The Expeditionary Fire Support System just got a whole lot badder, and better.

Marine Corps Systems Command has awarded a $98 million contract to Raytheon Missile Systems to build more than 3,000 Precision Extended Range Munitions, or PERM. The 120mm mortar round will double the current range to 16 kilometers, or 10 miles, and provide GPS accuracy well within 10 meters of the target (industry officials place it within 2 two meters).

PERM also increases the lethality of the 120mm mortar by as much as 250 percent, depending on the target, said Joe McPherson, product manager for Marine Corps Systems Command. Still, it is the pinpoint accuracy that has turned most heads. Ballistic mortars require targeting adjustments for wind and other factors, and their effects increase exponentially as distance lengthens. Sometimes the variables are so many, and change so drastically with each passing mile, that complete compensation is nearly impossible. PERM's GPS guidance system eliminates the need for these kinds of calculations.

Such accuracy is not new to artillery batteries. But unlike Excalibur — PERM's 100-pound, 155mm big brother — this 35-pound shell is light enough to be handled by a single Marine. PERM is lighter because it does not use rocket motors. The Raytheon-made mortar round instead uses tail fins for stabilization and flaps near the nose called "canards" to make in-flight adjustments. The resultant precision thus increases first-round effects and will minimize collateral damage, McPherson said.

The Expeditionary Fire Support System, introduced in 2009, is the third leg of the amphibious fires triad. It consists of two highly mobile vehicles that can fit inside an MV-22 Osprey or CH-53E Super Stallion; its weight does not diminish the maximum range of either bird. One vehicle pulls an M327 120mm mortar tube, and the other a trailer of ammunition. The EFSS battery is roughly 50 Marines, slightly less than one-third the size of an M777 howitzer battery.

Expeditionary maneuver is the name of the game as the Pentagon looks to beef up regional security and quick response throughout the Pacific with an eye toward an expanding Chinese military. Current plans call for a Marine air-ground task force or better in Australia, Guam, Hawaii and Okinawa. The Corps' Expeditionary Force 21 concept of operations is centered on prepositioned Marines deploying as a self-contained force capable of independent operations for weeks at a time. Precision fires will be critical in such scenarios. As the number of rounds needed to destroy a target is reduced, the combat load needed to support the force is reduced — and more rounds are available for subsequent targets.

Ground forces and commanders have anticipated the GPS-guided mortar since 2005, when the EFSS requirement was made official. Though always a part of that strategy, PERM had to wait until initial components were fielded – namely, the vehicle, the 120mm mortar, and the ballistic munitions. The effort to develop the round "really got rolling in 2011," McPherson said.

The program came in two months ahead of schedule and 33 percent under budget, McPherson said. The cost threshold was $27,500, but each round came in at $18,000. The first rounds will be delivered in mid-2018, with a total purchase of 3,113 rounds over five years.

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