Dragon Fire (mortar)
|Dragon Fire II mortar system|
Test firing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
|Place of origin||United States|
|Rate of fire||
10 rounds per minute (maximum)
4 rounds per minute (sustained)
|Effective firing range||
(13,000 m with rocket assisted projectile)
The Dragon Fire 120 mm heavy mortar was a private venture by TDA Armaments that was picked up by the US Marine Corps for its EFSS (Expeditionary Fire Support System) requirement. It is a fully automated mortar capable of using rifled or smoothbore 120 mm ammunition. Like all mortars, it is a high-angle-of-fire weapon used for indirect fire support. Dragon Fire is also expected to be effective in a counter-battery role.
The US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory started a Concept Demonstrator project in 1997. They wanted a weapon that would be a "mortar in a box," that is a weapon that could be remotely emplaced and fired unattended on a future battlefield. In late 1997, MCWL accepted a proposal by the army's Program Manager, Mortars (PM Mortars) and Armament Research, Design, and Engineering Command (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey to design and build a firing system to fulfill the design objectives. At an early stage, it was decided that the system had to be of 120mm caliber to give sufficient lethality and range. Ultimately, the design team picked parts of the French Thomson-Daimler Armements (TDA) experimental 2R2M mortar because it had a usable power traverse, elevation, and loading system and because its 120mm rifled ammunition promised greater accuracy and range.
The project completed the experimental weapon, now called the Dragon Fire, in 17 months and it was used in a series of firing experiments beginning in September 1998. During 1999-2002, the Dragon Fire was used during the Limited Object Experiment (LOE) Urban Warrior and several follow-on experiments and the French-made 2R2M mortar mounted in a Piranha vehicle served as a surrogate for a mobile, Light Armored Vehicle-mounted firing system. These experiments showed that the concept of automating the fire control, aiming and loading of a medium-range firing system substantially reduced fire mission response times and resulted in accurate, efficient fire.
Following the success of these experiments, the Marine Corps initiated a Requirement Document for an Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) to fill the gap in the availability of supporting fires for the initial air-delivered elements of an expeditionary operation. To fulfill this requirement, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab initiated a follow-on project called Dragon Fire II, which was to be a Government-designed, Government-produced weapons system and it would incorporate all the "lessons learned" with the first Dragon Fire. Once again PM Mortars/ARDEC was tapped to do the design work and to modify the M95 Mortar Fire Control System (MFCS) to provide the advanced fire control and weapon control for the new system.
The project was initiated in 2002, but, not long afterwards, TDA dropped out of the project because of issues concerning sharing of design information and their price, and when MARCORSYSCOM made it known that it would be looking for an "off the shelf, commercial system" for the EFSS requirement, the system specifications for the Dragon Fire II were de-scoped to Concept Demonstrator and the budget was reduced. ARDEC contracted with General Dynamics to design the new electric actuators for elevation, traverse, loading and firing and despite some difficulties in that contract, the finished Dragon Fire II, now known as the XM-326 120mm Automated Mortar, was rolled out at Rock Island Arsenal in September 2005.
The new Dragon Fire weighed half the weight of the first Dragon Fire (3,450 pounds vs over 7,000 pounds) and was capable of receiving a fire mission over its on-board radio, processing the fire mission, aiming the weapon, loading and firing in any direction within 18 seconds or less. Very quickly, the Dragon Fire II was incorporated into experiments with the Counter Rockets, Artillery, and Mortars (C-RAM) project and while it was still undergoing engineering and safety tests at Yuma Proving Ground, it fired in support of C-RAM's demonstrations and quickly proved to be responsive and extremely accurate, with most rounds landing within a Circle Error Probable of 15m or less at a range of 5,600m.
During 2007, a Light Armored Vehicle was modified to accept the Dragon Fire internally as a modular artillery weapon and this system was demonstrated. Despite these successes, opposition to the Dragon Fire II and to MCWL's involvement in long-term experimentation grew stronger and funding was first reduced and then cut completely. As a last attempt to use this capable system, it was converted to become a full-time LAV mortar system and was selected to become the new LAV-Mortar system for the Marine Corps. This funding was removed in 2009 and the weapon is currently in storage at Picatinny Arsenal. The Dragon Fire II was featured in the Discovery Channel's Future Weapons program.
The final version of the EFSS weapon system consists of two Prime Movers, the RT 120/ M327 “Dragon Fire” rifled towed mortar, an ammunition trailer, and the fire control equipment. One vehicle tows the RT 120 mortar, and the second vehicle tows the ammunition trailer. The ammunition trailer holds up 36 mortar rounds in factory-recyclable steel containers.
In June 2011, for the first time, the Marine Corps field tested loading the RT 120/M327 mortar and its prime mover into Amphibious Assault Vehicles, demonstrating the versatility of the EFSS to meet various mission requirements.
The Dragon Fire mortar system can be deployed mounted in an LAV, towed by a HMMWV, or air deployed by CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter or V-22 Osprey. Fixing the weapon in an LAV does not require a separate mount; its towing carriage can be converted to an LAV mount in five minutes. After deployment, the crew can control the weapon system from a remote station. In operation, it is designed to be fully automatic: loading, computing firing solutions, aiming and firing automatically. From an unloaded condition, the weapon is capable of loading, completing a firing solution, aiming, and firing the first round within 14 seconds of receiving an order. The weapon is also capable of being operated manually in the event of failure of an automatic system.
The advanced fire control system is fully compatible with the US Army system, to reduce the risk of friendly fire (fratricide) incidents.
Types of rounds
The Dragon Fire system is designed to be able to use all NATO types of rifled and smoothbore 120 mm mortar ammunition. However, the USMC awarded Raytheon a contract to design, develop and demonstrate a new 120mm long-range, guided-mortar munition for use on the M327 mortar. The new Precision Extended Range Munition (PERM) is expected to be ready for a live-fire demonstration by the summer of 2015. The 120mm rifled mortar PERM round will give the EFSS a reach of 17 kilometers, with the accuracy to hit within 20m of the target point at full range. The prototype PERM rounds have a GPS antenna and small fins, called canards, that provide lift and extend the range of the weapon. The Marine Corps acquisition program will perform a shoot-off of the prototype mortar rounds developed by Raytheon and ATK. The winning vendor will be awarded a procurement contract.
M327 120mm Rifled Towed Mortar
USMC M327 transported internally by an Amphibious Assault Vehicle
USMC EFSS Prime Mover transported internally by an Amphibious Assault Vehicle
USMC High explosive round showing rifling.
- United States: USMC Expeditionary Fire Support System (LAV)
- Oman: VAB
- France: VAB (part of Phoenix upgrade)
- Italy: VBM
- Malaysia: 8 2R2M for ACV-S
- Saudi Arabia: M113
- M1129 Mortar Carrier, equipped with M121 120 mm mortar.
- M1064 mortar carrier, equipped with M121 120 mm mortar.
- M120 120 mm mortar
- Mortar (weapon)
- Military technology and equipment
- List of artillery
- List of crew served weapons of the US Armed Forces
- Light-weight Combat Vehicle (LCV) System
- "Dragon Fire mortar system test successful", press release
- DRAGON FIRE I - II Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS)
- Dragon Fire II fact sheet (PDF)
- Dragon Fire II Experimental system NDIA briefing (PDF)
- The Dragon Fire Experiments, Marine Corps Gazette 2009