Precision Mortars – Maturing in Combat

U.S. Army Stryker crew fires the Cardom 120mm mortar. Photo: U.S. Army

The U.S. Army is gaining more experience with precision mortars. The latest addition to its arsenal, the XM395 Precision Guided Mortar Munition (PGMM) is being employed by the 506th Infantry battalion in Afghanistan. Initial lessons with the new bomb are positive; the new guided weapons offer precision-fire capabilities, hitherto unavailable to tactical units at this level. This highly accurate bomb enables mortar teams to fire with high precision at targets, in closer proximity to friendly forces, without risking collateral damage or danger of fratricide.

The U.S. Army developed the new capability under the ‘Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI). ATK developed the Mortar Guidance Kits (MGK) and delivered the first units in November 2010, following an extensive qualification process, achieved in less than 12 months. With the Army clearing of the new weapon for fielding, ATK received a $50 million order to deliver the kits and associated support equipment to equip all eight U.S. Army Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs) fighting in Afghanistan, within six months.

The new guided mkortar bomb will be used alongside existing unguided mortar bombs, employed in situations where the enemy can be targeted with high accuracy, or in conditions mandating high-precision, firing in close proximity to friendly forces, or to avoid collateral damage. Prior to firing, operators input the mission data, such as target coordinates, range, altitude and fuse setting. The weapon can be programmed to explode in the air (airburst mode), on impact with a hard surface, or with a short delay, enabling it to penetrate a building roof.

PGMM provides manned outposts in Afghanistan’s with precision effects sofar available only by higher echelons, enabling Forward Operating Bases (FOB) at the remotest posts to pursue enemy targets and employ counterfire with precision, effective fire, alleviating reliance on slower, more complex fire support directed remotely by brigade or division level. Unlike the Excalibur artillery round, deployed at brigade level, guided mortar bombs are now being deployed at battalion levels and support the mission and respond to fire-support calls from the battalion’s sub-units. With the greater accuracy, precision mortar bombs can provide first round ‘fire-for-effect’, therefore helping to reduce the number of rounds required to successfully defeat high value targets.

“The 120mm precision guided munitions will allow Task Force Red Currahee to provide even more effective fires with increased lethality,” said Lt. Col. David Womack, commander of the 1st Bn., 506th Inf., commenting on his fire support company’s new capability, “The accuracy of the 120mm PGMM also reduces the potential risk of any collateral damage, (and) as a commander I have another tool available to fight the enemy.”