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Two New DoD Programs Span the Lethality Spectrum

A number of recent projects and opportunities reflect a broad spectrum of battlefield lethality options currently being explored across the Department of Defense.

As an example, representatives at the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., recently highlighted their emerging work on the optimization of shell fragmentation.

“The fragments produced by artillery shells can vary dramatically in size, making the effects of shelling unpredictable and inefficient,” noted the mid-August announcement, describing those fragments as varying “from harmless, dust-like remnants to much larger pieces that can inflict great damage.”

ARDEC engineers have been working on ways to not only produce more consistent shell fragments but also to produce two different sizes of consistent fragments from the same shell.

“When you’re targeting certain things like personnel or vehicles, you’re looking to get a fragment that’s a particular size,” said Peter Rottinger, a mechanical engineer at Picatinny Arsenal. “With natural fragmentation, you may get some fragments that are not going to be lethal and you may get some fragments that are over-lethal, like four times the size that you really needed to defeat that target, so it becomes inefficient.”

Rottinger and his co-workers at ARDEC’s Force Protection and Explosively Formed Penetrator Branch have been working to design warheads better suited to specific target types.

Initial research into “single mode” fragmentation was aimed at achieving a design that would create shell fragments of relatively equal size consistently. Later, the research progressed to a “multi-mode” design. With this design, soldiers could choose between either of two sizes of fragments by making an adjustment through the fuze assembly of a projectile.

On detonation, the fragments are dispersed according to a desired pattern, depending on whether they are intended for soft targets with smaller fragments, or materiel targets like trucks that require larger shell pieces to be effective.

CORE program illustration

A U.S. Army graphic shows how soldiers can adjust the fuze of an artillery shell so that the shell will produce fragments of different sizes based on the intended target. U.S. Army image

According to Rottinger, the advantages of the multi-mode warhead are enhanced lethality and greater effectiveness against a wide range of targets.

“Multi-mode lets you change fragment size on the fly, so if the soldier knows that he’s going to be going after personnel, he can set the warhead to produce smaller fragments. You get more fragments out there and you get higher efficiency,” he said.

Projectiles ranging in size from 155 mm to 40 mm have been tested to date.


At the Other End of the Spectrum

At the other end of the lethality spectrum, Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) has just released a “sources sought” announcement for market research information on the development of “a flashbang payload from the current M252 81 mm mortar.”

The market research is being conducted on behalf of MARCORSYSCOM’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD).

According to the requirement overview, the potential indirect munition must deliver “a high suppressive flashbang effect at range” while minimizing the risk of significant injury to the target, operators and bystanders. The desired non-lethal mortar munition must be fully capable of being fired from the current M252 81 mm mortar.

“Although it is understood that every weapon system poses some risk, non-lethal weapons must limit the risk of significant injury (RSI) to targeted humans. Therefore a non-lethal mortar munition is expected to require a method of reducing kinetic energy prior to engaging the target,” it states.

Other notional requirements include: Maximum range commensurate with existing lethal mortar munitions; Coverage area for a single mortar round of up to several thousands of square meters; Payload/fragment/submunitions deceleration solution that reduces the risk of significant injury to targeted personnel; Suppression of human targets for seconds after exposure; Accuracy comparable with the existing 81 mm mortar munitions; and Insensitive munitions compliance for energetic components.

The JNLWD will use the results of this announcement to determine if the industrial base has the capability to support the development of an 81 mm non-lethal mortar munition.

Army interest in new non-lethal solutions was also expressed in a recent modification to a Broad Agency Announcement from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), Weapons Development and Integration Directorate (WDI).

According to the announcement, the government is interested in “experimental and theoretical development utilizing new, unique, and innovative technologies to advance the capabilities in WDI” in a range of technology areas.

Among the specific technology areas identified was “Non-Lethal Technologies – including, but not limited to: (a) Payload delivery system for non-lethal target engagement (b) Non-lethal payloads including solutions for vehicle stoppage/anti-materiel, solutions for anti-personnel, and selectable lethality devices for escalation of force.”


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