A new, rapid fire light cannon could find its way onto U.S. Army armored vehicles. The BAE Systems 40-millimeter cannon system is proposed as one way to give increased firepower to existing vehicles, giving them the ability to engage threats big and small. The cannon is considerably more lethal than the chain guns and heavy machine guns it is meant to replace.
The new cannon system is designed to fit on armored vehicles such as the M2 Bradley, Stryker combat vehicle, and any future vehicle that arises from the U.S. Army’s new Next Generation Combat System program. Currently, the 1980s-era Bradley has a 25-millimeter chain gun, effective against infantry and light armored vehicles, while the Stryker has a M2 .50 caliber machine gun. The M2 is effective against the flanks of light armored vehicles and infantry, but cannot penetrate a light armored vehicle’s frontal armor.
Russia’s aggressiveness in the Baltics, Syria and the Crimea spurred the U.S. Army to think about whether its armored vehicles can still take on their Russian counterparts. In 1985, the M2 Bradley’s M252 chain gun could shred a Soviet BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle. Now, 33 years later, the U.S. Army is still fielding the same Bradleys with the same weaponry but the Russian Ground Forces are adopting a slew of new vehicles, including the , , and .
The introduction of new Russian combat vehicles was considered serious enough that the Army started a crash program to upgrade Strykers based in Europe with a heavier gun. After a two year development period, the Army is upgrading half of the Second Cavalry Regiment’s Strykers to the new Dragoon standard, which ditches the machine gun and replaces it with a potent, rapid-fire 30-millimeter cannon. Meanwhile, is the Bradley’s 25-millimeter gun still effective against the frontal armor of Russia’s new combat vehicles? Nobody knows, but one thing for sure is Russian designers have had three decades to devise armor tough enough to defeat it.
BAE claims that the new gun offers up to four times the power of 30-millimeter guns and penetrates five and a half inches of rolled homogeneous armor, a standard for measuring steel armor, at nine-tenths of a mile. It can penetrate more than eight inches of concrete at the same distance. It features armor piercing rounds for engaging light enemy vehicles, a point detonating round for buildings and other stationary targets, and an airburst round for attacking enemy infantry in trenches and behind cover, helicopters, drones, and other aircraft, and for disrupting the optics and exposed sensors on main battle tanks.
The new round also uses so-called “case telescoping” technology. Unlike traditional bullets and cannon shells that have the projectile sticking out of a metallic casing filled with propellant, the new 40-millimeter round is fully enclosed in the casing, surrounded by propellant. The result is a smaller, more compact shell that can be stored in greater numbers than older type shells.
The U.S. Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle program is supposed to result in a vehicle to replace the M2 Bradley by the mid-2020s, with meaningful numbers of the new vehicle available in the 2030s. Eleven years is a long time to wait, and the Army may consider building new turrets with the new 40-millimeter gun for Strykers and Bradleys in the interim.