It’s the last line of defense. A key element of air defense.
The 5-5th Air Defense Artillery Battalion of the 31st Air Defense Brigade, together with soldiers of the Texas National Guard, conducted a Mission Readiness Exercise Tuesday night on Fort Sill.
Using the land-based Phalanx Weapon System (LPWS), also known as the Counter-Rocket and Mortar system (C-RAM), the soldiers are given the capability to intercept short-range threats such as mortars, artillery and drones.
The Mission Readiness Exercise came after two months of training for the Texas National Guard soliders.
After training non-stop for two months, First Lt. Nischal Mali said, “from day one, they will be able to protect whatever team or assets they have on the ground. They’re good.”
The LPWS air defense weapon system uses a M61A1 20mm Gatling rapid-fire anti-air gun, which is capable of onboard target acquisition and fire control. It can shoot up to 4,500 rounds per minute, which is 75 rounds per second. In a typical engagement, though, only around 300 rounds are fired.
“It shoots very fast,” Sgt. Alejandro Gutierrez said. “I was very excited when I first saw it. The detail you have to go into is pretty interesting.”
The system is primarily designed to protect American bases and assets, as a last line of defense, Specialist Richard Burgos said. According to him, the system has an accuracy of about 95%.
However, this comes at a cost. The LPWS air defense weapon system uses 20mm M940 ammunition, which costs $40 per round. An average engagement that uses 300 rounds therefore costs about $12,000.
There is a reason for this comparably high price tag. M940 ammunition is designed to self-destruct after 2,000 meters, or about 6,600 feet, which practically eliminates the risk of collateral damage to infrastructure, environment and, most importantly, innocent civilians.
At the heart of the entire system is not the gun or the soldier. It’s the EOC, the Engagement Operation Center, which can be located miles away. Here, the radar system detects any short-range threats in a certain designated zone, and then immediately informs the gun crew.
“The EOC is the mind, the brain, of the operation,” Specialist Arturo Echeverria, who works in an EOC, said. And the brain has to work very, very fast. Echeverria reported that since mortars and rocket artillery move at a fast rate of speed, he and his team only have between 7-15 seconds to react and eliminate the threat. Drones, however, would offer a bigger response time.
Depending on the specific threat, Echeverria’s specific EOC can choose to either use the LPWS rapid-fire anti-air gun, or the Coyote air defense weapon system, which serves basically as a moveable short-range guided surface-to-air missile system that is especially suited to shoot down drones.
As another option, Echeverria said, electronic warfare options could be used in the form of jamming incoming threats. Echeverria emphasized that the biggest priority of the weapon system was “defensive,” not “offensive.”
“I see this as the future, it’s a big game changer,” Echeverria said. “It’s a great system.”
According to the United States Army Acquisition Support Center, C-RAM was designated an Army acquisition program in 2013, with fielding of LPWS guns and support equipment authorized and currently ongoing.