Improved mortars

U.S. Army Rangers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, fire a 120mm mortar during a tactical training exercise on Camp Roberts, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014. Rangers constantly train to maintain the highest level of tactical proficiency. (US Army photo by Pfc. Nathaniel Newkirk)

U.S. Army Rangers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, fire a 120mm mortar during a tactical training exercise on Camp Roberts, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014. Rangers constantly train to maintain the highest level of tactical proficiency. (US Army photo by Pfc. Nathaniel Newkirk)

Redesign to help infantrymen become more lethal, safer

By John B. Snyder, Watervliet Arsenal Public Affairs

The U.S. Army has lightweight mortar systems, range and a significant amount of lethal and destructive fire to close-range combat. Why would anyone think about tweaking something that has already been proven very capable in training and in combat?

“It is all about our troops maintaining the competitive edge over potential adversaries,” said Wayland Barber, chief of the Mortars and Recoilless Rifle Branch at Benét Laboratories at Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y. “Even without funding for new weapons research, Army scientists and engineers are always seeking opportunities to improve weapons systems that are in the field.”

“No sooner than we field a new mortar system, our customers demand that we make it better in regards to extended range, increased lethality or capability, and reduced weight,” Barber said. “This triggers the entire Army research community, from those who improve the lethality of ammunition to those who design the delivery system, to work on parallel and converging fields of science to achieve a common goal.”

Bob Cooley, a Benét Labs Integrated Process team leader, adjusting the newly redesigned 120mm mortar bipod in the product development laboratory at Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y. (U.S. Army photo by John B. Synder)

Bob Cooley, a Benét Labs Integrated Process team leader, adjusting the newly redesigned 120mm mortar bipod in the product development laboratory at Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y. (U.S. Army photo by John B. Synder)

Barber supervises 14 Army civilian engineers and technicians who not only design and build prototypes of future mortar and recoilless systems, they also design product improvements of what has already been fielded. Given today’s fiscal challenges and lack of major orders for new weapon systems, improving what the U.S. military currently has fielded drives Barber and his team’s near-term focus.

Some of the latest work at Benét Labs transcends all fielded mortar systems in the U.S. inventory, from 60mm to 81mm to 120mm mortars.

“The current 120-mm mortar system has good range, is reliable, and the troops like it,” said Bob Cooley, a Benét Labs Integrated Process team leader. “But as good as that system is, we have several product improvements that we are currently working that may improve Soldiers’ safety, increase range by up to 25 percent, and reduce the system’s weight by nearly 16 percent.”

“One of the major upgrades to the 120mm system is with its bipod,” Cooley said. “Our bipod redesign will improve the accuracy of the system because it moves the fire control system from the tube to the bipod.”

According to Cooley, the fire control system, or FCS, is currently attached to the tube, which places a significant amount of stress and movement on the FCS during a fire mission. By moving the FCS to the bipod, there will be less force exerted on the system, which will improve accuracy.

Another design improvement for the 120mm mortar system includes a new baseplate that will provide more stability for extended range munitions, and save money. If the redesigned baseplate goes into full production, it will cost nearly 50 percent less than the current system. The qualification test was recently completed with the firing of 3,000 rounds without incident.

The final piece to the redesigned 120mm mortar system is an improved cannon tube. When extended range ammunition is developed, the tube must also be modified to withstand higher tube pressure, heat and muzzle velocity.

Benét Labs plans to conduct a full-quality testing of the redesigned 120mm mortar system in fiscal 2015, and Barber’s team is also doing research and design work on the 60mm and the 81mm mortar systems.

Benét Labs, which is part of the Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center, has a history of designing and fielding new weapon systems. Although Benét officially opened its doors as the Army’s large caliber research and design facility in 1962, its weapons research at the Watervliet Arsenal dates back to the 1840s.