By John Keller
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J.—U.S. Army field artillery experts are trying to replace primer-based firing systems with high-temperature, diode-pumped lasers in heavy artillery to improve reliability, affordability, and safety, Army officials say.
The Joint Munitions & Lethality Contracting Center of the Army’s Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., plans to issue an industry request for proposals (RFP) later this month to develop ways to manufacture high-temperature, diode-pumped lasers as replacements for primer-based ignition systems in 155-millimeter artillery guns.
The M777 155-millimeter lightweight howitzer artillery, shown above, is a prime candidate to use high-temperature diode-pumped lasers to replace the gun’s primer-based firing system.
This kind of high-temperature diode-pumped laser, which will be part of a solid-state laser ignition system (SSLIS), must be rugged enough to withstand the extreme shock involved in firing large-caliber artillery. The RFP is anticipated for release before the end of this month.
Army experts want to replace mechanical primers with lasers because of the difficulty and expense of using primer-based ignition systems, which are black powder-filled brass cartridges.
The Army’s LW155 primer-based ignition systems can cause problems, such as jamming complex, high-maintenance primer feed mechanisms, as well as premature firing due to primer sensitivity, Army officials say. These explosive primers also are difficult and expensive to manufacture, store, monitor, resupply, and retire from service at the end of their life cycles.
Laser-based artillery firing systems, on the other hand, are expected to reduce weapon logistics and provide safe, reliable propellant ignition. SSLIS technology uses laser energy to ignite the artillery shell’s propelling charge, rather than using explosive energy from primers.
Army officials say a militarized solid-state laser ignition system, through improved production, could reduce the unit cost of artillery firing systems by as much as 40 percent.
SSLIS is potentially applicable to the M777A2 Howitzer (LW155) and carries potential for application to M109A6 Paladin 155-millimeter, self-propelled artillery system, and other U.S. 155-millimeter guns.
Army officials say this effort will use unique fabrication processes, advanced materials, and component configurations not typically found in industry-standard manufacturing practices.
The Army issued an industry request for information on laser artillery ignition technology last October. Companies that have expressed interest in the project so far are Beamstop’r Inc. in Beachwood, Ohio; Fraunhofer USA Inc. in Brookline, Mass.; High Power Devices Inc. in North Brunswick, N.J.; Laser Diode Array Inc. in Auburn, N.Y.; Lasertel Inc. in Tucson, Ariz.; Lasermax Inc. in Rochester, N.Y.; M7 Electro-Optics in Bridgeton, Mo.; Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Company Inc. in Hollister, Calif.; and Rofin-Sinar Inc. in Plymouth, Mich.
Army officials say they will compete this project openly, resulting in a nine-month, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with a six-month option. The RFP will be posted at http://procnet.pica.army.mil by the end of this month. The presolicitation number is W15QKN-10-R-0202.
For questions or concerns, contact Jessica Stogner at Picatinny Arsenal by phone at 973-724-6965, by e-mail at email@example.com, or by post at Jessica Stogner, Contract Specialist, CCJM-JA, Bldg. 10, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. 07806-5000.
More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/notices/611b2ebfd283054368db91062919d60d.