Airburst (AB), creating a fundamental change to how the warfighter conducts enemy engagements.

Today, a gunner uses high explosive rounds fired from the 25mm M242, and has to walk rounds into each target to achieve the desired effects. With the HEAB-T, the gunner can depart from this type of engagement. By using airburst mode, the round will be programmed with range to the target--and other important factors--for maximum lethal effect with an order of magnitude fewer shots. “Because of the increased complexity necessary to employ HEAB-T, efforts were focused on developing a much more advanced fire control system, which will enable optimized use of HEAB-T rounds,” said Adam Winters, Program Engineer, Armored Vehicle and Aviation Fire Control Systems.

The ALAS-MC fire control combines sensor data and a scenario-based engagement capability/technique using hardware developed with Picatinny engineers and General Dynamics Mission Systems - Canada. This combination provides a number of advantages: optimize lethal effects against typical infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) targets, maximize stowed kills, reduce engagement time, reduce the cognitive burden on the warfighter, reduce logistics footprint, and maximize affordability per engagement.

As part of the scenario-based fire control capability, the advanced graphical user interface allows the gunner to select from a set of target icons that match common threats to an infantry fighting vehicle. “Based on the lethal footprint of the round, the fire control is able to automatically select the optimal number of rounds and most effective aim point for each target,” Winters said.

To bolster the potential of these technologies, the ALAS-MC program worked with the Mounted Requirements Division (MRD) at the Maneuver Center of Excellence to engage active duty gunners that were instrumental in shaping the development of the program. Such collaboration helps to ensure that Picatinny engineers are acutely aware of how the ALAS-MC system will be used in combat. “Constant communication with the user community is crucial to ensure the program remains aligned with its operational intent,” Fitzpatrick said.

Through extensive collaborative analysis and simulation with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Lab, the Combat Capabilities Development Command Data and Analysis Center, the ALAS-MC program considered how each aspect of the system-level design would affect the overall performance. That helps to ensure that the system not only proves out overmatch capabilities against current threats but also future mid-tier threats.

“Another key aspect of the ALAS-MC development is that it is using a development model aimed at future system growth that can be adapted for future technologies that enable multi-role missions,” Fitzpatrick noted. “When considering the potential target sets, ranges, and the lethal effectiveness required to meet future needs, the ALAS-MC team began ground-up development of the future 50mm armament system with the intent to provide the warfighter with overmatch and a distinct advantage on the future battlefield,” said Fitzpatrick.

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The 50mm XM913 is the primary armament for the Advanced Lethality and Accuracy System Medium Caliber (ALAS-MC), which has been in development at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal. The system is expected to provide superior medium caliber weapon system performance and lethality over current capabilities. Moreover, it is designed to provide greater target standoff, as well as improved precision and accuracy (Picture source: U.S. Army/Courtesy)

In December, the Armaments Center demonstrated that the 50mm XM913 met accuracy and lethality requirements of the development program during weapon testing from a hardstand. The 50mm armament system provides a significant increase in lethal capability over current and near term medium-caliber weapon technologies (i.e., 25mm, 30mm, 35mm and 40mm) fielded today while reducing the engagement time and cognitive burden on the warfighter. “The XM913 provides superior medium caliber weapon system performance and lethality to regain overmatch,” said Fitzpatrick. In October, the Armaments Center completed 50x228mm ammunition testing from a Mann barrel demonstrating the required accuracy to meet the system-level requirements.

In September, ALAS-MC completed turret checkout testing to demonstrate turret system functionality. The turret for ALAS-MC was developed by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) via a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) based on ALAS-MC program requirements. Fire control integration and tuning has been completed with performance testing scheduled for the end of the fiscal year 2020.

In the fiscal year 2021, GDLS is providing a surrogate vehicle platform via CRADA in order to continue system-level testing in move on the move and move on stationary engagements. In-house partners for the ALAS-MC effort include Aberdeen Test Center, CCDC’s Army Research Laboratory and the Ground Vehicle Systems Center.

In early March, the Armaments Center participated in the transitioning of ALAS-MC hardware to the Advanced Targeting and Lethality Aided System (ATLAS) program at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

ATLAS is a joint project between the Armaments Center and the Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center. The project will demonstrate state-of-the-art technologies that will enable an automated turret with soldier-in-the-loop control.

While the Army is committed to maintaining maximum trade space for industry to innovate, it does not intend to direct any specific lethality solutions for future IFV systems. ALAS-MC technology products are an important step toward pushing the art of the possible with a medium caliber armament. “The ALAS-MC program is just one example of how early science and technology investment has been, and continues to be, necessary to ensure that the Army meets the materiel modernization priorities,” said Fitzpatrick.

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