Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Use of $150,000 high-tech artillery round restricted by Canadian Army after cracks appear in shells

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

The Canadian Army has restricted the use of its high-tech artillery shells after the U.S. military discovered cracks in the same warheads in its inventory.

The 155mm Excalibur shells are guided to their targets by Global Positioning System satellites and cost more than $150,000 each. But the U.S. is warning that the cracks could cause premature detonation of the rounds.

Des artilleurs tirent avec deux canons M-777 de 155 mm d'une position d'artillerie composée de la Batterie X, troupe 3, le 13 mai 2007, à Wainwright (Alberta), dans le cadre de l’exercice Maple Guardian.   

Photo : Cpl Simon Duchesne

Gunners fire two M-777 155 mm guns from an artillery position including Battery X, troop 3 during Exercise MAPLE GUARDIAN in Wainwright, Alberta on May 13, 2007.  

Photo: Cpl Simon Duchesne
Canadian Army M777 artillery guns are shown being fired in this 2007 file photo. Courtesy of Canadian Forces.
The shells were originally purchased during the Afghan war but the Canadian Army has since bought newer versions of the projectiles.

The U.S. Army first discovered the problem in some of its Excalibur artillery shells late last year during routine testing. Additional testing determined that other Excalibur shells were also affected, U.S. military officials said last week.

Canadian Army spokeswoman Krysthle Poitras said after the discovery in the U.S., Canada has restricted the use of the ammunition. “The Canadian Army has taken the necessary steps to ensure that any Excalibur rounds in the inventory will be inspected before any potential use in future,” she noted in an email to the Ottawa Citizen.

The Canadian Army declined to outline what steps it is taking or how many Excalibur shells are affected. It did not provide details on how long the restrictions on the artillery rounds will last.

However, the U.S. military says it is X-raying each of its shells to determine the extent of the cracking. It is believed to be minor but large cracks could potentially lead to the warhead prematurely detonating, according to the U.S. Army.

There have been no reports of the shells malfunctioning.

The U.S. discovered the cracks in both older ammunition, manufactured in 2007, as well as newer production projectiles.

In early 2008 the Canadian Army received approval to use the shells in Afghanistan.

Critics complained about the high cost of the warheads, saying it was akin to firing a Ferrari each time they were used.

Regular artillery shells are estimated to cost around $2,000 each.

The Canadian military has said it hopes the cost of the Excalibur shells would eventually drop to $87,000 each.

The Excalibur round can hit targets up to 40 kilometres away. Using data from Global Positioning Satellites it can strike within 10 metres of its target.

Both U.S. and Canadian military officers have praised the Excalibur technology, noting that the shells can reduce civilian casualties while more effectively targeting enemy forces. Canada used the shell with its M777 howitzers in Afghanistan.

In 2015 it was revealed that the Canadian Army somehow lost three Excalibur shells in Afghanistan. The ammunition couldn’t be accounted for when Canadian troops left Kandahar in 2011. Military police investigated but couldn’t determine what happened to the rounds.

But theft of the 48-kilogram shells was deemed to be highly unlikely.

The cost for the three rounds was estimated to be $513,000, according to federal government records.

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