New tricks and mortar

Mortar Warrant Officer at the School of Artillery, Warrant Officer Class Two Matthew McMahon, left, instructs soldiers in the operation of the M252A1 81mm mortar and the M32A1 ballistic computer.

New tricks and mortar

Eighty-one millimetre bombs will be sent downrange by new mortars guided by modern hand-held computers set to roll out this year.

The Australian Army’s old M32 handheld mortar computers will be replaced with a new A1 variant that can receive digital calls-for-fire.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Chapman, Acting Program Director – Indirect Fire Support, said the current M32 was nearly obsolete.

“We didn’t have many spares left and they were in need of an overall replacement,” Lieutenant Colonel Chapman said.

“M32A1 possess all of the same functions, but it also allows receipt of digital messages.

“A battalion can still conduct independent operations with its organic mortar support and mobile fire controllers, but in a brigade setting, the mortar platoon can be networked with the rest of the fire support.

“[Controllers and observers] will be able to use whatever indirect weapons are within range of a target – whether the mortars or 155 howitzers – and the system will pick the right unit for the fire mission.”

The old F1 mortars are set to be replaced with new American-made M252A1 mortars featuring tubes that are 2.1 kilograms lighter, firing the same bombs.

“There was nothing wrong with the F1, they’re still working just fine, but there’s a focus on reducing the weight burden,” Lieutenant Colonel Chapman said.

“Army was looking at all the options to reduce weight for dismounted combatants.

“The tube is very similar; the main difference is the design of the bipod, going from a K-frame to an A-frame, saving 2.6 kilograms.

“The base plate also looks similar, but it’s about 1.2 kilograms lighter, all up saving just under 6 kilograms.”

It features similar procedures as the current mortar, making conversion training relatively straightforward, according to Lieutenant Colonel Chapman.

The new computers have arrived in Australia with rollout expected to begin this month.

The first batch of mortars have also arrived and expected to be delivered to designated units in the second half of 2019, enabling initial operational capability to be declared by the end of the year.

Final operational capability is expected by the end of 2020.

The project also delivered three mortar simulation systems integrated into weapons training simulation systems at Irwin, Robertson and Holsworthy Barracks, allowing soldiers to practise drills in observing fires and operating the mortars.

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