By Ann Roosevelt

The ATK [ATK] Armaments group has received the green light from the Army for full-rate production for nearly 300 million rounds for the new Enhanced Performance Round (EPR), a top official said.

“It’s a higher velocity round, it’s got some improved accuracy and it also has some improved penetration,” Armament Group President Karen Davies told Defense Daily in an interview. “The biggest issue we’ve been trying to solve jointly with the Army, [is that this is] a round that works against multiple targets and that the soldier can rely no matter what situation he’s in it’s going to do its job.”

The M855A1 EPR is an enhanced version of the M855 5.56mm cartridge used by U.S. troops since the early 1980s.

ATK’s Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo., produced the initial 20 million EPR rounds, which were delivered to the troops in Afghanistan earlier this year.

Before becoming group president, Davies was vice president and general manager of small caliber systems and ran Lake City.

Under the April ATK reorganization of ATK, Davies took on a broader range of products that were previously split across the company, to include precision weapons and higher-end munitions and technology rounds.

“The marriage has been outstanding,” Davies said. “The interplay between those businesses now is excellent. We can take the best of both worlds…We can take our production businesses, which needed some technology and they have the resources now to do that, and then we can take that technology business and introduce how you transition production and viably deliver a product that works every time, quickly.”

The company and group are very metric-driven, and track things such as reducing scrap rates, and the time between development and production and ensuring products produced work the first time.

“We talk a lot about the fact all of the products we produce, they may come in great volume to us but we can’t get numb to the fact that every single one of them needs to work,” Davies said. “A lot of us have loved ones either in the services or have been so we feel very close to the fact that their life might depend on when they pull the trigger the round goes off.”

Those same concerns can be seen in ATK’s non-standard ammunition effort.

On Friday, ATK received additional orders worth $10 million for non-standard ammunition in support of its current multi-year contract. The three-year contract calls for ATK to acquire and deliver a variety of ammunition, mortars, RPG munitions, aviation rockets and non-standard weapons, to Afghanistan to train and sustain allied security forces (Defense Daily, June 15, Oct. 13, 2009).

“We’ve delivered about 220 million items…and we’ve been an average of 30 days ahead on all our deliveries,” Davies said. “We’ve done that by choosing good suppliers and making sure they understood what our requirements were–which were what the U.S. Army wants–and then we have disciplines in place to follow up and monitor their quality, their testing procedures so we know now that what we’re delivering for the Afghan security forces to use is going to work.”

ATK teamed with the ADVS (UK) Limitedto developed two new turrets, the Modular Remote Turret and the Light Weight Remote Turret with their own internal research and development funds. Using the medium caliber weapon system–chain gun family–with turret designs, “we have solved the problem competing turrets have,” she said.

One model will be on display at ATK’s Association of the United States Army booth.

ATK’s MRT system is fielded with the ADVS vehicles delivering some vehicles directly to Kuwait with the turret mounted.

“It takes our chain gun and it gives you the capability to load those guns completely under armor,” Davies said. Many systems today expose the soldier when they need to reload, as they are above the hatch.

“This then gives the soldier protection because they can load and not be in harm’s way. We’ve designed it so that a lot of the moving parts, the chain, the ammunition feeding system, are enclosed.”

This reduces the potential of weather and environmental effects jamming the system.

The turrets are designed to integrate onto almost any combat vehicle, whether tracked or wheeled. This would be a depot-level modification. With tighter defense budgets predicted, upgrades rather than new vehicles may be a future focus.

Davies said, “We think we’ve hit a nice sweet spot both in the weight of the turret and the open architecture…where we can mount it on a lot of different land vehicles. We’ve designed it with the thought that it needs to be very cost competitive.”