Despite apparent simplicity, armament technology is remarkably complex, including at the simplest level of small arms, and thus progress is slow. It took two centuries for cannons to swap their inaccurate smooth bores with precise rifled tubes, and another four centuries for generals to understand how important it was, and to become commonplace. Most evolutions are mere upgrades, and only once in a while does an actual breakthrough occur, such as the recent development of the CTA (Case Telescoped Ammunition) 40 mm cannon.
Although little publicized until now, armament experts will be mentioning CTA 40 increasingly in the near future. French Nexter and British BAE systems (under the joint venture CTAI) launched the first steps of the CTA program in the early 2000s, sensing that mid-range calibre (such as 30mm cannons) was coming to the end of its potential. After a few years of thinking outside the box, they produced the CTA 40 mm cartridge, a completely new kind of ammunition. Unlike traditional rounds, which will place propellant behind the projectile inside the case, cased telescoped ammunition embeds most of its round within the powder, or even all of it. It can be derived in multiple forms, according to the intended use, and can come in a caseless form.
Fed through a rotating breech system, it can fire armour-piercing rounds, detonating rounds, and anti-aircraft airburst rounds, tracing or not. BAE systems issued a statement, upon delivering the first cannons to the British army, stating “The new ammunition is neatly contained in a straight tube instead of the traditional bullet shape and can deliver a more explosive charge – up to four times the power of the 30mm rounds it replaces. The current types of ammunition developed for the cannon include armour piercing and training rounds – while a new airburst round for engaging light vehicles and infantry spread over a large area, and a point detonating round which can penetrate thick concrete – are currently undergoing qualification.”. The Royal Army will fit the new turrets onto Ajax and Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, which compose most of its mechanized infantry vectors.
The reason standard medium-calibre is being left to the past is that it locks the user into a choice. The most common medium calibre gun is a 30mm cannon, such as those mounted on Infantry Fighting Vehicles, for instance. Any country with a fleet of IFVs, wishing to have superiority on its neighbour – no doubt also the owner of a fleet of 30-mm mounted IFVs – can always choose to upgrade guns to more powerful 35-mm or even 40-mm calibres. However, this simply amounts to fattening the same kind of gun, and will necessarily come at the cost of mobility.
Heavier guns mean slower speed, less ammunition storage and heavier operation. And heavy guns will be of little use to a fighting force if their enemy can evade their manoeuvres constantly, because they’ve lost too much mobility. Defence blog ThinkDefence tracked the history of cased telescoped ammunition to its debuts and concluded “Why has the UK and France persisted with this approach when there are many conventional options like Super 40, for example? Quite simply, it is one of space, although additional armour piercing performance is always a good thing.”
CTA 40 calibre guns yield performance above traditional 40-mm calibres (known as Super 40), and far above the most widespread 30-mm guns, while being lighter and smaller than a 30-mm gun. Perforation power is increased between 50 and 100 % compared to traditional calibres, and range can double that of 30-mm and 40-mm guns. So, in the last scenario, the owner of CTA 40 IFVs could annihilate an enemy force of standard IFVs (such as BMP-3) with superior fire power, before the enemy force ever had a chance to fire back.
Two clear indicators show that CTA 40 is the future. The first is the involvement of the Americans in the program. For reasons pertaining to technological safety, military sovereignty and national pride, the Americans seldom turn to foreign armament technology and prefer to keep to themselves, counting on the enormous technological advance of their armament industry. But the French and the British results exceeded the American ones, as defence blog ThinkDefence concluded : “Despite US research activity, it would be the UK and France that would go on to bring into service a cased telescoped automatic cannon.”
The second clue is the probable near purchase of CTA 40 turrets by Qatar, whose Defense minister Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiya recently inspected the guns. Qatar has deep pockets, and is known to save no effort to purchase the best the market has to offer, so as to compensate its small size, relative to its neighbours. However, CTA 40 is the very near future, to the extent that it is already also the present, as the calibre recently achieved qualification certification both from the British and French armies, leading CTAI to announce “Qualification certification allows both the UK MoD’s Category A land vehicle programmes (Scout and WCSP) and the French DGA’s EBRC programme to move into manned firing demonstration phases. CTA International has already delivered the required weapons for the UK and French demonstration programmes and is currently delivering the ammunition.”. In other words, CTA 40 tubes should be rolling out of factories and onto battlefields very soon.
Unlike traditional 30, 35, or 40-mm guns, which have been squeezed dry of just about every drop of potential they ever held, CTA 40 is only at the beginning of its technological life, and is already giving results vastly superior to what could be achieved until now, while inverting the trend of making guns ever heavier. Until the technology becomes commonplace, which will probably take a few decades, owners and operators of these calibres will maintain a decisive tactical advantage on the ground troops they face.