Smart Howitzer rounds enable one shot one kill from 30 miles

One of the america’s military-industrial complex’s most important inventions comes out of the barrel of a howitzer. It’s called the “Excalibur,” and it’s a 155-millimeter howitzer round that creator Raytheon says can target an object 30 miles away and consistently hit within two meters of that target. Excalibur is usually even more accurate than that. In a test firing last year, several Excalibur rounds fired at a distance of 30 miles landed within one meter of their targets, on average. (It achieves this extraordinary range by gliding on wings at the apex of its firing arc, while the extraordinary accuracy comes via GPS guidance.) 30 miles is from San Francisco to Palo Alto or San Jose to Millbrae.

The Army is paying about $70,000 per Paladin round. So filling up each Paladin magazine with Excaliburs works out to 39 x 975 x 70,000, which equals a $2.66 billion revenue opportunity for Raytheon. (And the opportunity could be even bigger. This is because in addition to the Paladin, Excalibur can also be fired from 155mm guns including the American M198 and M777 howitzers, Germany’s Panzerhaubitze 2000, the U.K.’s AS-90, and Sweden’s Archer Artillery System.

Paladins today ordinarily carry 39 unguided howitzer rounds, which are produced by arms makers including General Dynamics and Esterline and cost about $1,000 each. But because such rounds are “dumb,” Army experts estimate it can take anywhere from 10 to 50 unguided rounds to destroy a target that Excalibur can take out in a single shot. So on average, a Paladin firing unguided rounds might have to nearly empty its magazine to destroy a target that — if armed with Excaliburs — it could destroy with just one shot.

Replacing dumb rounds with Excaliburs would hurt revenues at General Dynamics and Esterline. But it should permit a Paladin to destroy targets faster and destroy more targets, and to cause less collateral damage in the process. And because the Paladin won’t go through its ammunition as quickly, the Army won’t need to load, ship, unload, and reload as much ammunition — saving vast amounts of money up and down the supply chain.

When you consider the efficiencies Excalibur permits on the supply chain “tail,” the Army may very well end up saving money by buying Excaliburs — even at 70 times the cost of a conventional howitzer round.

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