ATK’s [ATK] core competencies in munitions, gun systems, and precision technologies are moving into products fielded to help soldiers, a company official said.
“We’ve got a unique capability to take the munitions piece and the gun systems and then put them together with that the precision technology we’ve developed over the years and turn that into very affordable and innovative solutions,” Karen Davies, senior vice president and president, ATK Armament Systems, said in an interview.
“Who we are, really, is that responsive, sustaining and connected model that runs through all of our products,” she said.
For example, because the group has a good understanding of what the military needs, its core competencies and global connections, ATK was able to help the United States provide Afghanistan security forces with non-NATO standard munitions and weapons systems.
It allowed the creation of an effective supply chain drawing on the capabilities and countries making those non-standard items, while ensuring quality assurance and test requirements were consistent each time, she said.
“That’s the competency we’ve brought and as a result we’ve been able to very promptly deliver and we’ve been ahead on all of those contracts,” Davies said.
Also, ATK runs two large World War II-era ammunition plants for the government: Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri and Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia.
ATK began work at Lake City in 2000, and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks the plant began to ramp up from 300 million rounds a year to this year’s 1.4 billion rounds. To date, ATK has delivered about 11 billion rounds from Lake City, she said.
With the ramp-up it was clear equipment needed to be modernized, and ATK worked out plans with the Army so work could be done even as ammunition was produced. The main phase of the modernization will be complete in less than a year, Davies said.
Work is being done at Radford as well, and the company has worked with the Army to ensure the plants continue to sustain modernization.
Meanwhile, in the spring BAE Systems was chosen over ATK to run Radford in the future. An ATK protest to the Government Accountability Office resulted in an amended request for proposals to which BAE and ATK are now responding.
Radford, fundamentally a chemical plant, also is part of the connected theme of the armament group. For example, Davies said, Radford turns raw materials into nitrocellulose, which is then delivered to partner General Dynamics [GD], which turns it into powder that is then delivered to Lake City, where it is put into ammunition for warfighters.
The plant also fits in the responsiveness area of the business model, “because we really are in a very good position to understand that whole supply chain, to understand design and how things are connected and as a result of that we have been able to be extremely responsive to what the warfighter needs,” Davies said.
That supply chain could have problems if there are large defense munition budget cuts.
Historically cyclical, in the 1990s there was a fairly big drawdown in spending. “If that were to happen again, the whole supply chain struggles to stay alive,” Davies said. “As spending goes down, there’s a tendency to not fund some of the product lines, suppliers go out of business, and you have situations like we found at Lake City where there had not been significant upgrades for a long, long time,” Davies said.
The Army is considering the industrial base for the products as it works on their budgets.
Meanwhile, ATK is moving on breakthrough products.
One is a precision guidance kit for mortars, a government program called Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative (APMI). ATK takes existing mortars, used by militaries around the world, replaces the fuse and adds GPS and “turn them into near-precision munitions,” Davies said.
In March, ATK began fielding APMI for the Army under an Urgent Materiel Need. “We did that in under a year from the start of contract award,” she said.
Another advanced system fielded in Afghanistan “with outstanding results” is the XM25, the soldier-carried 25mm weapon, The system’s unique capability is to fire an air-bursting munition using a fire control system and guidance.
ATK was awarded the EMD contract for XM25 and is now in the process of working with the Army on another Urgent Materiel Release for the system.
The same capability is moving into artillery rounds. ATK was competitively awarded the work on the Precision Guidance Kit, (PGK). It’s similar to the mortar guidance kit, putting fusing and GPS capability into a standard artillery round, which becomes a near-precision round.
“It’s very cost effective and it is demonstrating it’s got the kind of range and ease of use that we [ATK] were targeting,” Davies said. ATK is in discussions with the Army right now on preparing to see if it will go into an Urgent Material Release. The official program schedule is about a year away from the Milestone C decision.
Additionally, ATK is teaming with General Dynamics to put the same precision technology into mortar rounds for the Marines.
Toward the future, ATK has teamed with Elbit in developing miniature munitions that can be launched from unmanned aerial vehicles, using the same technologies in a guided 2.75-inch rocket called Gator.
With the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, ATK is under contract to develop the ability to guide a .50 caliber round.
“This is a very early technology program, so it isn’t one you’d expect to see fielded,” Davies said. “We’re miniaturizing the precision technology we’re using in the bigger rounds and applying that same engineering to the .50 cal round.” Snipers are the target market here.
“If you can guide at that level, miniaturize the electronics and withstand the environment you get out of a rifle barrel, it’s really a very big breakthrough,” Davies said.