Welcome to the vision of the US Army’s Future Force. Tomorrow’s troops would rely on the FCS’s (Future Combat System), full array of weapons and sensors that use Information Age technologies to drive a remarkable network of force-multiplying battlefield capabilities. In theory, FCS will enable individual soldiers to employ orders-of-magnitude more firepower in response to critical situations than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. In the works for several years, FCS has become the largest, most complicated and expensive new developmental program in US Army history. It involves not only innovative weapon platforms linked together in a digital data network, but also reorganized combat units built around the capabilities FCS will provide.
Progress on FCS has not been consistent, but several promising systems and methods are well under way and likely to fight with great effectiveness in future conflicts. One of the brightest stars in this galaxy of firepower is the new cornerstone of Army artillery, the NLOS-C (Non-Line of Sight Cannon).
NLOS-C is an integrated cannon system designed to provide fire support of unprecedented accuracy and responsiveness to Combined Arms Battalions, the fighting forces of FCS “Unit of Action” Brigade Combat Teams, and their subordinate company commands. The system’s networked control architecture, SOSCOE (System of Systems Common Operating Environment) coordinates with direct fire platforms such as tanks and other artillery and missile systems for maximum impact, employing firing speed and flexibility and a variety of munitions that tailor effects to specific point or area targets and missions.
Most would probably mistake the NLOS-C for a tank. It is armored artillery, with a 38-caliber 155mm turret-like cradle-mounted cannon on a tracked chassis. Caliber for large cannons is not the diameter of the barrel bore, but rather a measure of barrel length, in this case 38 times the diameter of the shell it fires. The cradle rides aft of the chassis centerline to balance the big gun, and the crew cabin, with viewing ports, protrudes from the forward chassis under the gun itself.
Although it looks large and formidable, NLOS-C actually is comparatively light with proposed combat weight at about 24 tons (around 18 tons with minimum loading). The gun it will replace, the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer, registers 27.5 tons on the scale. Some self-propelled artillery is even heavier. For example, the German PzH 2000 is nearly 60 tons. These weapons are far too heavy for intra-theater aerial transport and not good candidates for rapid deployment or for nimble, high-speed mobility once they are on the ground. NLOS-C can deploy and get under way far faster than any previous weapon.
BAE Systems Land and Armaments recently unveiled the prototype NLOS-C, designated the XM1203. The prototype, the first of eight scheduled for completion by 2009, has begun a two-year test cycle. In 2010, the Army will continue testing to establish tactics, techniques, procedures and doctrine for the new cannon. A total of 18 NLOS-Cs will participate in doctrine development, and fielding should begin about 2014, equipping each of the 15 planned FCS Brigade Combat Teams with 18 cannons.
The program first began in 2002, following the cancellation of the XM2001 Crusader Advanced Field Artillery System. The DoD ended Crusader development due to cost and 40-ton weight did not fit the Army’s future strategic direction. United Defense, the prime Crusader contractor, quickly won a follow-on program to come up with an alternative approach, and merged in 2005 with BAE, forming the current company. NLOS-C progress came rapidly because the system utilized many of the features intended for Crusader.
NLOS-C’s cannon is about 1200 pounds lighter than the M777 ultra lightweight howitzer tested on the concept demo with a frame and cradle comprised of steel alloys and aluminum. Digital navigation capabilities are incorporated to define locations for the gun and direct- and indirect-fire targets that enable it to hit positions without ranging rounds. The NLOS-C demonstrator routinely fired 6-rounds-per-minute, and automated, hands-free loading will support a 10-round-per-minute objective rate of fire with Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) capability for four to six rounds that strike within four seconds of each other. The loader facilitates the MRSI mission by mixing shell types from illumination to point-detonation to area effect, including cargo rounds containing cluster munitions and smart munitions with fire-and-forget seeker technology. Magazine capacity is twenty-four 100-pound rounds with room for 90 propellant loads. The cannon’s maximum effective range is more than 15 miles.
The gun rides on a chassis built from metal alloys and composites that will be about 80-percent common across the family of eight FCS manned ground vehicles, which includes one for re-supply, all part of at least 18 linked systems in FCS. Propulsion combines a diesel engine and hybrid-electric drive combination to conserve fuel. The vehicle uses a continuous-band track suspension that rides more smoothly than conventional steel-linked tank tracks. NLOS-C can move at speeds up to 55 mph on roads and about 35 mph over terrain. It carries enough fuel to move 30 miles, a very wide operational radius for artillery. On battery power alone, the cannon can move more than two miles at 20 mph.
Only two crewmen operate the package. Older self-propelled artillery have required crews of five or more. NLOS-C’s cannon cockers will work in a common crew station, with digital systems that give them complete “situational awareness” in real time, or near real time.
NLOS-C promises to add much improved artillery capabilities to Army operations in less than a decade if it’s on schedule. As part of the FCS network, the new gun will maintain artillery’s role as the King of Battle, tying the traditionally overwhelming power of a well-aimed cannon fire to advanced maneuver and communications systems that will multiply the battle effectiveness of individual troops. With NLOS-C on the field, future soldiers truly will be able to bring down the thunder.