MONCh (Mönch Online News Service) sparingly uses the term transformation when discussing defence materiel programmes, but that label accurately summarizes the concurrent efforts underway in Raytheon’s EXCALIBUR portfolio. While the projectile’s baseline technology expands, the weapon is being eyed for expanded use in services in the ground warfare domain and remains on track for test and evaluation in the adjacent naval sector.
The EXCALIBUR projectile continues to be viewed as a true precision weapon, unlike a “near precision” guidance system fielded in many ground forces. “Our average missed distance of all of our testing is about two meters from the target, a precision that is in a class of its own,” Shawn A. Miller, the Director of Precision Indirect Fires at Raytheon Missile Systems, pointed out.
Range extension is another discriminator used by Raytheon to describe EXCALIBUR’s capabilities. “Regardless of gun barrel calibre, we extend the range over conventional artillery, with precision, by about 25 percent,” the company director noted. So, for a .39-calibre gun, EXCALIBUR’s reach is slightly more than 40km (24.9 miles) and for .52-calibre artillery, the range is a little more than 50 kilometres.
The EXCALIBUR munition is compatible with a number of US and non-US howitzers with which it’s been tested. This weapon is fully qualified in multiple systems, including the M777, M109 family, M198, the ARCHER and PzH2000. The sector expert further noted EXCALIBUR is also, “compatible with a large number of other howitzers – the K9 (South Korean group Hanwha) and G6 (Denel Land Systems). From across the scale of the international howitzer community anything that is 155mm, we feel EXCALIBUR can be integrated successfully into those guns.”
Indeed, beyond the current list of compatible systems, Raytheon is actively looking for new business opportunities for EXCALIBUR with other platform prime contractors – some of which include Nexter (CAESAR artillery system) and AHS (KRAB Self-Propelled Howitzer). Mindful of the future, EXCALIBUR can potentially be integrated with the US Army’s Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system to achieve even further ranges.
Asked about EXCALIBUR’s current mission performance metrics, Mr. Miller replied: “For the latest version of EXCALIBUR, increment 1B, for current operations and performance, we’re seeing it perform greater than 96% reliable. Meaning every single time a soldier pulls an EXCALIBUR out of its container, 96% of the time it survives the gun-launched environment, flies through all of the environmental factors and accurately hits the target. From a cannon artillery perspective, making the electronics survive – that is an amazing feat, in and of itself, with that consistency.”
On EXCALIBUR’s technology horizon is the prospect of incorporating additional guidance capability. Today, EXCALIBUR is GPS-guided only. However, Raytheon has also demonstrated a capability which integrates a semi-active laser for terminal guidance. “We’re also looking at other alternative seekers to allow it to be more autonomous, where you don’t require a forward observer with a laser designator. That way EXCALIBUR would operate against moving or relocated targets. Or if I don’t have an accurate GPS coordinate for a target, I could fire EXCALIBUR, still get the extended range, and as is gets closer, whether it is a semi-active laser with a designator, or a more autonomous seeker, the round itself will be able to identify a target, guide to a target and engage and defeat the target – similar to most of the other weapons systems we develop at Raytheon.”
On the relevant topic of GPS on the battlefield, Mr. Miller further noted: “We do have the capability to operate in a GPS-degraded environment today. We have demonstrated that. This is the only artillery munition with precision or near-precision giving you that capability. And we are looking to further improve Excalibur, to further enhance its capabilities in a GPS-degraded or denied environment.”
The company also continues to develop the 5in (127mm) naval variant, the EXCALIBUR N5 munition. This sea-based projectile is expected to more than double the maximum range of conventional 5in munitions and will provide the same accuracy as the land-based version. “We have a small contract we recently received from the US Navy to further demonstrate the capability later this year,” Mr. Miller concluded.
EXCALIBUR is co-developed by BAE Systems Bofors.