FA Technologies: Soft Recoil Technology - The Future of Field Artillery - Presented by AM General
FAJ: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us and I hope you don’t mind but we have several ques-tions. First, what is your take on Mr. Foss’s article.
McDonald: Rachal, thanks for this opportunity and for all the Asso-ciation does for the Field Artillery. I have known Chris for many years and he is certainly one of the world’s experts on combat vehicles. I do think he captured the facts on wheeled artillery systems and I think the answer to his question is yes, wheeled artillery is the way ahead. But before we go furher let’s briefly talk about general trends in Field Artillery, and there are not many of them. First, we had direct fire artillery, with no recoil system. Basically, you fired the piece, it recoiled, was pushed back into position and fired again, all line of sight. In the late 1800s the second trend began. The French developed the hydropneumatic recoil system that absorbed much of the shock of firing and allowed the residual shock to be transmitted through the carriage to the ground. This allowed the gun to return to the same position and allowed the application of indirect fire. Since then, many developments have occurred but the recoil system essentially stayed the same. Most of these developments have been the application of larger guns with longer range, the development of self-propelled systems and the application of armor. The result has been, we have howitzers that are too heavy and lack tactical and strategic mobility. Some of the wheeled howitzers mentioned in the Foss article are weighing in at 70-90 thousand pounds.
FAJ: In our current environment don’t you think that bigger guns and increased range are essential?
McDonald: Great question. Let’s talk about our current environ-ment. On the battlefield today, we see main battle tanks that have been destroyed in numerous ways. Tanks are the most armored vehicle in the world and they are not protected. The key to protection is mobility. We can armor our artil-lery all want, but it can still be destroyed. All that armor, restricts our tactical mobility, and will have artillery restricted to large/major roads: thus, easy targets. We need light, mobile and agile artillery to survive, and as you point out, with larger, long-range guns.
FAJ: It appears we have hit an impasse in the development of Artillery.
McDonald: This actually leads into the meat of this discussion. There is an emerging third trend in artillery. It is a new recoil system known as Soft Recoil Technology. We have included the following chart that explains the concept. On the left you will see the conventional recoil system. The gun starts in battery, is fired and all the force of firing is transmitted back, into the recoil system and the guns platform. Af-ter the recoil is absorbed, the gun returns to it starting point.
The right depiction is our soft recoil system. The gun is under pres-sure and held in place with a latch. When the firing sequence is initiated, the latch is released and the gun moves rapidly forward to a predetermined distance, then the gun fires. The gun then recoils and a modified hydropneumatic recoil system kicks in and absorbs the residual force. The mass of the gun moving forward off sets the reward recoil by as much as 60 %. The concept is based on Newton’s second law or conservation of momentum. The advent of soft recoil allows guns to be mounted on much lighter vehicles.
FAJ: This is pretty exciting, what are the implications for the development of future artillery systems.
McDonald: It certainly breaks the paradigm we currently have that only increases weight as we devel-op longer range artillery. We can now mount larger guns on smaller, lighter trucks. The systems we have developed are fully digitized and can emplace and fire in under 1 minute. Almost no human labor is involved in the preparation for firing nor displacing. It gives us true shoot and scoot capability and you can to it all day long without crew fatigue. This in turn, gives us back tactical and indeed strategic mobility as the systems and very light weight.
FAJ: Is there interest in the system from the US Army?
McDonald: AM General has built two prototype systems. A 105mm system, using the M119 cannon mounted on a Humvee. We have also taken the M777 155mm cannon and mounted it on a FMTV. The US Army has purchased 2 of our 105 systems and performed char-acterization testing at YUMA proving grounds. They have also done testing with our 155mm system at YUMA as well. In these tests, the recoil system has performed superbly and achieved the reduction in recoil that was expected. AM General also is on contract to develop a longer range 155mm recoil system. We have completed phase one and live fired a 55 cali-ber 155 system, and again the recoil system was a success. We are now in phase two of that contract which will result in a prototype wheeled artillery system with a longer range 155 cannon.
FAJ: Is there interest outside of the US for this technology.
McDonald: There certainly is. One of the concepts of the system is modularity. We can easily adapt this recoil system to any gun and or any truck, we are vehicle and gun agnostic. It is a very good way to convert anyone’s towed system to a wheeled system. Basically, we take someone’s gun and truck and mate it together with SRT. Since countries already own the gun and the truck, it is a very cost-effective way to modernize an artillery system.
FAJ: Mr. Foss outlined several existing systems in his article. What is different about your SRT artillery systems.
McDonald: The systems describe in the article are certainly good and viable artillery pieces. The biggest difference is going to be size and weight. The systems mentioned are all full recoil, have lots of ar-mor and some level of automation in loading. The results in massive weight. Our concept is that mobility is your armor, speed negates the need for the weight of armor. Recent battlefield examples show that you cannot armor enough to survive. Auto loaders do increase the rate of fire, up to as much as 8 rounds per minute. Through minimum automation and cleaver ammo placement, our system will achieve 6 rounds per minute, thus avoiding the massive weight increase. Our system is also fully degradable. On some systems, if the auto loader breaks the gun is out of action. Our system is fully degradable, if digitization goes out, we have normal sights as backup. You can shoot our system with a compass and a tabular firing table, if it comes down to that.
FAJ: Thanks again for talking to us today and sharing this information. Is there anything else you would like to add.
McDonald: Rachal, thanks again to you and your staff and for this op-portunity. We are very excited to present what SRT can bring to the table. In addition to what I have al-ready said, I would like to add that this system is extremely maintain-able. We have reduced the parts associated existing howitzers from 2,500 to 250 and not added any special tools. Since we are talking light, relatively unarmored vehicles, these new howitzers can also be very affordable. In my view, a large number of less expensive, surviv-able howitzers, provides much more lethality that a few, very exquisite and expensive howitzers and since you can reduce crew size, you can man the extra howitzers with no force structure increase. SRT also has other applications. We are working with PM Mortars to mate a 120mm mortar to SRT. There are direct fire implications as well. All in all, breakthrough technology.
MG (R) McDonald is a consultant for AM General and assists with their SRT program. All views and comments presented are his alone. He is a gunner of 36 years and was previously the CG of Ft Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence.