Is the British Army on the Verge of Developing Super Ammo?
On November 7, the British Army’s Ajax armored reconnaissance vehicle completed its manned firing trials with its turret, which utilizes the CT40 autocannon. While this may seem unremarkable on the surface, it marks another step towards the first real adoption of a gun using cased telescoped ammunition (CTA) technology, which has been in development since the 1950s. The technology was considered for many uses in the past, including for the M2 Bradley. But only recently has it reached technical maturity, and it is now being seen as a serious way to increase firepower in autocannons and infantry weapons.
Cased telescoped ammunition was invented in 1954, in a U.S. Air Force laboratory. The idea is very simple: instead of having the projectile protruding outside of the cartridge, as in standard ammunition, CTA places the projectile inside the cartridge. In such a configuration, the projectile is considered to be “telescoped” inside the cartridge. When a CTA round is fired, a small booster charge pushes the telescoped projectile out of the casing. Once the projectile is in the barrel, the remaining propellant in the casing ignites, generating the pressure required to push the projectile down the barrel. The timing between the booster charge and the main propellant is critical for the CTA to work. CTA technology decreases the size of the ammunition and allows it to take the form of a simple cylinder, unlike other ammunition types, which are more complex. This allows for a decrease in weight, more compact ammunition, and smaller and less complex feeding mechanisms.
The first real serious project that attempted to incorporate CTA was in the 1990s. The twenty-five-millimeter Bushmaster cannon on the M2 Bradley began to be seen as inadequate against future Soviet AFV threats. A forty-five-millimeter cannon incorporating CTA technology was consequently developed. Rarefaction Wave gun technology was also tested on this forty-five-millimeter platform. The British MoD picked up on this development, as it was also looking to replace the thirty-millimeter RARDEN cannon that armed its own FV510 Warrior IFVs. Royal Ordnance and GIAT (a French armament company) produced their own forty-five-millimeter Cased Telescopic Weapon System in 1992. This system could be mounted on both an upgraded FV510 Warrior and the new French VAD 8×8 project. However, due to defense cutbacks, this was not adopted, and both the French and British IFV modernization projects were canceled. Luckily, the cooperation between Royal Ordnance and GIAT in developing the forty-five-millimeter CTA gun lead them to form CTA International, a joint venture company, in 1994, to further develop and market the technology.
CTAI went on to produce a variety of turrets using the forty-millimeter CTA cannon module throughout the 2000s. One application for these turrets was Warrior modernization. In that realm, CTA turret designs competed with turret designs using traditional autocannons such as the thirty-millimeter Bushmaster Mk44. The British government hesitated to choose a turret throughout its involvement in Iraq. Finally, in 2015, the Ministry of Defense settled on a turret, signing a deal in 2015, with 515 CT40 armed turrets being provided for the new Ajax reconnaissance vehicle and Warrior modernization projects. The CT40 cannon was also selected for use on France’s new wheeled reconnaissance vehicle, the Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat Jaguar, on April 22, 2017. The system is also offered by Thales Defense as a new-generation antiair gun, firing programmable ammunition.