Minneapolis--In March, the U.S. Army gave the green light to a contractor team to complete detailed design and build four prototypes of its advanced field artillery system for the next century, the Crusader. While the Crusader is big--not just in size but in goals and contract scope as well (DN 5/18/98, p. S23)--its aim is to allow smaller battlefield forces to be more effective. Not merely a self-propelled gun, both the 155-mm weapon and resupply vehicles will use advance technologies, with automation and a minimal crew of three, to give troops a curtain of firepower on future battlefields. Here's some of the vital details on how this is done.
Once a firing decision is made, automation allows firing the first round within 15 to 30 seconds, placing impact where the enemy is, not where he was. With automated ammunition handling and gun pointing, a 10-rounds-per-minute rate of fire is then possible. The gun tube has cooling jackets to reduce temperature and thermal signature. Sixty rounds are carried and these can be lobbed a distance of anywhere from three to more than 25 miles. And out to 19 miles, the control system permits four rounds from the weapon to be fired at different elevation angles and propellant charges to arrive simultaneously on a target. Such capability, in concert with other units, boosts lethality from smaller numbered forces.
United Defense Armament Systems Div. is the prime Crusader contractor and systems integrator. Partner General Dynamics Land System Div. (Sterling Heights, MI) is the mobility subsystem integrator and develops vehicle electronics. Here speed and maneuverability come from an advanced powertrain, improved track, external hydropneumatic suspension, and drive-by-wire controls. Crusader's mobility heart is a 1,500-hp V-12 Varity/Perkins Engines (Shrewsbury, England) diesel built by Caterpillar (Peoria, IL). This powerplant, based on commercial technology, meets or exceeds military requirements. It incorporates electro/hydraulic fuel injectors, and composite materials.
General Dynamics supplies the high- power-density, low-profile transmission whose electronic controller automatically and accurately schedules engine speed and transmission ratio for acceleration, differential-track steering, and optimum fuel economy. On a road the Crusader goes 42 mph, and 30 mph cross country.
Information revolution. Between the two vehicles, 60% of the components are common, and embedded diagnostics ease maintenance and repairs. The command compartment resembles a digital aircraft cockpit. GPS satellite navigation and movement- and fire-planning software, along with interactive training tools, aid the crews.
Such automation allows the crew to focus on dealing with the tactical situation. In current howitzers, most of the time is spent on physical tasks. In an intense battle, crews find it hard to sustain high fire rates with little time for tactical decisions. Crusader's armored crew station allows focusing on the fight since selection, fuse-setting, loading, aiming, and firing are all automated.
The resupply vehicle's streamlined ammunition handling system allows its crew of three to remain "under armor" while automatically transferring up to 60 of 130 rounds carried, propellant charges, fuel, lubricants, and water to the self-propelled howitzer in 12 minutes. To transfer, the resupply vehicle boom mates with the gun carriage and supplies pass through the boom.
Full-scale production of more than 1,650 vehicles, half of each type, could total up to $13 billion. This could have been even higher. But as of last year, the Secretary of the Army has credited the industry and government program team with saving more than $6 billion because of management efficiencies and up-to-date design engineering and procurement tools.