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WWII ammunition finds new life in Global War On Terror

  • Published
  • By Maj. Scott Covode
  • Air Force Special Operations Command public affairs
A team of Air Force weapons specialist turned to ammunition first introduced into service in 1942 to provide lower cost training ammo for the AC-130 Gunship's 40mm cannon.

Gunship training with the 40mm Bofors cannon normally calls for high explosive incendiary ammunition produced in the 1970s and 1980s. However, recent ammunition shortages, low availability and high purchase costs have forced AC-130 crews to train with surplus World War II production armor-piercing ammunition.

Despite vast quantities of the ammo, the armor-piercing round provides limited training effectiveness since it contains no explosives. This limits its visibility when it strikes a target. Without an impact signature, aircrews and ground forces cannot assess shot placement and correct the fire control system for errors.

"If you don't see it hit, you can't adjust fire," said Bill Walter, a retired Chief Master Sergeant and former aerial gunner now working in the AFSOC Plans and Programs Directorate.

Recognizing this limiting factor, AFSOC's advanced test and technology demonstration team initiated an experiment with Air Force Research Laboratories at Eglin Air Force Base to add a pyrotechnic spotting charge to the readily available armor-piercing round.

Within 64 days, the team was successful in "re-inventing" the round during ground and flight testing.

"This was an incredibly fast turnaround to provide this solution -- something we never could have obtained this fast from industry," said Mr. Walter. "We had the right people at the right time to develop a great solution."

And develop they did, according to Charles "Mac" McClenahan, of the AFRL Munitions Directorate Ordnance Division Fuzes Branch. He and Mr. Walter along with Bob DuPont from the 780th Test Squadron and Preston Parker, executive secretary of the Air Force Non Nuclear Munitions Safety Board, would often meet just outside the machine shop, work out a solution at a picnic table and go into the shop to start metal work on the rounds. This provided instant feedback to the small team and allowed them to develop, adjust, test and review their product within hours.

"We established goals for the round by looking at the test targets and working backwards. We recognized the critical need for our solution to work and our team just clicked," said Mr. McClenahan. "We were lucky to have everything locally we needed to produce this solution. The customer, developer and test capability are all here on the Emerald Coast."

According to Mr. Walter, AFSOC has access to viable training ammo, but only from overseas sources and at a cost of almost $200 per round; the World War II ammo cost $8 per round in 1940's dollars. Even better, the rounds were just sitting in storage bunkers perfectly preserved in their original, watertight packaging for the last 64 years.

Mr. Walter has calculated this solution could save the Air Force between $10 to 20 million per year. With 350,000 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition available for modification, cost savings could be more than $70 million.

"This round will enable AC-130 crews to train effectively with the armor-piercing round and conserve available quantities of scarce and expensive high explosive incendiary ammunition for combat use," said Mr. Walter.

He said they are also looking at operational uses of the modified round as well.

"These may have some application in urban environments where collateral damage must be limited. With no high-explosive component, these rounds could be effective for suppression fire," he said.

Plans are underway to modify the armor-piercing round in government arsenals and they will likely be available in quantity within a year. The first of those rounds are tentatively scheduled to enter the training activity later this calendar year.