At Euronaval, MONCh sat down with John Perri, Director of Business Development at BAE Systems, to talk about the Mk45 Mod 4, 5-inch Naval Gun system that was on display during the show. “The Mk45 gun system is currently in service with 12 different navies,” Mr Perri told MONCh, and it was most recently selected for the Australian SEA 5000 Future Frigates programme, and was part of the combat system preferred bidder selection for the Canadian Surface Combatant programme. “It is continuously being upgraded,” Mr Perri added. The latest upgrades include a 62-caliber barrel, strengthened gun and mount subsystems, advanced control system enhancement, and a reduced signature, low maintenance gun shield.
But perhaps even just as importantly, Mr Perri spoke of the importance of guided munitions for guns such as the Mk45 in order to extend the range and precision of these weapons: “The current range of the Mk45 is 24km, so if you want to engage any target beyond 24km with a surface combatant ship, you currently have to use a missile.” However, missiles are expensive and a ship can only carry a limited amount of these weapons, thus limiting the commander’s flexibility in his choice. “The introduction of guided munitions to the guns allows you to extend their range beyond 24km to almost a 100km,” continued Mr Perri, not to mention the fact that projectiles are a fraction of the cost of missiles and ships can carry hundreds of them. “So it becomes a much more efficient way to address targets and gives the commander more flexibility to optimise which weapon to fire at which target.”
In this context, BAE Systems teamed up with Leonardo Defense Systems to offer the Vulcano projectile. It is a sub-calibre round, slightly smaller in diameter than the Mk 45’s barrel and lighter than a normal ballistic round, but the munition still has the full 5-inch area to accelerate the projectile down the barrel. Additionally, the canards on the Vulcano’s sides generate lift while its aerodynamic shape minimises drag therefore extending range. “You can also shape the trajectory of the projectile to hit targets that may be trying to hide behind hills or between buildings in urban environments,” adds Mr Perri. As this means that the projectile works with a GPS, a natural concern would be that of GPS jammers, but while Mr Perri could not give specific technical details regarding the Vulcano’s anti-GPS jammer technologies, he did explain that two options have been tested thus far: “You fly the projectile to a point overhead to a GPS coordinate and then turn on a seeker. For targets at sea, this can be an infra-red seeker, which detects targets that are warmer than their backgrounds and guides the munition based on that thermal signature; for targets on land, a semi-active laser (SAL) can be used with a forward observer designating the target with a low energy laser.”
A document published by the US Navy indicates that tests were being conducted to fire the Vulcano from the Mk45 gun system. Currently the Vulcano projectile is in the final phases of full qualification with several international customers.
Finally, based on the requirements for the UK Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigates, BAE Systems has developed the automated Ammunition Handling System (AHS). The AHS, placed below the Mk45 gun system, is a computerised and fully automated system that stores, selects, and moves ammunition to the gun when a firing command has been received. “While currently this work is normally done by four to six sailors, the AHS eliminates the crew from this task, increasing gun availability and sustained rate of fire,” notes Mr Perri. The AHS has already been selected for the Type 26 and, chances are, the SEA 5000 programme, but a number of other nations are also looking to retrofit their Mk45 guns with this automated system.
Dr. Alix Valenti