EXCALIBUR – TURNING ARTILLERY CANNON INTO A SNIPER RIFLE
08 Mar 11. On Jan. 14, 2005, Tom Coradeschi placed a phone call to Robert Pinto, triggering a conversation that would give impetus to a revolutionary advancement in artillery.
Coradeschi had never met nor spoken with Pinto. But Coradeschi’s boss, then Lt. Col. William Cole, had worked with Pinto before and suggested that Coradeschi call him. Caradeschi is the Systems Engineering Lead for the Excalibur precision-artillery program with the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as ARDEC.
“We had worked with him on a concept demonstrator fire control system when he was Major Cole, the Project Officer for the Digitized M119A1 Howitzer,” said Pinto, an engineer in the Fire Control Systems and Technology Directorate at ARDEC, at Picatinny Arsenal. “He was familiar with the fact that we could rapidly turn things around.”
Cole and Coradeschi were with the Excalibur project office that was working to deliver a revolutionary advancement intended to bring precision to cannon artillery.
Having the precision fires capability embedded with artillery units, which are usually close to units engaging the enemy, would significantly boost precise strike capability.
Cannon artillery at the time was too blunt an instrument. Cannons achieve relative accuracy based on calculations derived from data such as the howitzer’s location, wind speed and direction, target location and other factors.
Once the round is fired, slight differences between the calculated data and the actual conditions over the long course of travel in a typical 155mm round may result in dispersions of tens or even hundreds of meters.
Commanders needed more precision to avoid casualties among civilians who might be in the vicinity, or to reduce risk to friendly forces in a close fight.
Using Global Positioning System technology to provide guidance and
auto-deploying, free-spinning base fins and canards to make a round operate more like an aircraft, Excalibur Block IA would sail farther and correct to a position almost directly over a target, then drop to within ten meters.
Excalibur has been loosely described as a “smarter” artillery round, or in the words of one U.S. Soldier, “It turns an artillery cannon into a sniper rifle.”
When Coradeschi called Pinto in January of 2005, the timeline to deliver the Excalibur round to U.S. forces was too slow for overseas commanders.
Their objective was to examine the feasibility and, possibly, a path to deliver Excalibur ahead of its programmed schedule to meet the commanders’ urgent needs.
Coalition forces wanted a precision fires capability soon, and they initiated what would become a mid-course correction to the Excalibur program’s trajectory by submitting an urgent need statement to the Department of the Army that preceded Coradeschi’s call to Pinto.
At the time, Excalibur technology was approaching maturity. In May of 2005, the Government Accountability Office reported that of each of Excalibur’s critical technologies were mature, and the project had nearly completed the required numbers of drawings.
The Excalibur program began development in 1997, and by 2002 had established a developmental and funding strategy to deliver “initial operating capability” in September of 2008, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
Among the obstacles to operational use: integrating the Excalibur into existing Army systems, field tests and training the Soldier-operators.
Making Rounds Smarter
Integrating Excalibur into existing Army systems was a unique challenge. While howitzers and their crews require data in order to fire, the rounds themselves require no data.
With Excalibur, the rounds need data – gun and target locations, launch angles, muzzle velocity, GPS satellite information, etc., and some start-up electrical power.
Data and a small amount of power are transferred into the round via in