The U.S. Army is continuing to look for new ways to use their existing equipment to improve its soldiers’ chances on the battlefield, with platforms like the M777 howitzer seeing repeated refits and modifications to extend its range and capabilities. Now the Army has set its sights on modifying its mortars in order to increase the combat effectiveness of its troops.

However, the Army isn’t content to simply increase the kill range of its mortars, and a new project they recently patented doesn’t involve targeting enemy combatants at all. Instead, the Army is setting their sights on raining mortar shells down onto their own troops on the battlefield.

The Army’s new project, which is being developed at the Picatinny Arsenal where the M777ER is also being built, is called ARP, for Army Resupply Projectile. The plan is to develop mortar shells with hollow compartments and dynamic steering mechanisms that allow for Army mortar teams to provide a resupply of ammunition to infantry forces that find themselves pinned down by enemy fire.

In order to deliver supplies to American forces caught in long firefights, the mortar rounds will feature “a tail section secured to the payload deployment section, which includes a steerable decelerator system. That system also houses a guidance and navigation system made up of electronics, power supply and a parafoil control mechanism.”

In other words, these shells are filled with as many as one hundred and fifty 5.56mm rounds intended for use in the American M4A1 carbine, for instance, and are fired from traditional mortar tubes toward the pinned-down U.S. forces. The attached tail section then uses onboard guidance systems to ensure it lands on target, and even to control its descent.

The hollow mortar rounds only allow for a loadable cavity of about three inches by eight inches, which isn’t much. Still, with the average infantry soldier only carrying 180 rounds for their primary weapon systems, a few well-placed mortar rounds could keep soldiers in the fight, and alive, until reinforcements can get there.

If an infantry unit finds themselves caught in an hours-long firefight that threatens to exhaust their ammunition supplies before support can arrive, the commanding officer on site could request an ARP ammo resupply mission. Mortar teams could be deployed miles away from the fight and launch self-guided mortars jam packed with rounds or other necessary supplies directly to the soldiers still in the fight. The mortarmen simply fill the mortar rounds, get the coordinates from the infantry officer on site, drop them in the tubes, and let them fly.

The mortar round takes over from there, its trajectory guided by an onboard computer and a global positioning system before deploying a parafoil to guide it to a soft landing alongside the soldiers who need it. They then simply break open the shells and reload their magazines.

According to the Army, these prototype shells are still in the design and concept stages, and won’t see deployment any time soon, if at all. There are still a number of variables to be considered, such as the potential for friendly casualties if the navigation system fails. This novel approach to the issue of needing a faster means to resupply soldiers in the field, however, offers an extremely cost-effective solution, as it relies almost entirely on existing off-the-shelf-military equipment and technology.

To see how Army mortar teams work, check out the video below.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army