Exact science of ammunition

Abrams tanks conduct night firing

While the basics of tank munitions have been known and understood for many decades, the military is currently facing the challenge of improving and perfecting this technology in order to meet today's combat use conditions.

Of course, there are inevitable and unavoidable barriers, say, immutable laws of physics that limit the possibilities of development. It may turn out that in certain areas improvement is not possible at all, because the technology has already reached its optimum level of development.

Tank ammunition refers to the area where, for the untrained gaze, this condition should already be achieved. The task, in fact, is to deliver an effective combat load to the target exactly at the moment when it is necessary. Increasing accuracy in the future will most likely be due to changes in the gun, and not the projectile. If new materials can offer better armor penetration, they will, of course, be examined, tested and then put into production. Various combat equipment of shells, creating a different impact, will be developed and deployed depending on the need further, but the basics will of course remain the same.

CTAI's CT 40 Cannon Radically Changes Gun Systems

The scale of innovation

However, in practice, there is considerable scope for innovation, even in such a narrow area as tank ammunition. Changing needs are determined by changing requirements and, although the development of shells is more likely not a cause, but a reaction to the development of other technologies, the need for their improvement is urgently needed.

Although it may take some time until revolutionary changes can reach the forefront, because some of them can only happen with the parallel development of new weapon technologies, the outlines of a large-caliber shell of a new generation are already quite clearly outlined.

“The US government has done a very good job over the past 40 years, retaining the tank as a high-priority combat platform that should have significant superiority over similar platforms of a potential adversary,” said Craig Aakhus of Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, adding that because of this they should invest a lot in developing their line of tank ammunition.

The development of ammunition for American tanks seems to consist of a long chain of barely noticeable changes that gradually expanded their capabilities without the need for a large transformation of all delivery systems of the damaging factors. "When we first put the 120-mm system on the Abrams tank in the middle of the 80's, we transferred some German shells from Germany to the USA and then immediately started to improve them."

“At the end of the 80's, the American government launched a major initiative aimed at closing the technological gap. After conducting complex tests, they realized that these shells did not fully meet all the requirements of the army. In this regard, at the end of the 80's - the beginning of the 90's, an increased emphasis was placed on improving them, at that time several new types of shells with various effects were developed. ”

“For example, a remote fuse was also added to the 830A1 cumulative shell with cladding,” said Aakhus. - At that time, of course, the emphasis was on the fight against helicopters. Then the army paid special attention to the armored threats and made a sharp breakthrough in the beginning of the 90's on kinetic action shells, and we continue this work today. ”

“In general, the army takes a new projectile into service every 8-10 years, it invests heavily in technology and materials in order to ensure that our weapons systems meet current threats. Obviously, we are still working with the same gun system, but we have increased its service life by integrating new technologies into ammunition. ”

Aakhus pointed out that the initiative and determination of the American army plays a large role in the development of these developments.

“Threats are developing and we must stay ahead of these threats. I believe the user community is doing a great job of identifying these threats. Basic needs are determined by the customer community, and we, as developers and suppliers, respond to them. We work with them hand in hand. By the time requirements come out, we see the same trends in threats, so we simultaneously identify threats and strive to meet these needs. ”

Aakhus pointed to the development of a new advanced universal 105-mm projectile in which this synchronized approach of the industry and the military customer was implemented.

“There are new threats, for example, anti-tank guided missile systems have become very widespread, and it is necessary to combat them. The industry responds by offering ammunition with advanced warheads and intelligent fuses. ”

Exact science of ammunition

The photo shows how the advanced universal projectile AMP creates shock waves during flight


Europe is working on a more radical solution. The joint venture of British BAE Systems and French Nexter, CTA International (CTAI), has developed a completely new weapon system that uses an unconventional approach to the design of the projectile. The telescopic munition is a projectile significantly or even completely "recessed" into the powder charge in the cartridge case. This arrangement allowed to significantly reduce the size and weight of the shot compared to conventional shells, and also made it possible to use a chainless supply of ammunition. The system as a whole - a cannon with telescopic shells - promises several times more impact than comparable systems, which they should replace. In addition, in comparison with the traditional cannon, the telescopic system can accommodate four times as many shells on board due to a more rational warhead.

Although the CTAI system has a relatively small 40 mm caliber, it offers features comparable to larger caliber systems. The company CTAI say that the system is suitable not only for installation on vehicles of the BMP category, for example, the British Ajax and Warrior, on which it is already installed, but also for installation on main battle tanks.

The development of telescopic ammunition began a long time ago - the concept was proposed at the beginning of the 50's in the USA - but the complexity of the solution and the lack of necessary technologies did not allow them to be put into mass production. “The idea of ​​putting a shell into a shell for decades remained an unattainable but cherished goal,” said Rory Chamberlain of CTAI. - The old triangle “mobility, combat stability and fire efficiency” has always been problematic in the case of a medium tank, because when trying to increase fire efficiency the guns and systems became so heavy that it negatively affected mobility and, as a consequence, survivability. A telescopic system is the only solution because it has a gun and smaller feed mechanisms. The whole system revolves around the ammunition, the main thing is to safely and securely insert the shell into the sleeve, as a result of which we get its inherent high characteristics. "

The main technical problem that CTAI was supposed to solve was shell sealing. “Gas tightness has historically always been one of the biggest challenges,” Chamberlain said. - In old constructions, you achieved airtightness when the projectile moved along the cuts in the barrel. In our solution, the shell of the shell itself provides tightness. It was difficult, but we were able to achieve this in the CTAI, and perhaps this was the main driver of success. "

After solving this problem, the rest of the development took place in a working order, without contingency problems.
“It’s easy to crack a nut - you just need to know which tool to use and then it becomes easier. It’s true that our shell has more components than a simple standard ammunition, but when you actually get into the details and look at the solution, it will turn out to be quite simple. ”

Chamberlain said.

“I would not say that to achieve this we had to invest in crazy technology. These are the basic principles of production that have been developed over many years. Their arrangement in the correct order, understanding of the system and how it all works together - that’s what CTAI was able to do. ”

To date, seven types of telescopic shells have been developed for the ST40 gun, including the BPS option

Constructive Challenges

In the manufacture of new-type shells, it is necessary to have similar skills and adhere to the same principles as in the production of standard ammunition, but, as Chamberlain explained, operations in the manufacturing process - for example, adding a propellant to the body, or a process known as crimping, which a conventional projectile consists in pressing on the sleeves, and in a telescopic projectile in pressing on the front and rear covers, they are arranged in a different order due to the characteristics of each type. “These individual operations are very simple when you make shells, but maybe you perform operations in a different order,” he said. - Imagine that the last operation performed in a conventional ammunition is a shell, then crimping and pressing it into a sleeve takes place. In the case of telescopic ammunition, the first thing they take is the shell, then it is placed in the sleeve. Further, a propellant is equipped inside, after which crimping occurs. The order of operations just changes, but the individual steps are the same as for traditional shells. ”

Redesigning the entire weapon system as a whole compared with the gradual gradual improvement of one of its components, of course, seemed to be a higher risk. Talking about the first successful firing tests of the system installed on the British Ajax armored vehicle in 2016, the project manager noted that "the complex problems that arise on the way to this should not be underestimated." However, he also noted "the transformational capabilities of the system aimed at winning." It seems that the benefits here can be substantially greater than would be the case with a program with less ambitious goals.

According to CTAI, its CT40 system will improve all three components: mobility, combat stability and fire efficiency. Some of these improvements will be realized either due to the gun, or due to its supporting components, in particular the store.

The question remains debatable whether the version of the system integrated into British vehicles will be as effective as the one installed on the French Jaguar reconnaissance armored vehicles, into which the fully integrated CTAI system is integrated. The UK has chosen a different solution for its Ajax and Warrior platforms, they must have a common tower in which the gun is installed by the Lockheed Martin UK head contractor along with equipment from other companies. It is indisputable only that none of these innovations would have been possible without the creation of a new type of projectile.

“We are replacing the 30 mm munition, which has a shell weighing 350 grams,” Chamberlain said. - Our new projectile weighs one kilogram, that is, the warhead is almost three times as much. All armies talk about the diameter of the projectile, but its combat equipment and armor penetration are important. People think that the 30-mm and 40-mm shells are not much different, but in fact there is a big difference regarding the warhead. In fact, it is four times more powerful. "

“What is important to crews when they fire?” Hit the target. That's what telescopic technology is aimed at. Not necessarily the quantity, not necessarily the 40-mm shell, it’s just faster to have more impact on the target, hit it and bring our guys home safe and sound. ”

Other claimed benefits of the system include the ability of the operator to quickly switch between different types, reload and fire while driving. Considering the increased firepower offered by a more compact solution, and the increased volume for the crew in the tower, we can talk about the multiplicative effect that this telescopic system provides.

“Previously, when reloading you had to stop somewhere and reload the gun, now this time is in the past,” Chamberlain noted. - You can simply recharge while driving. The store is stationary, in our system it is very similar to a drawer when you open the drawer, put a shell in it, close the drawer, it reads the type of shell and knows exactly where it is located in the store. If you need to choose a particular type of ammunition, the store simply turns to the selected box. You can have several types in the store, all of which are in stock. ”

The M380 armor-piercing shell (pictured) is replaced by the AMP (Advanced Multi-Purpose)

Changing type

To date, seven different types of ammunition are either manufactured and delivered to customers, or are qualified: armor-piercing tracer with a stabilizing shank (feathered) with a detachable pallet and tracer or BOPS; universal with tracer; universal with a head fuse with tracer; universal air blast with tracer: kinetic air blast; and two practical shells. The first, already enlisted, received the designation TP-T (Target Practice - Tracer), while the second TP-RR (Target Practice - Reduced Range) with a reduced range is still under development. Chamberlain noted that this list is by no means exhaustive. “Telescopic technology can be applied to everything that can be inserted into a sleeve. We are not limited to our current types. "We are looking at studies of various shells that we would like to introduce, but they are in the early stages of evaluating a preliminary technical assessment."

The ability to quickly switch from one type to another is a key element in enhancing the capabilities that the telescopic system concept promises. With the beginning of the arrival of new weapons in their arsenals, customers undertook to develop the principles of its combat use, while at the same time promising types of ammunition are being developed that will increase the effectiveness of the system.

“Unlike the 30-mm Rarden gun, which is mounted on the British Warrior infantry fighting vehicle, which can only fire three rounds of ammunition (two in the magazine, that is, a maximum of 6 rounds) and which does not have the ability to change the type of projectile, with ST40 you can easily You can change the type so that it allows you to have different types of queues and different effects. Your main task is how to use different types of shells correctly and get the best effect on your targets. ” Without going into details, Chamberlain hinted that in 2020 the company will be able to talk about its plans and other types of ammunition, "which our customers want to see."

Weight reduction is the main goal of all ammunition programs and this is another direction that ammunition manufacturers can go in order to improve their products. Aakhus explained that the American customer of his company helped to improve the fire efficiency of ammunition without increasing their mass, actively exploring the potential of various materials and making suggestions for their use.

“In the field of kinetic energy ammunition, the United States has invested a lot in order to get less parasitic mass and invest more energy in the core,” he explained. - For example, the use of composite materials in the manufacture of the pallet will allow to deliver more energy to the target and thereby make a technological breakthrough. The pallet is really just a part with parasitic mass, the task of which is to send the projectile along the barrel. If it could be excluded, then it would be great, the easier you become, the better. Traditionally, aluminum pallets have been used, but we have composite technologies that have come from the aerospace industry, that is, we have every opportunity to minimize this parasitic mass. ”

“The US military has invested heavily in unique core technology,” Aakhus added. - In addition, there are new advanced fuses in high-explosive ordnance for various purposes. The United States and other countries are increasingly using the data channel for the projectile, that is, now depending on the purpose for which we are firing, we can give the projectile additional information to make it more legible. We integrate intelligent fuses into high-explosive fragmentation shells that were previously equipped only with head fuses, while at the same time we increase safety due to low-sensitivity substances, electromagnetic compatibility and other technologies.

U.S. Army instructor passes 120-mm training shot to cadet during ammunition replenishment process

Cost issues

Increasing the complexity of shells due to the introduction of electronic components, as well as investments in new materials aimed at reducing mass, inevitably entail an increase in the cost of each shell. “Obviously, the more technology you implement, the more expensive the products become,” said Aakhus. “Understanding this, at the same time we were developing training shells that replicate combat shells based on ballistics, the emphasis here was on reducing complexity and cost. We invested in technologies that made it possible to reduce the cost of training shots, which we shoot in large numbers every year, make them available and maintain the level of training of our crews. At the same time, it is clear that warheads stored in arsenals and which can only be used in certain operations will always be somewhat more expensive. ”

According to his estimates, the ratio of purchased and shot training and combat shells is about 10: 1, that is, an emphasis on the use of training shells will give a significant overall reduction in the cost of combat training. It is obvious that inert shells cost less than shells loaded with explosives, in addition, such expensive components, such as advanced fuses, are most often not included in training ammunition.

Northrop Grumman also uses low-cost propellants in its training shells, preserving more expensive substances with the highest performance for military ammunition.

According to Chamberlain, the development of the TP-RR practical projectile by CTAI will help its customers save even more money and expand training opportunities.

“Up to a certain range, this ballistic projectile coincides with a projectile, and then begins to decline sharply. This reduces the safe removal zone, that is, allows for firing at a larger number of ranges, which simplifies combat training for those armies in which training ranges are limited in area. “We believe that when the TP-RR shell is qualified, it will become the next-generation practical shell because of the advantages it provides, as well as its low cost.”

Despite the fact that the production of telescopic shells is very similar to the production of traditional ammunition, the cost of their manufacture is much higher today. Cost was one of the reasons why previous attempts to produce telescopic systems failed. According to Chamberlain, any assessment of capabilities should not focus on the cost of each individual projectile, but on how best to use the entire system to obtain the desired impact.

“How many shells do you need to hit a target?” As for BOPS, there are only two options - either you will break through the armor or not. An unsuccessful attempt to break through the armor allows the enemy to return fire and this is not the situation anyone wants to find themselves in. I would like to be sure of my ammunition. We carried out our analysis of the potential possibility of hitting a target, the British Ministry of Defense made its analysis, the French - its own, the results of which showed that we have a more effective and cheaper solution. And that is a fact. ”
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