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While We Await Lasers, Armament (R)evolutions Pile Up

Next-generation weapons are still being developed, and experts keep faith in their eventual fielding. However, delays always occur, and traditional evolutions of armament keep on arriving. Some of these are so disruptive and innovative that they are semi-revolutions, and they will provide an edge to armies who await the big guns.

Next-Generation Solutions: Laser and Railgun

The two next best things on the military market will, of course, be the long-awaited electromagnetic rail gun, and the laser gun. While the former packs a punch so fierce no ship could block or withstand it, the latter provides a level of accuracy, yet unheard of. These systems are only possible today, now that naval vessels have access to considerable sources of energy, especially in the case of nuclear-powered ships – given their enormous consumption. Military reporter David Axe covered the testing of the new naval Laser gun for the National Interest, while China is competing with the US Navy’s railgun, as reported by defense specialist Michael Peck. When they will arrive, Star War weapons will represent a quantum leap in warfare. But one shouldn’t expect a transfiguration of the battlefield, however. The generalization of these new technologies will happen slowly, with the United States probably blocking exports in the short run, to keep its strategic advantage. Once the embargo is lifted, the tech will not be generalized right away either: only rich countries will be able to acquire these new weapons.

Nexter brings two major innovations to the battlefield: CTA 40 and Caesar

French armament builder Nexter has designed and marketed two new types of armament which represent a big leap from previous equivalents. In a partnership with Great Britain, Nexter has designed a new type of large-caliber ammunition, CTA 40, which enables a substantial increase in firepower while making the rounds more compact. Cased Telescopic Ammunition – 40mm will increase the punch, range, and mobility of the vehicles which carry it, such as Infantry Fighting Vehicles and reconnaissance vehicles. Despite the sturdy size of such vehicles, size and volume are of the essence in their design, due to the high amount of equipment that they must carry. CTA40 is therefore promised to be a game changer, as explained by military reporter Joseph Trevithick: “It’s an advanced and innovative design overall, but its primary benefits are in the basic size and construction of the 40mm cased telescoped ammunition. A cased telescoped round means that the actual projectile sits inside the cartridge case with the propellant instead of protruding from the front. As a result, the 40mm cased telescoped cartridges are roughly half the length of other 40mm rounds on the market and are even shorter than the 30mm rounds for the XM813 Bushmaster II gun the Army is testing on its up-gunned Strykers, also known as Dragoons.” On the artillery market, Nexter has again gone disruptive, by choosing to develop the Caesar cannon, an ultra-mobile artillery system based on a truck chassis, while most heavy artillery systems are mounted on armored track vehicles. The Caesar artillery truck provides small-arms protection for the crew but does not need heavy ballistic armor, due to its extreme mobility. It is, therefore, able to deploy artillery coverage far more quickly than traditional howitzers and with greater range.

Diversification of Ammunition type, such as reduced mortality

Much innovation has occurred in recent years, based on the traditional ballistic projectile. Some of that has been standard improvement, such as the new M777 artillery howitzer. Australian Defense reports: “Eight years after the 39-caliber M777A2 ultra-lightweight towed howitzer entered service with the ADF, live fire qualification testing is underway with a new suite of 155mm ammunition that will provide the weapon with increased range and lethality. This follows the $100 million contract announced in March 2018 under Land 17-Phase1C.2 Future Artillery Ammunition program for the supply of various 155mm projectile types from Rheinmetall’s Assegai family.” But some are far more innovative and operate on the other end of the mortality spectrum: reduced-lethality rounds. In smaller calibers, the range of non-lethal ammunition is expanding, as military operations include more and more crowd control.

Increased Accuracy: Solving an age-old problem

Artillery has suffered the same problem since its inception: it has formidable power of destruction, whether it be ground-based artillery or air-launched bombing raids. However, big progress has been made in making sure a shell reaches its actual target, and not the school, hospital, or friendly military base a few miles away. Guided shells can now update their trajectory during the flight. New artillery rounds have been issued to the Indian army, after being developed by Raytheon, as reported by the Hindu: “The ammunition will be used in all 155-mm artillery guns with the Army, the sources said. The Excalibur projectile is developed by Raytheon and BAE Systems Bofors. According to information on Raytheon’s website, the Excalibur provides accurate “first-round effects” at all ranges in all weather conditions and “extends the reach of .39-calibre artillery to 40 km and .52-calibre artillery to more than 50 km”. Additionally, mid-flight break-ups enable the release of secondary warheads and new penetration angles for hardened targets, with a higher chance of destruction on the first strike.

When the new systems appear, and they will, these semi-revolutions described above will not be obsolete. Their bulky size of rail guns and laser pods will contain them either on fixed land-based platforms or at the very least on large ships. Tens of years will be necessary before they can be fitted onto land vehicles, and, even then, they will only cover one end (the lethal one) of the operational array. So, if armament innovation is going stronger than ever, it doesn’t mean traditional military tech is about to die.

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