Dragon Fire (mortar)

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This article is about mortar system. For other uses, see Dragon Fire (disambiguation).
Dragon Fire II mortar system
Dragonfire2cropped.jpg
Test firing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
Type Heavy Mortar
Place of origin United States
Specifications
Shell ?
Caliber 120 mm
Rate of fire 10 rounds per minute (maximum)
4 rounds per minute (sustained)
Effective firing range 8,200 m
(13,000 m with rocket assisted projectile)

The Dragon Fire 120 mm heavy mortar was designed and produced by the French company TDA Armaments that was picked up by the US Marine Corps for its EFSS (Expeditionary Fire Support System) requirement. It is a fully automated mortar capable of using rifled or smoothbore 120 mm ammunition. Like all mortars, it is a high-angle-of-fire weapon used for indirect fire support. Dragon Fire is also expected to be effective in a counter-battery role.

History[edit]

The US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) started a Concept Demonstrator project in 1997. They wanted a weapon that would be a "mortar in a box," that is a weapon that could be remotely emplaced and fired unattended on a future battlefield. In late 1997, MCWL accepted a proposal by the army's Program Manager, Mortars (PM Mortars) and Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Command (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey to design and build a firing system to fulfill the design objectives. An early requirement was that the system had to be a 120mm system to give sufficient lethality and range. Ultimately, the design team picked parts of the French Thomson-Daimler Armements (TDA) experimental 2R2M mortar because it had a usable power driven traverse and elevation in addition to a loading system. Its 120mm rifled ammunition promised greater accuracy and range.

The project completed the experimental weapon, now called the Dragon Fire, in 17 months. It was used in a series of firing experiments beginning in September 1998. During 1999-2002, the Dragon Fire was used during the Limited Object Experiment (LOE) Urban Warrior and several follow-on experiments, and the French-made 2R2M mortar mounted in a Piranha vehicle served as a surrogate for a mobile, Light Armored Vehicle-mounted firing system. These experiments showed that the concept of automating the fire control, aiming and loading of a medium-range firing system substantially reduced fire mission response times and resulted in accurate, efficient fire.

Following successful testing, the Marine Corps initiated a Requirement Document for an Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) to fill the gap in the availability of supporting fires for the initial air-delivered elements of an expeditionary operation. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab initiated a follow-on project called Dragon Fire II, which was to be a government-designed, government-produced weapons system and it would incorporate the "lessons learned" with the first Dragon Fire. PM Mortars/ARDEC was again designated to do the design work and to modify the M95 Mortar Fire Control System (MFCS) to provide the advanced fire control and weapon control for the new system.

The project was initiated in 2002, but, not long afterwards, TDA dropped out of the project because of issues concerning sharing of design information and their price, and when MARCORSYSCOM made it known that it would be looking for an "off the shelf, commercial system" for the EFSS requirement, the system specifications for the Dragon Fire II were de-scoped to Concept Demonstrator and the budget was reduced. ARDEC contracted with General Dynamics to design the new electric actuators for elevation, traverse, loading and firing and despite some difficulties in that contract, the finished Dragon Fire II, now known as the XM-326 120mm Automated Mortar, was rolled out at Rock Island Arsenal in September 2005.

The new Dragon Fire II was half the weight of the first Dragon Fire, 1,565 kg (3,450 lb) versus over 3,175 kg (7,000 lb). It was capable of receiving a fire mission over its on-board radio, processing the fire mission, aiming the weapon, loading and firing in any direction within 18 seconds. The Dragon Fire II was incorporated into testing with the Counter Rockets, Artillery, and Mortars (C-RAM) project while it was still undergoing engineering and safety tests at Yuma Proving Ground. It fired in support of C-RAM's demonstrations and was responsive and accurate, with most rounds landing within a circular error probable (CEP) of 15 m (49 ft) at a range of 5,600 m (18,400 ft).

During 2007, a Light Armored Vehicle was modified to accept the Dragon Fire internally as a modular artillery weapon. Over the next months opposition to the Dragon Fire II and to MCWL's involvement in long-term experimentation increased. Funding was first reduced and then cut completely. As a last attempt to use this system, it was converted to become a full-time LAV mortar system for the Marine Corps. This funding was removed in 2009 and the weapon is currently in storage at Picatinny Arsenal.

The Dragon Fire II was featured in the Discovery Channel's Future Weapons program.[1]

The final version of the EFSS weapon system consists of two Prime Movers, the RT 120/ M327 rifled towed mortar, an ammunition trailer, and the fire control equipment. One vehicle tows the RT 120 mortar, and the second vehicle tows the ammunition trailer. The ammunition trailer holds up 36 mortar rounds in factory-recyclable steel containers.[2]

In June 2011, for the first time, the Marine Corps field tested loading the RT 120/M327 mortar and its prime mover into Amphibious Assault Vehicles, demonstrating the versatility of the EFSS to meet various mission requirements.

Operation[edit]

The Dragon Fire mortar system can be deployed mounted in an LAV-25, towed by a HMMWV, or air deployed by CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter or V-22 Osprey. Fixing the weapon in an LAV does not require a separate mount; its towing carriage can be converted to an LAV mount in five minutes. After deployment, the crew can control the weapon system from a remote station. In operation, it is designed to be fully automatic: loading, computing firing solutions, aiming and firing automatically. From an unloaded condition, the weapon is capable of loading, completing a firing solution, aiming, and firing the first round within 14 seconds of receiving an order. The weapon is also capable of being operated manually in the event of failure of an automatic system.

The advanced fire control system is fully compatible with the US Army system, to reduce the risk of friendly fire (fratricide) incidents.

Types of rounds[edit]

The Dragon Fire system is designed to be able to use all NATO types of rifled and smoothbore 120 mm mortar ammunition. However, the USMC awarded Raytheon a contract to design, develop and demonstrate a new 120mm long-range, guided-mortar munition for use with the M327 mortar. The new Precision Extended Range Munition (PERM) is expected to be ready for a live-fire demonstration by the summer of 2015.[3] The 120mm rifled mortar PERM round will give the EFSS a reach of 17 kilometres (11 mi), with a CEP of 20 m (66 ft).[2] The prototype PERM rounds have a GPS antenna and small fins, canards, that provide lift and extend the range of the weapon. The Marine Corps acquisition program performed a shoot-off of the prototype mortar rounds developed by Raytheon and ATK.[4] In December 2015, the Marine Corps awarded a five-year contract to Raytheon Missile Systems to deliver about 4,300 rounds. Each round, weighing 35 pounds each, costs $18,000 each, about $16,000 more than the non-precision rounds.[5]

Gallery[edit]

Operators[edit]

Map of Dragon Fire operators in blue

Current operators[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Future Weapons - Dragon Fire II Mortar". www.discovery.com. Discovery Channel. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "EFSS/ITV: The US Marines' Mobile 120mm Mortar System". www.defenseindustrydaily.com. Defense Industry Daily, LLC. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Marines Get Improved Precision Extended Range Munitions". www.spacewar.com. Space Media Network. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Osborn, Kris (18 December 2014). "Raytheon Test-Fires New GPS-Guided Mortar for Marines". Defense Tech. The Military Advantage/Military.com. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  5. ^ Seck, Hope Hodge (16 December 2015). "Marines to Receive Precision-Guided Mortar Round in 2018". Military.com Network. The Military Advantage/Military.com. Retrieved 8 January 2016. 

References[edit]