Smart artillery shells promise
a major MEMS device market

Sept. 26, 2002 — The U.S. Department of Defense is spending millions of dollars to develop MEMS-based artillery shells for the Army and Navy and even more for a MEMS-based guidance unit for everything from shells to smart bombs.

The latest program, launched last year, will cost about $100 million — split between the Defense Department and the MEMS companies participating. Separately, when Congress canceled the Crusader self-propelled howitzer earlier this year, the Defense Department asked that $48 million of that money be shifted to the Army’s Excalibur MEMS-based artillery program.

The military’s ultimate goal is to produce an inertial guidance system that can be combined with a Global Positioning System (GPS), is small enough to fit in an artillery shell, tough enough to be shot from guns and cheap enough to buy by the hundreds of thousands. Meanwhile, both the Army and Navy are in advanced development on MEMS-based artillery shells and should start low-rate production in the next couple of years.

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The potential market for MEMS-based munitions is huge. Jim Grace, vice president of business development at Interstate Electronics Corp., expects the latest Defense Department/MEMS program to eventually sell 80,000 or so guidance units a year at $1,500 apiece. For the Excalibur artillery round, the Army set a goal of buying 10,000 shells a year starting in 2004 with a MEMS unit cost of less than $2,500.

Grace said the programs are likely to result in MEMS-based guidance and steering units that can fit in the fuze well of a standard artillery shell. With millions of such shells in inventory, the market for converting them into smart munitions is even more enormous.

The starting point is the artillery shell because they have the most stringent requirements. “Once you get a system that works at 25,000 G then you could put it in a less stressful environment,” said John Foster, chief executive of Innovative Micro Technology, a Santa Barbara, Calif., MEMS company.

The MEMS units promise significantly lower prices. Even the “low-cost” unit — which uses a ring laser gyro-based Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) — used in Joint Direct Attack Munition smart bombs cost $6,500 per unit.  

There are four major MEMS-based artillery programs in the United States now. Besides Excalibur for the Army’s 155 mm guns, there is the Navy’s Extended Range Guided Munition (ERGM) for the naval 5-inch gun, the Navy’s Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) for a new generation of 6-inch guns and a new program commonly referred to as the “BAA program” because the contract was let under a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) agreement. (And because it is so new it doesn’t have its own acronym or catchy name yet.)

The Defense Department plans to have the Excalibur and the ERGM go into full production in two to five years. The LRLAP is still in competition. The BAA program is a research effort that isn’t scheduled to be finished until 2006. According to Grace, it will be 2007 or 2008 at the earliest before it can go into production.

The main use for MEMS in smart munitions is in the IMU that lies at the heart of an inertial guidance system. Combined with a GPS receiver, the IMU provides accurate, weatherproof, jam-resistant guidance to everything from artillery shells to bombs and missiles to torpedoes. An IMU consists of three gyroscopes and three accelerometers linked together in an inertial guidance system.

Given performance and affordability, high volume production of at least some MEMS-based munitions seems a sure thing. “It’s my belief that’s where our military is going,” said Charlie Dellamore, a senior applications engineer at BEI Systron Donner’s Inertial Division. Systron Donner’s belief in MEMS-based smart munitions is so strong it is in the process of splitting the company into two divisions, one to deal with the automotive MEMS products that are the company’s bread and butter, and one for aerospace and defense.

Several MEMS manufacturers are involved in smart artillery programs. L-3 Communications Inc. of New York, through its Interstate Electronics Corp. subsidiary, is involved in all three major projects.

Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass., is the prime contractor for the Excalibur and ERGM, and Interstate Electronics provides the GPS systems for both.

The Inertial Measurement Unit for the ERGM comes from BAE Systems, a British company, while Interstate Electronics provides the IMU for Excalibur. Interstate Electronics has also teamed with Innovative Micro Technology to produce the IMU for the BAA program.

Others with active programs include Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego and United Defense LP of Minneapolis.

The Navy’s MEMS-enabled Extended Range Guided Munition


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