RDM developing artillery ammunition with 150+ km range

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Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) continues to evolve its ammunition portfolio, with the development of a ramjet-powered 155 mm artillery round that will have a range of 155 km keeping the company at the forefront of long-range artillery ammunition.

In 2019 RDM set a world record for artillery, firing a rocket-assisted 155 mm projectile out to 76 km. Now it is aiming to double that distance with the new ramjet round.

“I’m very proud of our artillery ammunition,” outgoing RDM CEO Jan-Patrick Helmsen recently told military attaches during a tour of the company’s Boskop facility. “We have the longest artillery arms in the world.” However, he said the company has seen competition slowly creeping in for its VLAP (Velocity Enhanced Artillery Projectile) ammunition and so is looking at other technologies like ramjet propulsion to stay ahead.

Although the ramjet round has a longer range than conventional artillery, is has reduced payload. However, the ramjet round is much cheaper than missiles with similar range. Some test firing of the new RDM ramjet rounds has taken place, but further work is still ongoing, as it is a challenging endeavour to perfect ramjet technology.

There are very few other companies exploring the use of ramjets for artillery. Boeing and Nammo are two that have collaborated on 155 mm ramjet artillery shells, which will have ranges of up to 150 km. Their Ramjet 155 round is to be compatible with all existing NATO 155 mm guns. India is also exploring the technology, and aims to have rounds capable of reaching in excess of 60 km. RDM believes it ramjet rounds will be able to achieve some of the longest ranges on the market.

RDM’s experience with rocket technology is assisting its ramjet work. RDM supplies rocket components to South African and international companies, including Denel Dynamics and Thales. It manufactures rocket motors, warheads and launchers, including for FZ-90 rockets, and motors, propellants, warheads and safety and arming devices for the Umkhonto, Ingwe, Mokopa, C-RAM and A-Darter missiles manufactured by Denel. RDM rocket expertise is also incorporated into 68 mm and 127 mm rockets, FT5 anti-tank weapons and the Plofadder minefield breaching system.

More recently, it has worked with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) on its Phoenix sounding rocket series, which have been launched from the Denel Overberg Test Range. RDM and the UKZN are cooperating on rocket propulsion, including a liquid propellant rocket engine project named SAFFIRE (South African First Integrated Rocket Engine).

Rocket technology is also making its way into RDM’s mortar range. Few countries manufacture rocket-assisted mortars, some being China, Serbia, South Korea and Iran, but now RDM has a rocket-assisted 120 mm mortar that extends range to 15 km, although RDM hopes to increase range to 20 km. The company’s mortar range covers 60, 81 and 120 mm rounds.

Although RDM prides itself on range, lethality and accuracy, it says it is good at lethality and range with its mortars but not precision. However, it is collaborating with Northrop Grumman to create a highly accurate 120 mm ‘sniper mortar’.

Other new products include an airbust 40 mm grenade round ideal for obscured targets. (RDM manufactures low, medium and high velocity 40 mm rounds.) The company says the airburst round is easily programmable, simple to integrate and is jam/spoof resistant. A device is fitted on the launcher’s Picatinny rail and rounds are programmed as necessary. Another relatively new product is a self-destruct 40 mm round – this ensures that no unexploded rounds are left on the battlefield.

A staple product for RDM has been the Mk 80 series of aircraft bombs, available in Mk 81 (120 kg), Mk 82 (250 kg), Mk 83 (440 kg) and Mk 84 (880 kg) weights. The company has now developed a small (50 kg) lightweight bomb that is ideal for small aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It has also come out with a ‘bunker buster’ precision strike warhead that can penetrate up to 1.8 metres using a delayed fuse. Helmsen told defenceWeb that RDM is already talking to potential customers on the new aircraft bomb range.