n recent times mortars have gained renewed respect from fighting forces. The nature of many conflicts have made mortars important again and their manufacturers report good business. This has led to renewed efforts to facilitate the use of these weapons as an integral force multiplier for infantry units. Mortars are part of the basic arsenal of infantry units and are used in almost every war zone around the world.
7th Sep 2011
Byline: ARIE EGOZI / Tel Aviv
In recent times mortars have gained renewed respect from fighting forces. The nature of many conflicts have made mortars important again and their manufacturers report good business. This has led to renewed efforts to facilitate the use of these weapons as an integral force multiplier for infantry units.
Mortars are part of the basic arsenal of infantry units and are used in almost every war zone around the world.
The main advantage of mortars over artillery pieces is their small size and mobility. Another, no less important fact, is the ability to use one from a trench or from behind a shelter.
In all recent wars and clashes between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and enemy forces, the mortars were used heavily and made a major contribution to operations.
Modern mortars normally range in diameter from 60 millimeters (2.36 inches) to 120 millimeters (4.72 inches). However versions both larger and smaller than these specifications have been produced.
Most modern mortar systems consist of three main components: a tube, a base plate, and a bipod. These weapons are commonly used and transported by infantry based mortar "porters" and are used as a substitute for artillery.
The need for better mobility of mortars and the requirement to carry large numbers of ammunition rounds created a problem and the IDF has a few years ago identified it as one that needs an urgent solution.
While there is also an effort to improve the accuracy of mortar fire and give them higher lethality, the problem of their basic limited mobility with the fighting forces remained the most disturbing and pressing issue.
The IDF have used mortars since 1948 but in recent clashes like the second Lebanon war and the "Cast Lead" operation in Gaza, came to the conclusion that mortars are very crucial to win an engagement - especially where civilians live in the fighting zone and the enemy is hiding within the populated area.
Israel Military Industries (IMI) entered into an accelerated development process and the result is the "Hornet". This program is for the direct operational needs of the IDF and is mainly based on recent combat experience in Lebanon and the Gaza strip. In all these operations, mortars have been used extensively and with great effect. But the commanders and the soldiers wanted improvements and IMI has initiated the "Hornet" programme as one that has a high priority.
The basic idea is to allow small fighting units to take the mortars with large number of ammunition rounds to the front line, without hampering the ability of the soldiers to move fast when the circumstances dictate.
IMI, like many of the Israeli defense industries, is a company with many employees that were formerly soldiers in combat units. Many of them still serve as reservists and therefore have an intimate relationship with the systems that they develop. They believe that the “Hornet” is one system that is without any doubt a must in modern combat conditions.
IMI has used the fantastic capabilities of an upgraded Polaris all terrain vehicle (ATV). This vehicle with a muffled engine was selected as the platform for the new system after many tests in rough terrain.
"We studied reports from fighting units that all complained about the time that elapsed between their requests for support fire, to the minute the first mortar hit the target. It was clear that we have to enable the mortars to move as an integral part of the infantry unit", an IMI source said.
To date the IDF has been using 81-120 mm mortars carried on M-113 armed personnel carriers (APCs). But the problem was not solved because the mobility of these vehicles is limited. Furthermore there is a problem to relay the exact target information from the infantry unit to the APC that in most cases is trailing behind the infantry unit.
The Hornet is equipped with a special optical device attached to a laser rangefinder. When a target is detected by the infantry soldiers, they simply point the laser rangefinder on it and determine its exact distance. This data is transferred directly to the smart mortar round.
The accurate aiming is performed by a combined fire control system that transfers the data to a smart mortar bomb. The smart mortar round is equipped with a GPS unit and according to IMI the system achieves a 1.5 meters circular error of probability (CEP).
The 120 mm GPS-Guided Mortar bomb (120GM) employs a weapon-grade hardened GPS and Internal Navigation System (INS) module, guiding the bomb in flight to hit the target's coordinates, which are preloaded to the bomb before firing.
The 120GM is designed for 120 mm Mortar Systems and is effective against infantry troops, Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs), as well as fortified structures and bunkers.
In addition, the 120GM provides the Infantry with a lethal, surgical strike capability to destroy targets beyond line of sight. The point-target accuracy minimizes the number of bombs needed per mission, in comparison to standard mortar bombs, thus ultimately reducing the logistics tail. The “Hornet” is configured to carry 22 120 mm mortar rounds.
The combination between the high mobility of the ATV and the smart mortar round gives fighting units the capability to react immediately and accurately to enemy targets. The system can still operate with ordinary "dumb" rounds and then the aiming process is based mainly on the laser rangefinder and directional and elevation data .
According to IMI, the Hornet can be parachute-dropped from heavy helicopters like the Sikorsky CH-53 . This capability is essential when the fighting units are parachuted in the combat area, or cannot take the mortars with them even on a mobile platform like the Polaris.
The IMI source said that while the “”Hornet is now being offered with regular mortar rounds, it will soon be available to potential clients when the guided mortar ammunition comes on line. It is estimated that the development process will be completed in about a year.
IMI is a great believer in their advanced mortar rounds and hopes that the IDF will be among the first of many customers.