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Netherlands, Rheinmetall Explore Ammunition Options for Urban Operations

New global missions call for new ammunition options, Part 2

Part I of this series reflected on the “unintended consequences” of defense reductions, spotlighting how the elimination of the remaining Leopard 2 main battle tanks in the Royal Netherlands Army had created a gap in Dutch capabilities against main battle tanks. One potential solution to the gap now being pursued involves the development of a new long rod penetrator round for use in the Dutch CV9035 infantry fighting vehicle.

Some of the capability gap analysis supporting that effort has been performed by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). As an independent organization supporting the Netherlands Ministry of Defense and Dutch defense industry, TNO is involved in a range of defense projects, including evaluation of ammunition and concept developments.

Offering an example before a recent industry conference on joint munitions and joint armaments, Martin van de Voorde, project manager at TNO, pointed to the capability gap existing against different types of urban operations infrastructure now being encountered in an expanding global environment.

According to a TNO representative, along with a new long rod penetrator designed to defeat armored targets, other ammunition options are also being explored to address other capability gaps stemming from operational experience combined with a changing global environment.

Offering an example before a recent industry conference on joint munitions and joint armaments, Martin van de Voorde, project manager at TNO, pointed to the capability gap existing against different types of urban operations infrastructure now being encountered in an expanding global environment.

Frangible Armor Piercing (FAP) Round

Rheinmetall’s 35 mm frangible armor piercing (FAP) round. Rheinmetall Defense photo

“Everybody is talking about defeating infrastructure now,” he said. “But it’s not that easy, because it is also in a confined area with your own troops in the vicinity. So there are not only wanted effects but also unwanted effects.”

Van de Voorde noted that the U.S. Army’s Research Development and Engineering Command’s (RDECOM’s) Army Research Lab was also exploring aspects of the infrastructure challenge, outlining a range of requirements under exploration, including breaching a wall to produce a 30 x 50 inch opening or 24-inch diameter hole clear of rebar.

“But for a medium caliber [like the 35 mm on the Dutch CV9035] that is not the main objective – to defeat or breach a wall,” he said. “It’s more about incapacitating inhabitants behind the wall.”

“And we also don’t know the unwanted effects of the ammunition,” he added. “What I mean by that, is there some collateral damage in front of the wall, where you don’t want it?”

He pointed to a series of Dutch experimental firing tests four or five years ago that explored different ammunition effects against various target types. Firing test platforms included:

  • 155 mm PZH-2000NL howitzers (direct fire);
  • 120 mm Leopard 2A6 [later removed from Dutch inventories];
  • infantry .50 Caliber/12.7mm;
  • 20 – 30 – 35 mm air-to-ground; and,
  • 25 – 30 – 35 mm ground based weapons.

Firing tests were conducted against double reinforced concrete walls, brick walls, and adobe walls of 20, 40 and 80-centimeter thickness. Shots were made at zero degrees obliquity and 45 degree impact angles.

Penetrator With Enhanced Lateral Effect (PELE) Ammunition

Rheinmetall penetrator with enhanced lateral effect (PELE) ammunition. Rheinmetall Defense photo

Reflective of the main armament on the Dutch CV9035, van de Voorde focused on the results of the 35 mm firing test.

Many of the results presented involved the 35 mm KETF [Kinetic Energy Time Fuze] (nr468) round. KETF includes a fuzed airburst feature that was originally designed for notional engagements of infantry in the open or in defilade.

“In the airburst mode, at a certain distance from the wall, the pellets [tungsten pellets 1.24 grams each] will be ejected and they will impact in a certain pattern on the wall,” he explained. “But we also have seen that those pellets did not perforate brick walls, so that’s not very good if you want to incapacitate people behind the wall.”

However, additional tests involved firing the 35 mm KETF ammunition in an “unprogrammed” manner against 24-centimeter brick walls, 20-centimeter concrete walls, and 40-centimeter and 80-centimeter adobe walls. Although not able to penetrate the 80-centimeter adobe wall, the unprogrammed KETF did penetrate a 40-centimeter adobe wall with no fragments in front of the wall and some fragments behind the wall.

“There are a wide range of urban operation targets. Very typical targets are concrete, brick, adobe, and other walls. ABM [airburst munition] [unprogrammed] is, in general, a good solution for that. But it’s not a cheap solution.”

Other types of rounds explored in the firing tests included frangible armor piercing (FAP) and penetrator with enhanced lateral effect (PELE).

“We found that they have a large penetration capability,” van de Voorde observed. “They defeated 80-centimeter adobe walls. And also, because they don’t have explosives in them and they are also ‘full bore’ [not sabot designs], you don’t have any debris in front of the wall and you have some fragment debris behind the wall.”

Echoing several points in the TNO presentation, Stephan Kerk, program manager at Rheinmetall offered, “There are a wide range of urban operation targets. Very typical targets are concrete, brick, adobe, and other walls. ABM [airburst munition] [unprogrammed] is, in general, a good solution for that. But it’s not a cheap solution.”

Acknowledging that the standard frangible and PELE designs might seem to be excellent solutions for urban operations, he added, “However, all types are not optimized for urban ops targets. The ammunition needs penetration and fragmentation capability. Trials have showed that ammunition without fuze has a clear benefit over fuzed ammunition.”

FAPDS Round

Rheinmetall 35 mm FAPDS rounds. Rheinmetall Defense photo

“Rheinmetall’s recommendation will be a combination between frangible and PELE ammunition,” he said.  “But we have to add additional features in this round; for example, flash effects on or behind the target, higher pressure or incendiary effects in the target, and wider fragmentation distribution behind the wall.”

Offering his own videos of firing tests of the developmental “combination” [FAP + PELE designs] ammunition against an 80-centimeter adobe wall, he narrated, “You see that after penetration of the 80-centimeter adobe wall we have a lot of fragments. We have incendiary effects in it. We have blast effect in it. So it seems to be the right answer to the gap of the urban ops round.”

Reiterating the challenges of the urban operations target gap, he concluded, “High performance rounds without fuze are recommended. Rheinmetall has different solutions with frangible, PELE and combinations of both. Rheinmetall is working on optimized concepts for medium caliber. And the optimized urban ops round can be available in a short timeframe.”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...