R2-D2 vs. Mortar Rounds

A common tactic of the insurgents in Iraq is to set up a mortar (often in a residential neighborhood), quickly pop off a few rounds at an unsuspecting US or Iraqi military base, and then get out of the area before any response can be made. Next to IEDs, mortar attacks are probably the most common threat faced by most American troops not actively involved in combat. Although most mortar rounds explode harmlessly, plenty of damage and many casualties have been caused by lucky shots.
phalanxciws.jpgSince the attackers are often making their getaway even as the first rounds start landing, it’s very difficult to send a team of soldiers to apprehend (or kill) them even if the source location can be determined. And since the insurgents prefer to fire from built-up areas thick with civilians, a simple artillery barrage isn’t an option. Mortars are small and fairly easy to use, which means that large numbers of operators are available and they can pretty much come and go as they please.
A number of things have been tried to counter-act the mortar threat. The AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder Weapon Locating System, originally designed to track incoming artillery rounds from long range, simply wasn’t up to the job of picking up mortar rounds and calculating the firing location.
About the same time as that article appeared, another appeared on USMC.mil about a new system, the Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar, that was being tried out in Iraq with some success. The LCMR is used to track incoming rounds and feed target data to counter-fire units.
Getting back at those firing on you is all well and good, of course. But it doesn’t stop the incoming rounds from harming you or your installation. And, as noted, the insurgents prefer to fire from the relative safety of civilian neighborhoods. They’ve learned that American counter-fire is quick and deadly, and the mortar teams that have survived have adapted their tactics to negate American firepower. So the military is working hard to find a way to shoot down incoming rounds.
Since laser defenses are still quite a way off, the Army has looked to an existing system to fill the need. The Navy’s Phalanx CIWS system, an autonomous 20mm gatling gun capable of firing up to 4,500 rounds per minute, has been modified to defend ground units.
Known as “R2-D2” to Navy personnel, the Army is hoping to use these droids to defend bases. The program is called C-RAM, short for “counter rocket artillery mortar” system, and two test units arrived in Iraq last month.
R2-D2 is merely part of an integrated system. The previously-mentioned LCMR and the AN/TPQ-36 Target Acquisition Radar, the AN/TPQ-37’s shorter-range brother, feed information on incoming rounds into R2-D2 and it opens up in an attempt to shoot them down. At the same time, a Hunter UAV is dispatched to the calculated firing position in an attempt to attack the attackers with laser-guided Viper Strike missiles or at least track them so they can be intercepted by ground forces.
The naval Phalanx systems fire depleted uranium or (more recently) tungsten armor-piercing rounds. On the high seas, all these heavy rounds falling to the surface aren’t much of a problem. But in crowded urban environments this would present a very serious danger to friendly forces and civilians. So instead of using the AP ammunition, the C-RAM uses the HEIT-SD (High-Explosive Incendiary Tracer, Self-Destruct) ammunition originally developed for the M163 Vulcan air-defense system. These rounds explode in mid-air, raining shrapnel at the incoming rounds in order to destroy or deflect them.
–Posted by Murdoc

  • Ralph

    I thought an air-burst was actually more dangerous than a ground-hit mortar round?

    • Guest

      Actually the exploded rounds lose kinetic energy quickly and pose almost no danger to personnel on the ground, whereas the intact rounds would be lethal.

  • anon

    What about spent rounds, err, spent shrapnel, raining down on these civilian areas?

  • Jim

    This seems to be a very good idea and hope it works out. we had a pretty cheezy radar system in LSA anaconda that really did nothing than give a false sense of security. and did nothing to stop the rounds. other than that the ony real option was for apahe and kiwa gun ships to go up and after them.
    So shrapnel sounds like a good trade off. If civilians don’t want thier houses peppered with shrapnel then they’ll force insurgents out of thier area.

  • Storm Crow

    When and i SAY WHEN any Counterfire Engagment System is/can be developed to engage/destoy Incoming at a range of 600 meter of its inflight projected target path with insured destruction of 100% of all Incoming. The Military could then look to utilizing Local-National forces in combination with LCMR Data to apprehend the Insurgent-Mortar-Fire-Teams, instead of trying to kill them with Returned-fire. Capture the Fire-Team alive and Deliver the Team, with the collected Incoming-Fire-Data as evidence of Acts of Desired/Constructed Injury/Murder of the innocent Iraqi Civilian Populace, to the Iraqi Justice Department for prosecution. Such action would be/IS desired by the World Populace as well as the Iraqi People and the Iraqi Protective Forces. “The Application of Equal Force for The Equal Enforcement Of Equal Law can only/will be the way to The True Establishment of Democracy in The State of Iraq.” Storm Crow Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

  • Gab

    From another article about the same system:
    “C-RAM also uses high explosive 20mm shells, that detonate near the target, spraying it with fragments. By the time these fragments reach the ground, they are generally too small to injure anyone.”
    or so they say.

  • Mojave Mark

    I’m amazed at the previous comment.
    “Instead of trying to kill them with Returned-fire. Capture the Fire-Team alive and Deliver the Team, with the collected Incoming-Fire-Data as evidence of Acts of Desired/Constructed Injury/Murder of the innocent Iraqi Civilian Populace, to the Iraqi Justice Department for prosecution. Such action would be/IS desired by the World Populace as well as the Iraqi People and the Iraqi Protective Forces.”
    HellOOOOoooo… Kiliing these murderous creeps IS equal force. Capture them if possible yes, but the default military solution is to kill the enemy and send them along to a much higher court. We released some of the prisoners from Gitmo and lo and behold they ended up back in the warzone again killing innocents.

  • big blue

    I agree with the last comment but thereality is there probably won’t be a weapon that will eliminate the threat totally. Different weapon sytems might help but won’t stop the rounds incoming. Hopefully soon the future holds an end to our mission there and allow us to start coming home. I was at Anaconda myself and the mrtar rounds were a very serious threat.

  • Byron Skinner

    It has been my experience that the best defense against mortars injuries is not to stand around in groups playing grabby as soldiers tend to do in “Secure Areas”. Once you can get guys use to not grouping up casualties from mortar strikes go way down. This is a problem with the chain of command.
    Platoon Leaders and NCO’s are not doing their jobs.
    The best way to stop mortar attacks is agressive dismounted patrols in likely areas, night ambushes and the posting of sharp shooter groups. Going beyond the wire and killing, not arresting the bad guys seems to be a big issue with the Army in Iraq.
    Un cordinated mortar attacks, drop two rounds and scoot away in a taxi are damaging to moral and hepls keep soldiers on edge but of little military significance.
    The elevated concern over mortars is a sign that the U.S. Army is not in Iraq to fight and kill the bad guys but is mostly concerned with force protection.
    Byron Skinner
    “Stewart’s Platoon”

  • Jim Phipps

    The best anti mortar weapon in my experience is comprehensive patrolling and very fast counter battery and air attacks. We learned that in several wars. R2-D2 may have merit but it doesn’t protect much and its reliability in a dirty ground based organization invites a lot of questions.

  • Specboats

    The shrapnel problem is easily solved by increasing the no-man zone between the wire and the nearest area of collateral damage concern. The bigger problem is that the units only hold about 800 rounds. At the rate of fire (4,700/min), you get about 10 secs of fire before you have to reload. Reloading these things is not a simple process of just slamming in a fresh mag. So what happens when the bad guys realize the field of fire served by any one system becomes undefended after the first one or two bursts?

  • Vstress

    I hope that if they decide to use the Phalanx weapon system they may decide to mount the gun onto vehicle mounts aswell.
    Since, if we have the ammo in Iraq, why not use it?
    A vehicle such as a stryker could definitely benefit from this. As the stryker has not yet got a stabilised system it would not be necessary to modify the system much.

  • Maurs

    You obviously have not seen the phalanx. The 20MM gatling system is huge. There’s no way to effectively mount it on anything not built around the weapon. See the A-10 for an example of an aircraft built around a 20MM gatling system.

  • Ghostrider31G

    In reply to Maurs,
    The A-10 was designed around the huge GAU-8A 30mm Avenger cannon. The early prototypes of the A-10 mounted the smaller 20mm because the Avenger wasn’t ready yet.

  • greg

    Some other things to consider:
    1. Dud rate. All ammo has a dud ratio. If that were true and let’s say that the weapon had a 1% dud rate, for every 1,000 rnds, 100 duds woud fall in to the local population. Assuming they did not kill or even injur, the rounds now on the ground would have to be dealt with my EOD. Just think what the evening news would show when some Iraqi child has his hands blown off from picking up one of these.
    2. Most of the mortars are small caliber (60-82mm) Seems to bring up the big sky, little bullet theory. We can mitigate the mortars effects by not bunching together, rather than shooting a small bullet with a small bullet. There is bound to be a miss or two + dud rate.
    3. The IRA (training Al Qaeda) put mortars in parked vehicles with a delay(timer, cell phone, etc…)leaving no one to capture. But, a good patrol could find this?…
    I like the patrol idea better

  • Marcus

    Sending the C-RAM over there is another is more proof that Muslim societies can’t even build our toys. I hope our troops paint a “Can’t be Muslim-Made” logo on the C-RAM.

  • Matt

    in reply to specboats, maurs, and greg.
    Here you go guys.
    specboats- it holds 1500 rounds, shoots 4500 rounds/min. and spends 200-300 rounds at each target (depending an how fast it gets a kill assessment from it’s own radar return) That means 1 mount can shoot down 5 or so mortars before you have to reload. Where did you get your info?
    maurs- the mounts aren’t that big, the ones in iraq are mounted on the back of flatbed 18 wheeler trucks which means they are mobile. Everything the mount requires to operate is on the trailer with it. Pull up, unhook, and you’ve got air defense. They have also been upgraded to engage ground targets with a camera mounted on the side of the mount from local control. It’s got a handle and trigger just like your playstation.
    greg- the system was tested against 60mm incomming mortars. 92% effective. The radar on phalanx is awesome. It can hit a bullet with a bullet no problem. It can also track raindrops with the sensitivity on the radar reciever adjusted right. Maybe a big sky, but once this things got you, it’s got you.

  • The Firecontrol Chief

    I have to concur with Matt.
    I have worked on CIWS for 12 years, and the 1B systems are the state of the art.
    you have two real abilities based on what it was originally designed to do
    1-Air search radar that uses a pulsed doppler shift radar to rapidly identify moving targets. this was designed to defeat anti-ship missile threats moving at mach 2 plus and executing weave, pop up, and other nasty maneuvers. This can be a total automatic response mode, or operator controlled firing mode. Either way it will detect and track a target from five miles, and kill it at one (electronic safety limits).
    2- Surface mode with the Forward-looking Infrared camera. in that mode it can fire 50 round busts, and easily lock on to an engine block, a human torso, or other heat emitting object from the same ranges. The advantages to this are obvious, and the air search function can operate simultaneously.
    DU and tungsten rounds could travel a long distance, while the fragmentation rounds effectively turn into Shotgun buckshot at a predetermined range. The 200-300 round bursts are against missile threats, and I’m sure the computer has been modified to optimize ammunition usage.
    One more thing, the radar is Friggen precise. It will track it’s own bullets to adjust the firing solution, and shoot missile fragments with a crossection of one inch at half a mile.

  • LML

    General Dynamics, the developer of Phalanx marketed a version of a truck mounted system called “High Value Site Defense”. One alternative also included a missile for longer range engagements. System marketed all over but not enough interest to start up a line for commercial/direct sales. Tests proved that the concept was feasable.

  • Dan

    It occurs to me that if this thing were mounted on a flatbed semi-trailer, you ought to be able to build it with a helluva lot more capacity than just 1500 rounds. Given that the CIWS can’t keep rotating in the same direction indefinitely (it can’t, right?) you ought to just have a friggin huge helical magazine, say 20000 rounds, and belts to and from the gun to handle live rounds and empties. Build it more like the Vulcans that rode along aboard Puff the Magic Dragon, but with the gimballed mounts and R2D2 eyes and brains that rode aboard my beloved FFG-50.

  • Rafa

    This is really great info. I’ve been researching all over the net trying to research everything about C-RAM. I was wondering if you could tell me if there are existing C-RAM Managers out there. I’m a recruiter and am looking for networks. I just would like to get to know more info before I sign up for and ad here.
    Thanks for your help

  • leroy w

    Does anyone know if this is military or DOD cilivi running the ciws mounts? I want to apply to work on that but dont know who the contractor is.

  • Nick

    An idea from left field.Why not leave mortar rounds lying around that explode once they hit the firing pin in the mortar tube?I’ll take a guess and say that their inventory skills are not their strong point.M.A.C.V./S.O.G. did the same thing in Laos and Cambodia.
    O.K….there is a weak point in all this;the false mortar rounds could be used as I.E.D.’s .Which means that you get around this by setting up booby traps hoping that the insurgents take the bait.Or,by setting up mortar tubes and other systems that explode when activated.
    I just don’t think that this tactic has been explored enough in recent years.

  • Cliff

    NO the CIWS can not turn completely around in circles +/- 150 degrees.( 0 being it facing forward) If they modified CIWS to hold 20,000 RND how could it possibly move up and down in elevation? The drum would be too long. Also the guy who said it

  • FCC

    Hey folks, although nothing said so far is classified, keep on your toes! Muhmmad is watching, Don’t let out any capabilities and limitations.

  • no one

    What we do is important and unfortunetly well known. The enemy is more advanced then you think and it doesn’t help that this is put out on the web.

  • Brent Rozanski

    I believe the defense system mentioned above is in a video I’ve found that gives a very good demonstration of what it can do. Go to this address: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4897647549985392214

  • CMD

    Yes, it is a very nice system, however Rafael and GD showed a system with basically the same capability in 1991 at Eurosatory (HVDS/ADAMS). Miraculously it hasnt re-appeared – thoughts?

  • Josh

    So air bursts at low altitude, nearly ontop of the target is more dangerous, as you see a more efficient use of the blast energy. but the ranges the RD-D2 is engaging these mortar rounds at, its far to high to be a threat via airburst.

  • C

    Josh – nopt true. R2D2 only has a .5km WEZ. This isi pretty much useless unless you’re really looking at terminal phase interception. Also R2D2 just rips off and traces a line of fire from a pre-determined point to intercept the incoming projectile. although this makes sense, the ranges are just too short. Hence the USAR may trial a 35mm concept. Greater range, higher SSPK, and therefore more versatility.

  • anon
  • Mike

    So when the rounds (100’s of them) burst in mid-air, how many civilians are going to get hurt/killed from the falling shrapnel? I agree that this is a good system to protect our men/women, but at what cost?

  • jbange

    Shrapnel simply falling from the sky does not have a terminal velocity high enough to hurt anyone.

  • Mo

    Hey FCC, Mohammed isn’t watching, he’s in bed with your momma!
    Hey folks, although nothing said so far is classified, keep on your toes! Muhmmad is watching, Don’t let out any capabilities and limitations.
    Posted by: FCC at October 10, 2006 11:39 PM

  • noone

    It isn’t the falling shrapnel they are worried about – but the risks to innocent people, derived from the usage of deleted uranium.

  • Big Brother

    You guys are all jackasses. You are trying to brag about what you know and are giving out unnecessary information to the enemy in the process. Even if it is not classified, it is still useful. Way to go…

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  • Not Tom

    Hey Tom, go hug a tree! The rest of us will stop terrorists from killing people.

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