Home » Weapons » Armor » ATK Building Next-Gen Abrams Ammo

ATK Building Next-Gen Abrams Ammo

by John Reed on July 11, 2011

FYI, the all-round big gun experts at ATK have neen chosen by the Army to make the next generation of 120mm ammo for the venerable M1A2 Abrams tank. The latest version of the tank’s main gun ammunition is designed to penetrate the explosive “reactive armor“found on modern main battle tanks as well as being effective “in Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), mountain, and nontraditional battlefields,” according to an ATK press release. The real feature here is that it can defeat reactive armor with one shot.

The round will allow for the use of fewer rounds and allow for faster enemy engagements — factors that will ultimately increase crew and platform survivability.

The company has been chosen to built the rounds under a $77 million three-year contract to “develop and qualify” the round, known as the M829E4 120mm Advanced Kinetic Energy (AKE) ammunition. Once this three-year period is up, the company is expected to win another contract for full production of the AKE ammunition.

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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

John Moore July 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I don't get it u pay 77 million to develope it and then pay to buy it what happened to free enterprise like Mr Obamo said would replace the Shuttle?

If it's so good for nasa why don't the defence people take that path and wait for someone to builid what we want?

Of course I'm being sarcastic.

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Lance July 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm

They need a eqivilient of a 90mm canister round like used in Korea for use in Afghanistain if they had these in Wannat the battle would have been over in minutes.

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Nmate July 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

They don't need a 90mm canister round, they have a 120mm canister round. It's called the M1028. I don't think you could even get an Abrams tank into Wanat. The terrain in Afghanistan isn't very suited to large armored vehicles.

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FormerDirtDart July 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm

The Canadians have been using Leopards (1&2) in Afghanistan for nearly five years. The US Marines have been operating Abrams in the Kandahar region since last November

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blight July 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Kandahar and Marjah is probably better tank country than the mountains of Panjshir or the Hindu Kush.

A canister Carl Gustav (oh wait, those are "ranger only" issue for whatever reason) might be useful.

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SJE July 11, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Exactly on both points.

I know that the Aussies use "Charlie Gusto" and I believe it is not limited to Spec Ops.

TMB July 11, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Canada operates in Kandahar where the terrain is urban and fairly flat. The Corps operates in Helmand (not Kandahar) which is the flattest that Afghanistan gets. Wanat and the whole of RC-East are nearly impassable to heavy vehicles.

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blight July 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Why canister over flechette?

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David July 13, 2011 at 8:40 am

Po-tay-toe, Po-ta-toh…..

flechettes are a kind of projectile used in canister rounds.

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blight July 13, 2011 at 9:02 am

Canister is usually round balls, ala shot. The M1028 uses "1150 (est.) tungsten balls"

blight July 11, 2011 at 4:36 pm

That would also mean sending tanks into Afghanistan and getting them to out-of-the-way places like Wanat, and breaking up tank battalions essentially into individual tanks. Didn't the Soviets try this mobile pillbox thing before? If anything, Desert Storm also demonstrated that a static tank is a vulnerable tank.

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Belesari July 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Yea but the marines use them more for firesupport and to get into places they dont like. Plus we have more ISR, infantry support options.

For instance many said the cities of Iraq would be a graveyard for the tank and relegate it to history…………….and once again were wrong. Combined arms works great and Tanks are invaluable aslong as they have good infantry support.

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blight July 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Tanks don't operate well in the middle of nowhere where the enemy has high ground and can potentially rain ATGMs on them from the top. And the point is moot when an outpost is on top of a mountain with no way to get there asides from helicopter.

Tanks worked in Najaf and Fallujah as part of a combined arms team. Where was this combined arms team when Wanat was being torn to pieces? It certainly wasn't on tap from the get-go. A QRF of Humvees was not timely either. Could tanks have participated in Operation Anaconda, on rugged terrain that was essentially infantry-only?

Iraq is essentially desert plains, Fulda Gap with sand. Fedayeen had a mix of RPGs and suicide vehicles, but against a combined arms team and not a tanks-only thrust into the city. They also lacked survivable vehicles, proper equipment, infantry support and good training.

All sorts of "wrong" for the Russian tank experience, and way too many idealized conditions to assume that because of Thunder Run that tanks would prevent Wanat-style disasters.

We could look to the Israeli experience against Hezbollah for what happens to mechanized forces that get too cocky against a well-equipped foe. Not nearly as bad as that experience, since the Taliban do not have a steady supply of ATGMs. But you get the idea. Tanks, even when used by a battle-hardened (and in counterinsurgency too!) modern army schooled in essentially the same tactics and doctrine as the American one isn't guaranteed victory against irregulars.

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blight2 July 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Since my first post didn't go through.

The Iraqi experience isn't representative of tanks in urban environments. The Israeli experience in Lebanon is equally informative. A modern army was stalemated against a foe with way too many ATGMs and too much spare time.

A tank wouldn't do anything in Wanat, because they wouldn't get there. Wanat failed because they let the enemy have the high ground, because their orders said to protect the populace. And because they took the low ground by the village, they were exposed to attack. Abrams on the high ground might not have had enough depression to fire down in support of the outpost, and one on the ground might not have had enough traverse to engage targets on high ground. And the Abrams, like all tanks is vulnerable to top-down attack.

The Marines are going to stick with tanks in Kandahar for precisely the same reasons I've mentioned in another post (and presumably many people have in earlier DefTech threads): the terrain's more amenable. They are quite useable in the southern provinces, which aren't as rugged as the north or east. Luckily for us, the open plains are where the majority of the population is; but the east is the primary infiltration point into Afghanistan. Until it's sealed, the border is leaky like a sieve. /That/ is the final battlefield, where tanks cannot go.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 12:01 am

All of which is true, in those particular situations.

If the army did send tanks, they would most likely penny-packet them because the Taliban is unlikely to offer enough battle that you'd send a platoon of tanks to fight it. Lone tanks would be scattered at lonely outposts, and these in turn would require large supplies of fuel for the turbines, bulky spare parts and ammunition for the guns. They lack high T&E to engage targets up high and cannot depress to aim low if on high ground. There's a reason the Soviets used anti-air guns in their convoys: to use their flexible mounts to engage targets up high, and shred them with anti-infantry firepower.

The commanders had to divide their troops between reserves, troops available for large named operations and those to hold territory. And those holding territory had to choose between Kabul, areas of the south and the AfPak border. Not a lot of manpower for "good infantry support", let alone border defense.

The Marines, operating in Kandahar and in smaller AOs with more potential troop density, will have a far easier time of it. They can operate in ways more consistent with training or what they've done in Iraq.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 12:19 am

I could use a tanker's help in answering this particular question:

As far as I can tell, most tanks in the world top out at ~ -10/+20 elevation on the main gun, and many such as the LeClerc have a more limited range. Sufficient for rugged terrain like Afghanistan? Interestingly, the Scorpion could go -10/+35..

Nadnerbus July 11, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Wanat was the boonies. Not to say the troops there wouldn't have loved to have had some mechanized support, but they needed more manpower first and foremost. They were trying to control or influence large areas with no more than a platoon to a company of guys. Things were bound to go very wrong no matter what kind of fire support they had.

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blight July 11, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Firepower "on tap" was the Rumsfeld way. It worked when only a few points on the map needed it on tap (where-ever the A teams were); but a whole country? Pass.

A tank canister round is unlikely to do boots on the ground much good. Wanat was a unique circumstance of outnumbered, outpositioned and outgunned Americans, and nothing short of an A-team with B-52s on tap would've changed things.

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Buzz July 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

Much of Afghanistan is unsuitable for tanks because of the lack of menuverable space and logistical support. In areas where tanks can be used the terrain is a killer on the chassis. The Russians had to pull there modern tanks out within months after rolling into the country because the tanks suspension couldnt handle it. They had to bring in old T-62/55/54's. How about bringing back the low recoil 105's and loading them with modern cannister rounds.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm

In what tank? Are you proposing re-gunning updated Abrams, finding old Abrams with 105's or sending older M60's (though the -A3's are somewhat out of date, but less so than early-build M1).

Though they did have low-impulse 105's, for stuff like AGS and MGS…

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crackedlenses July 12, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Which wouldn't last long anyway because of their light armor. No win situation, I guess…..

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Verle E. Wenneker July 13, 2011 at 1:53 am

I spent 29 months in 4 companies of M48A3 (90mm) from 1966-1969. Comparing your canister round of 90mm against a 120mm Advanced Kinetic Round is beyond comprehension. Your comparison makes no mention gyroscopic stabilized barrels (Shoot on the run), the much more powerful turbine engines, automatic loader, cooling and filtering systems, wider tracks, etc. I remain, Sincerely

Verle E. Wenneker@AOL.com Sgt/USMC/Ret.

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blight July 13, 2011 at 7:53 am

Verle, his intention is that at the present, APERS capability is more important than trying to spin a sabot as useful in "…MOUT, mountain, and nontraditional battlefields"

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Riceball July 13, 2011 at 10:37 am

Last I heard M1s still do not use auto loaders but everything else is true though.

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blight July 11, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Are we going to be fighting guys with ERA in the near future or what? I thought the future was mass production of MPATs, since we'll probably be knocking down buildings with tank rounds in the near future.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 12:09 am

Anybody have thoughts on how they can promise a KE round that can do well “in Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), mountain, and nontraditional battlefields”?

My speculation is something like blended metal that fragments when it penetrates targets. Sabot plus spall is win? Not sure what other options there are.

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Thomas L. Nielsen July 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Could be something akin' to the PELE technology:
http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2007gun_missile/GMTueAM1

The linked presentation refers to the 20mm version (for the M61), but the 120mm does the business too, I'm given to understand.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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blight July 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm

That does sound promising. A sort of AP/Frag dual purpose round, akin to the HEDP (which has HE filler and a shaped charge) used with 40mm's.

It might also help with stopping power for small arms, but not sure what happens with small bullets like 5.56.

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Thomas L. Nielsen July 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm

The smallest caliber I've seen the PELE principle applied to is the 12,7x99mm (.50 BMG). IMNSHO, for calibers smaller than that the benefit is too small to warrant the added complexity, compared to conventional AP and fragmenting/high-speed hollow point ammunition.

And a propos, one additional advantage of the PELE is that you don't have problems with explosive duds lying around to endanger civilians or own troops, or to serve as a supply of explosives for the BG's.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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blight July 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Tank rounds are rarely the duds that stick around. A similar investigation needs to be made for stuff like tube artillery and submunitions (but no help can be offered for delayed-action munitions). Artillery shells don't need penetration as much as they need fragmentation, so perhaps a thinner high-density wall with reasonable top-attack capability with greater fragmentation for weapons geared towards soft targets like mortars.

czeroi July 12, 2011 at 1:52 am

ERA has little effect against KE rounds, it is designed to work against HEAT rounds. A KE round is effectively a big DU or tungsten dart traveling at high velocity

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blight July 12, 2011 at 8:44 am

That was my impression too, but I will start reaching here and read between the lines.

I think it means they intend to push their sabots to the absolute limit of range. At longer range, sabots lose effectiveness due to velocity losses from air friction, which would presumably give ERA a better effective capability against sabots. A new sabot would go a long ways to mitigate this, and allow them to hit targets even further away without compromising stopping power.

I don't know how they intend to extend sabot ranges, but considering the new trend seems to be guideable munitions, a guideable sabot lobbed at maximum elevation and sent gliding into the top of an enemy tank would be a fearsome capability indeed. Tanks mount little, if any ERA on top, as it'll wound anyone out of the hatches and fighting buttoned-up is not always appropriate.

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SJE July 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I thought that ERA was at least partially effective against KE, with the moving plate shearing through the tungsten rod and providing sideways momentum that misdirects the penetrator.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Which would be proportional to the space between the ERA and the hull itself, and perhaps how quickly the plates detonate. A ERA with standoff would deflect the projectile and cause an angled shot. A slow-detonating explosive and close to the hull might not be as effective.

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J Hughes July 12, 2011 at 2:26 am

"ATK have neen chosen by the Army" They've NEEN chosen!

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Mastro July 12, 2011 at 9:40 am

Am I the first to wonder if they stick with DU or use Tungsten? I love the idea of a politically correct kinetic energy penetrator.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm

The E4 has been listed elsewhere as a DU penetrator.

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Skysoldier173 July 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

Speaking of CG, it does fire a cannister round. Why the US does not issue more to front line troops is puzzling.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Because it is "old". First produced in '46, and we all know old stuff sucks (ignoring the fact that the .45 soldiered on from 1911 to the '80s). That and it's Swedish (ignoring the fact that we used Bofors products, and still do today).

You know, I have no clue why we don't use it.

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SJE July 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm

If anything, Cannister rounds go further back to cannon days.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm

True, but the military is waiting for a "Joint Portable Munition Launcher" to come their way…

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SJE July 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Echo that. For some reason USMIL does not like giving its troops bayonets, even though the Brits have found them essential at times. When the ammo runs out, you want a sharp pointy thing. Bonus trivia: the reason the Aussies have those hats that are turned up at one side is because they used to use long bayonets, something like a 12"

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anon July 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm

The only exception to this rule being the .50 cal browning M2.

Although, that does have the advantage of being as American as apple pie

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blight July 12, 2011 at 10:51 pm

M2 dates from the '20s, and hasn't been replaced because nobody in NATO seemed interested in heavy machineguns. In Europe it was semi-automatic cannon (eg the 20mm Hispano-Suiza, Oerlikon 20, Mauser 20…), asides from Russia's 12.7 and 14.5mm.

And yeah, John Moses Browning used to guaranteed permanence in the military. It probably wasn't because he was American (he partnered with FN Herstal too); but maybe that his designs were pretty awesome too. The FN MAG (our M240) is a reunion of Browning design in the American arsenal a long time coming.

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DaveC July 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm

A cannister round turns the main gun into a shotgun, the potential for collateral damage is pretty high.
With the ROE they use these days it wouldn't surprise me if that alone had everything to do with it.

This here is a pretty amazing video of it in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cgn1nhUEgo8

Stuff can cut up a horde like we saw in the Korean war pretty fast I'd imagine.

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blight July 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm

The real value of CG is eliminating those few audacious people who attempt a suicide charge en masse. In the field they are likely to be dispersed in quantities that make canister moot. Having one is just another tool to keep your enemies at standoff range for air strikes.

Either your enemy must charge in clouds that can be felled with widely dispersing canister (or flechettes, as they have longer range), or there must be a chokepoint or draw to keep them tightly packed together. They may have value in close up defense against groups of infiltrators…and that's where you hope they are out of grenade range.

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Musa Usman July 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

The innovation is ground breaking.What are the classications of armor on the main gun?

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Dfens July 13, 2011 at 10:06 am

ATK (formerly Morton Thiokol of Challenger explosion fame) is guaranteed to get at least $77 million to develop a new tank projectile? It is a multi-billion dollar company, and they could not possibly afford to develop a tank bullet on their own nickle? Instead they are going to soak the US taxpayer for $7.7 million in profit to build a new tank bullet that they are going to sell by the millions of to the US Army and other foreign customers who won't spend a dime on the development? Wow, what a sweet deal for ATK. The deal is even sweeter if the should just happen to run into problems designing this new bullet. I mean, hell, you never know what could happen. Pretty soon years turn into decades, millions turn into billions. I'm sure ATK would never let this happen on purpose, it just always seems to turn out that way for some mysterious reason, and the defense contractors just happen to benefit from the increased cost with increase profit. What a darned coincidence!

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blight July 13, 2011 at 10:46 am

More accurately, ATK is a Honeywell spinoff, which bought Morton Thiokol in 2001.

I agree that it seems like a bad idea to pay someone to do R&D /and/ let them mark up prices for you. In free enterprise it's no risk and profit as reward. However, this kind of thing is an epidemic across the defense industry, and companies swear up and down they could not do business without their R&D costs being amortized in this fashion.

By this logic, if pharma companies were pre-subsidized to do R&D, the costs of drugs would plummet. It might just work, but who's going to do it?

This contract is silly enough as it is. Vague guidelines about what they expect and no concrete targets (at least, no publicly available ones) spells a fishing project to me.

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PMI July 16, 2011 at 11:47 am

Just promise to be careful when microwaving your dinner D…could interact poorly with your tinfoil headgear.

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Douglas June 6, 2012 at 10:41 am

The 829E4 will be purely AKE for anti-armor applications. There is no Abrams Master Gunner writing this fourth page filler article. Typos are plentiful and it is apparent that the author is blending lots of information that was heaped upon them in an interview/press conference.

The US Army has the M1028 Canister, the M830A1 Multi-Purpose Anti-Tank, the M908 Obstacle-Reducing, and M829 series of DU Sabot rounds. The M829E4 is merely evolution to defeat higher levels of both ERA and standard solid armor found on Tanks and Tank-like targets. Non-line of sight rounds could be a possibility, but under another nomenclature. Why not procure the LAHAT from the Israelis like the Germans have recently? As for purchasing millions of the round or sales to other countries, European Countries use Tungsten almost exclusively, and the current top of the line round, the M829A3, is not even offered to other nations yet. The Armor force is shrinking right now, only a blind man could miss it. There are still stockpiles of tank ammunition that does not yet need to be replaced. The US Military needs the round to be ready for the eventuality of a war with a well-equipped military, and a base stock of the round enough to supply the initial forces.

As for the Abrams' max elevation and depression, it is adequate and will work into mountiainous terrain like that found in Korea. Most Abrams tanks are in line to receive the CROWS system to replace the TC's .50 cal mount. This gives a maximum elevation of 60 degrees with accurate, precise, and deadly fire with light-armor defeating capabilities. It also now allows the TC the option of firing buttoned-up, like he was able to do on the old M1A1s.

There is no considerable weight difference between the M1 (105mm) and the M1A1/A2 series (120mm), let alone are there any remaining 105mm M1s in the US inventory.

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blight July 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Quick points:

EXACTO: guided 12.7mm round
MRM: "– Autonomous Shot Using IIR Hit T-72 at 5.2km"

There's a very scary shift towards "steerable munitions". It sounds like an interesting time for the guys on the other end of the barrel.

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blight July 11, 2011 at 6:58 pm

I wish I knew why Carl Gustav wasn't issued to line troops, who face troops armed with RPG-7s. Before the XM-25 a direct-fire weapon system to defeat cover would've used AT-4's or an attempt to accurately place 40mm rounds onto the target. The Carl Gustav has a range of ~1km, which would allow it to take apart urban cover from far away, rather than waiting for a Humvee with TOW missiles to appear.

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SJE July 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

During the Falklands, a Royal Marine seriously damaged an Argentian Corvette with a Carl Gustav. Canadian light infantry used them in Afghanistan, and they are apparently being used by anti-Ghaddafi forces in Libya.

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blight July 11, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Herald from stratpages?

Anyways. There's an upper limit to the recoil forces that a tank hull can be expected to endure from discharging high KE rounds. How quickly can tank gun KE scale up before it causes problems?

In any case, it'll validate the old French/German philosophy during the Cold War: lighter tanks in lieu of heavy armor.

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Shail July 12, 2011 at 8:44 am

Other than forum chat, nothing has been heard of CKEM for the past 3 years or so.
Is it even still an active (Pentagon-funded) program?
Anything on Lockheed Martin's website still depicts it firing from the now-defunct (cancelled) 6-wheeled MULE-type UGV/autonomous vehicle.

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SJE July 12, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Why not significant accelleration with rocket boost?

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blight July 12, 2011 at 8:51 am

dealgel is calling it cancelled, but don't know their source.
http://www.deagel.com/Anti-Armor-Weapons-and-Miss

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blight July 12, 2011 at 8:56 am

You're right, Lockheed does still have it up.
http://www.lockheedmartin.com/products/CompactKin

If canceled, it might suggest Lockheed is still tinkering with it on their own dime.It sounds like CKEM passed much of its testing…maybe it wasn't seen as useful in the mid 2k's, a year which the budget was being realigned, and counterinsurgency was still at the forefront of our thinking. Was CKEM relevant to the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan? And especially with a contracting budget, did CKEM have powerful friends in the military or the hill?

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