Electronic Design

Picatinny Arsenal: R&D Home of America’s Lethal Firepower

No matter how well it works, a military piece of equipment can do better. That in short is the ultimate aim of thousands of researchers, physicists, and engineers at the U.S. Army's Picatinny Arsenal. Located in Dover, NJ, it is home to over 3,000 civilian and defense employees, most of whom are civilian. Work at the Army is unique and is not duplicated by anyone in the commercial sector. Picatinny essentially takes whatever electronic equipment is out in the field and re-works it to make it better, lighter, more accurate and more functional and easier to use.

Picatinny prides itself as "America's Home of Firepower." It says that it is supplies "90% of the U.S. Army's Lethality." In short, it's the center's mission is to provide the fully integrated firepower needed to achieve "decisive battlefield victory." Picatinny is on the cutting edge of weapons development, producing many of the weapons now being deployed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq., such as the lightweight 155-mm cannon (Figure 1).

The use of advanced software techniques and the latest commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, as well as rigorous testing of armaments and military communications systems is what drives the U.S. Army's Picatinny Arsenal's Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC). ARDEC is among a number of other military organizations located at the arsenal. ARDEC's primary focus is to take military equipment designed and manufactured elsewhere and improve upon it for accuracy, durability, handling, efficiency and effectiveness by using advanced software methodologies, COTS hardware, high-power microwaves technology, high-energy lasers, and microelectromechanical system ((MEMS) and nano technologies.

Nearly 100 advanced technology projects are being tackled at ARDEC, with75 products in design and development, 247 being supported in production, and nearly 1400 being supported in the field. Two of the more notable programs include:

· A Mortar Fire Control System (MFCS) that enables a mounted mortar force to increase its accuracy, lethality, responsiveness, command and control, and survivability

· A Lightweight Handheld Mortar Ballistic Computer (LHMBC) that was was considered in 2004 by the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense (DoD) to be one of the top 10 inventions for the military.

A recent visit to ARDEC's facilities showed the extent of Picatinny's work in armaments where many of MFCS components were developed, tested and fielded in practice (Figure 2).

The MFCS is an automated digital fire control system integrated with the M1064 Mortar Carrier and M577 Fire Direction Center to provide indirect fire support for infantry battalions. It's also used on the new Stryker Brigade Combat Team mortar carrier. The system is mounted on a 120-mm mortar weapon which can be mounted in an armored vehicle (Figure 3a, 3b). The system's brains is the Commander's Interface Computer, with application software providing digital communications, translating digital messages into user prompts, computing ballistics, providing the commander user-friendly screens, recording mission data, and monitoring system components (Figure 4). This computer now replaces the aging M23 Mortar Ballistic Computer (MBC).

"Our aim is to write core software programs that will enable us to cost effectively transfer MFCS operations from a big computer to a ruggedized handheld PDA. Having a common software architecture will allow us to upgrade to lightweight armament systems and will save us a lot of development time. It will allow us to easily leverage one system into another more advanced next-generation syste" explains Dan Nathan, manager of business planning and development for fire control systems technology.

Out in the field, a forward-looking observer enters into the LHMBC (a handheld PDA) GPS data on a target's location. This information is transmitted via SINCGARS (SINgle Channel Ground Air Radio System) radios (Figure 5) to a computer located at the base of the 120-mm howitzer (see figure 3a, again). A MEMS honeywell 3-axis laser gyro provides and positioning information to circuitry within the howitzer's shell casing. The LHMBC provides a soldier with all the essential mortar fire control functions needed in the field.

The LHMBC is a militarized version of the Hewlett Packard model 5500 PDA and built by Tallahasse Technologies in Florida (Figure 6). It is now being put to use in the field to replace a legacy version (Figure 7). It has been used in the field in Iraq since 2004 with Version 1 software . Newer version software programs are constantly being updated and used with the LHMBC. Software written in C++ on a Windows XP computer allows it to function seamlessly into the MFCS. Information entered into the PDA includes weapon elevation, azimuth, type, weather conditions, wind speed and propellant temperature. It replaces the legacy version now in use which is being phased out.

"We've automated the entire PDA, going from a large computer to the militarized LHMBC in 9-10 months of rework. We want to make it a common platform for a variety of weapons systems" explains Mark Zhelesnik, project leader. "The next step is to fit it onto a lightweight 155-mm howitzer and other systems like the Abrams Main Battle Tank (Figure 8), the Stryker Combat Vehicle, the Excalibur Precision Guided Extended Range Artillery Projectile, and the Paladin self-propelled howitzer." He adds.

"Some 1700 LHMBCs are going to the Army. We've already sent about 500 of them" adds Andrew Stahl, a software engineer who is developing the software for the PDA. "Prior to this unit, information was entered into the computer manually from tables, books and charts. This has all been automated and the unit is now just 2 lbs in weight compared with the previous weight of 8 lbs.

TAGS: Defense
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