A decade-long effort to develop advanced munitions for 5-inch guns remains in limbo, and the technology is not likely to be ready for operational use in the foreseeable future.
Under a program called "extended range munition," which began in 1996, the Navy has been pursuing a satellite-guided projectile that could be launched from ships and hit targets ashore more than 40 miles away.
By unofficial estimates, the Navy has spent nearly $2 billion on the project but has yet to deploy a single round. The original schedule called for the weapon to be deployed in 2001.
"We're working to figure out the way ahead for this program," says Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, director of Navy surface warfare.
The extended range munition, or ERM, has been plagued by delays and technical glitches, but the Navy is not giving up on the program, McCullough says. The weapon was designed to provide fire support to Marines landing in hostile territory.
The Navy also is developing a 6-inch guided round that will be fired from its next-generation DDX destroyer. That weapon has seen smoother sailing than the 5-inch, McCullough notes. The 6-inch projectile, made by Lockheed Martin Corporation, has a proven range of 65 miles, says McCullough.
"I need industry to figure out the issues with the 5-inch variants," he adds. While he is encouraged by the progress of the 6-inch projectile, McCullough says that the 5-inch weapons are a more pressing priority because Navy ships today have 5-inch guns, whereas the DDX may not be in the fleet for several more years.
McCullough says the Navy bears some of the responsibility for the ERM failures. "We haven't provided industry stable funding for this. That said, however, we've been working on this for more than a decade, and we haven't overcome the technical difficulties."
McCullough says programs such as ERM require far more tests than the Navy has funded so far. According to the contractor, Raytheon Missile Systems, 11 tests have taken place, and five of those were successful. In each test, only one round was fired.
The Navy has treated ERM as a "science project," he says. "There's no repeatability." One of the most significant challenges is the global positioning system satellite receiver, whose sensitive electronics are subjected to 10,000 times the force of gravity when they exit the gun tube.
Another contractor, Alliant Techsystems, proposed an alternative round and continues to test it, under a separate $35 million program...