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Anglo-French Cannon Project Finally Bears Fruit

Aug. 4, 2013 - 04:23PM   |  
By ANDREW CHUTER   |   Comments
Nexter recently revealed the T40 sporting the CTAI system and an anti-tank missile as its main armaments.
Nexter recently revealed the T40 sporting the CTAI system and an anti-tank missile as its main armaments. (CTA International)
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LONDON — Nineteen years after Royal Ordnance and GIAT formed an Anglo-French joint venture to develop a revolutionary medium-caliber gun, their creation — CTA International — has reported it could be just weeks away from obtaining certification for the weapon and the first two of five ammunition types that go with it.

CTAI has completed qualification trials of the 40mm cannon and armored piercing and target-practice rounds with the results “now in the process of review” by defense ministry experts in Britain and France, David Coughtrie, CTAI’s business director, told reporters during a briefing July 25.

It’s a moment many thought might elude CTAI. The parent companies almost pulled the plug on the program on more than one occasion as it demanded increasing amounts of funding as skeptics questioned whether the system could be made to work satisfactorily.

Like just about any system, the final proof that the weapon works will have to await its operation on the battlefield. But for now, the gun and the first of the ammunition types are on track for qualification by the end of this year.

With three armored vehicle programs more or less in the bag in Britain and France, CTAI is likely sitting on Europe’s biggest medium-caliber gun requirement.

Royal Ordnance and GIAT have morphed into BAE Systems and Nexter, respectively, in the almost two decades since the Bourges, France-based company launched what has turned out to be a £100 million-plus (US $132 million) development effort by the joint partners and the two governments.

What they got for their money is a weapon with a unique rotating breech and ammunition introductor system that takes up significantly less space than a conventional 30mm cannon inside what are often cramped turrets.

In addition, CTAI engineers have developed a munition the shape and size of a dog food can with a projectile telescoped into the cartridge and surrounded with propellant providing, according to CTAI, lethality, weight and volume advantages over conventional ammunition.

With qualification tests for the cannon and the first two rounds complete, CTAI is turning its attention to the remaining ammunition types required: general purpose point detonation, air burst and reduced-range low-cost training rounds.

All three are at various stages of development or qualification.

The ammunition is being assembled and packed at plants in France and the UK from single-sourced components.

The British Army has ordered the cased telescoped armaments system for a key Lockheed Martin UK update of the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle and a new Scout vehicle being built by General Dynamics.

In France, the weapon has been effectively mandated for the Army’s new EBRC armored reconnaissance and combat vehicle requirement, for which Nexter and others will compete this year or next.

Lockheed Martin is responsible for the turret integration on both British programs. It uses CTAI’s cannon and ammunition introductor but has redesigned the remainder of the system, including gun drives and ammunition carousel, using its own suppliers.

By contrast, Nexter is using the CTAI system and suppliers on its EBRC contender.

Lockheed Martin has been talking to other EBRC contenders in France about adopting its turret system, which for the British is based on a Rheinmetall-designed body.

The precise numbers of weapons required for the three programs is difficult to calculate with the vehicle programs all vulnerable to change as a result of budgetary and other problems

Nexter recently revealed a turret known as the T40 sporting the CTAI system and an anti-tank missile as its main armaments.

Nexter plans to begin manned firing trials with the cannon early next year as it quickly ramps up its effort to secure a French Army deal.

Coughtrie said the imminent qualification of the weapon is beginning to prompt interest in the US and elsewhere, including one company looking at using the weapon on a C-130 gunship.

“It’s a 300-kilogram cannon with a very short recoil, why not. There is a US company who wants to talk to us about it,” he said.

The US Army tried the system on a Bradley fighting vehicle in 2000 with less than compelling results. But 13 years later, Coughtrie said the US military continues to track progress on the system “particularly for air burst.”

CTAI is looking at taking the gun to an event planned for the US Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., in September as well as the next Association of the United States Army show as it cranks up its US marketing effort.

Kuwait, which has been in the market for an update of its Warrior fleet for some time, along with other Middle East countries looking for new platforms, also figure among potential customers.

Thales has been marketing the gun as part of a vehicle-mounted anti-air system. With a very small modification the gun can elevate up to 75 degrees.

Coughtrie said 10,000 rounds have been used in the qualification phase and in total nearly 70,000 rounds had been fired.

Some 14,000 rounds of ammunition, 16 cannon systems and 32 barrels have been delivered for the qualification and demonstration phases.

The CTAI executive said the company is awaiting an order from the British for 50,000 rounds of ammunition, three cannons and 48 barrels to support the integration programs on Warrior and the Scout vehicle, with long-lead production contracts for barrels possible next year.

Coughtrie said they had hoped the system would be approved in time for Europe’s show piece DSEi defense exhibition scheduled for London in September, but workload issues have intervened to put a brake on the qualification timetable.

“Formal qualification paperwork is moving its way through the system but we won’t get it in time for DSEi,” the CTAI business director said. ■

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