Picatinny engineers have begun delivering the new lightweight M252A1 81mm system to the US Army, which is 12 pounds, or 14 percent, lighter than its predecessor, the legacy M252 mortar system.
"The new lightweight system reduces the load for dismounted battalion mortar platoons, while retaining the same durability, rates of fire, and range of the legacy system," said Lt. Col. Will McDonough, Product Manager Guided Precision Munitions and Mortar Systems, known as GPM2S, with the Program Executive Office for Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal.
Picatinny engineers delivered the first 81mm M252A1 mortar systems to troops earlier this month.
Mortar systems are an indirect fire weapon used to defeat enemy troops, materiel, bunkers and other infantry-type targets. The M252A1 fires the complete family of 81mm ammunition, such as high explosive, smoke, illumination, infrared illumination and practice cartridges.
"Lighter weight has been a user desire for the 30 years I've been with the government," explained Ted Greiner, GPM2S's assistant product manager for 60 and 81mm mortar systems.
Overall, the 81mm system has dropped from 91 pounds down to 79 pounds.
To illustrate how important equipment weight reduction is to Service members, Greiner recalled the time he was coaching his son's little league game and another parent approached him.
"I'm sitting on the bench, and all of a sudden this guy comes running across the field and I think he's going to tackle me. He says, 'You work at Picatinny? Do you work on mortars? Well you've gotta to make those things lighter. I humped those things thirty miles a day."
"The parent was a former Marine, and wasn't in the service any longer. But (the weight of the mortar system) was so important to him that years later he came running across the field just to tell me about it. He was happy with the range, durability and everything else, but he wanted it to be lighter."
Greiner's team was able to reduce the mortar system weight by using new materials.
"We used lighter materials, such as aluminum and titanium in the elevation and traverse mechanism that lower and lift the bipod, and traverse it left and right, and nylon Kevlar for some of the internal gear parts."
The M252A1 consists of the following components: M253 cannon (tube), M177A1 bipod, M3A2 baseplate, and the M67A1 sight unit.
The bipod now weighs 22.5 pounds, compared to 27 pounds. The baseplate has been reduced from 29 pounds to 23 pounds, and the cannon dropped from 35 pounds down to 30.5 pounds.
All former 81mm systems are scheduled to be replaced with the new technology, in 2016.
To develop and field this technology, GPM2S partnered with the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, Benet Labs, Army Contracting Center New Jersey, Watervliet Arsenal, and MaTech.
"The legacy 81mm systems were originally purchased from the UK, in the 1980s," explained McDonough. "We've made the systems lighter and also used Soldier input to incorporate additional changes."
The new 81mm bipod will now be in the "A" shaped bipod frame, similar to the bipod on the 60mm and the 120mm systems.
"The 'A' shaped bipod frame keeps training consistent so the user doesn't have to learn something unique for one system. So once someone gets familiar with one they can easily transition to another system," Greiner said.
The M252A1 requires less maintenance because its internal gears are greaseless, which means they do not have to be lubricated by grease and oil. The nylon Kevlar is reinforced with composites and protective coatings infused with lubricants that eliminate the need for external lubrication.
PEO Ammunition began fielding the lightweight M224A1 60mm mortar systems, in July 2010. More than 1,300 M224A1 60mm lightweight mortar systems have been fielded so far.
"The units love them. So far we have received a lot of positive feedback," Greiner said of the 60mm systems.