Canadian Army trialing more powerful, more precise artillery shells

Artillery soldiers conduct a practice shoot.

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Medicine Hat, Alberta — New technology now being assessed by the Canadian Army (CA)’s research and development arm has the potential to increase the power of artillery munitions while also reducing the collateral damage they may cause.

Results from an initial trial conducted in fall 2017 at Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC)’s Suffield Research Centre in Alberta are promising, explained Jason Braden, DRDC’s Land Combat Systems Program Manager, though as much as five years of research still lies ahead.

The experimental shells are encased in structural reactive materials (SRM) rather than conventional steel. These have what Mr. Braden called “an illogical dual benefit.”

SRM reacts itself and with the air – burning and increasing the explosive power and blast pressure within the lethal radius of the munition,” he added. “At the same time, because the fragments it produces are smaller and have more deceleration than with steel, they travel less distance and cause less damage outside of your intended blast area.”

The rounds function similarly to thermobaric weapons, which use combustible liquids or aerosols, but with one key difference.

“Solid SRM can be used for munition shells owing to its high mechanical strength, with its fragments having a similar effect of combustion and spreading out but in a solid state and with only one fuse, one explosion,” said Dr. Fan Zhang, lead scientist at the Suffield Research Centre. “So it very much simplifies the whole process, while giving significantly higher energy output than current explosive yields.”

Making the blast power adjustable is also one of DRDC’s objectives.

“We got positive results showing that there is the possibility of adjusting the burn rate in the fuse in order to further reduce the explosive power,” said Mr. Braden, “to tune it or scale it as needed. But there’s still a bit of work to do in finding how best to do it.”

The CA first began investigating this area in 2005 and Mr. Braden noted that Canada has emerged as a leader in research and development along with the United States and Germany. All three nations have been sharing information, he added.

This year’s trial also saw separate elements of the Canadian Armed Forces collaborate. While the CA assessed the viability of SRM in an artillery context, Royal Canadian Air Force researchers tested it in the form of 500-pound (or about 227-kilogram) air-dropped bombs.

Mr. Braden explained also that DRDC is also breaking new ground by bringing industry into the R&D process earlier than before.

“We as an organization have to recognize and partner with industry because they do a good job of finding cost savings and cost effectiveness in making the product. We ask, can a Canadian company or another defence industry actually produce it for a reasonable cost and make the business case?”

Major Travis Maxwell, with the CA’s Directorate of Land Resources, said the CA is keenly watching developments.

“The CA needs artillery ammunition to exploit technological advancements that improve precision, limit collateral damage and concentrate effects so that commanders have options appropriate for a wide spectrum of tactical problems.”

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Article / January 11, 2018 / Project number: 17-0032

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