Monday, September 5, 2011

The Spellforge Mobile Modular Weapon System Project

The Spellforge Mobile Modular Weapon System (henceforth MMWS) has the following list of operational requirements (as brainstormed by Nick, Scott, and myself):
  • Unit must be able to traverse most terrain with minimal effort -- swamp, desert, jungle, forest
  • Unit must be able to operate autonomously for short missions without additional crew support.
  • All operational modules must be "hot swappable" in under 30 minutes
  • Unit cost should not exceed 2 million credits and should ideally be under 1 million
  • Platform should be capable of serving in an anti-armor, anti-aircraft and fire support role, depending on mission
  • All modules should be capable of quick deployment and undeployment; under 1 minute and ideally within 15 seconds
  • Anti-armor module should carry firepower capable of knocking out a Coalition MBT
  • Fire support module should be capable of delivering heavy antipersonnel or antistructure payloads precisely to minimize collateral damage
  • Anti-aircraft module must be capable of downing a Coalition SAMAS or equivalent suit in a 1-to-1 confrontation
  • Unit should be transportable via Chinook helicopter and Rift To spells
  • All modules should be capable of arming TW munitions for multipurpose use
  • Unit should have at least one secondary weapon system for close defense scenarios
With these operational requirements, the ideal MMWS platform is the NG-X9 Samson or CAS-30 Assault Suit.

The Cheapwell is the most expensive Chipwell option, but it is heavy enough that it can reasonably carry the armaments needed. It also comes with a backup weapon without needing to be modified. The CAS must be heavily modified; a modernized HUD and communications suite are mandatory for accurate fire and the stock motors need to be replaced in order to match the need to negotiate difficult terrain. While this will cost a fair bit of money, the real loss is labor.

The Samson is a proven heavy weapons platform and has jumpjets, but the grenade launchers probably need to be removed in order to add in a personal defense weapon. The Samson's onboard electronics do not need to be updated to meet the MMWS standards. The Samson costs over three times as much, though.

Another option is the CAI-100 Warmonger; although it's a terrible machine, it honestly requires most of the same work as the CAS-30 and costs basically nothing.

The cost of a relatively inexpensive 5 mile radio/1 mile radar suite will cost roughly 25k (radar 20, radio 5). An onboard RPA HUD and computer suite will cost 100,000 or more depending on quality. Replacing the servos and motors for the Chipwells probably costs around 12k total. This is for parts, not labor. The entire job will probably take about 1200 man-hours of labor and requires Robot Electronics and Robot Mechanics. Additional software calibration for piloting with the new HUD and new machine will take another 200-ish hours of labor between the pilot and technician calibrating the new system.

Mobile Modular Weapon System - Fire Support (MMWS-FS)

The primary fire support weapon system of the MMWS is a refurbished M102 105mm light howitzer. It uses an impressive 9 charges of mortar propellant to fire rounds at targets up to 7 miles away. The large surplus of 105mm rounds in pre-Rifts armories make it an ideal choice. A shorter-range option is a 105mm mortar, which has a 2 mile range with 3 mortar charges. The advantage of a howitzer versus a HYDRA-70 rocket launcher is that the howitzer can be reloaded by standby support crew and requires less maintenance than the mortars.

In order to support the firing of 105mm heavy ordinance, the issue of recoil must be addressed. A bipedal robot simply is not stable enough to fire a projectile with that much kinetic energy without a recoilless system. The problem with a recoilless system is reloading; without an appropriate closed chamber and firing mechanism, the weapon cannot really be loaded swiftly. This would not be a huge problem, but the needs of the system (requiring only one crew member) means that an autoloader is required. It is also sort of awkward to reload a 14ft tall recoiless gun, making it not very practical. Thus, the MMWS-FS recoil suppression system:

The MMWS-FS would use a pair (or more) of long pylons that are held on the unit's back. When conducting a fire mission, the pylons unlatch and are swiveled down by a mechanical arm and locked into a static position in the rear of the machine. This way, no stress is placed on mechanical parts. The rods are angled roughly 30 degrees; although this could be seated in a swivel mount (to match the angle of the gun), that would expose mechanical parts to wear. The pylons should 3-4 inches in diameter. They may be pneumatic; a gas-powered pneumatic system would allow the pylons to be more easily stowed and assist with recoil, but would increase deployment time since air (or some other gas) would have to be compressed in the pylons before the weapon could be fired. Either way, the deployment time for such a system would be within the 15 second timeframe and the undeployment time would be a few seconds, since the robot can step back into a standing position and maneuver away while the pylons are withdrawn by the mechanical arms.

The next step in constructing this system is fire control, which must be programmed into the unit. Since there is no computer system currently to aim a 105mm howitzer, this would require computer programming. This is a very important reason to have an expensive onboard computer system replacement, since it would better facilitate all of the "unique" features of this weapon design.

The last step is the feed mechanism. This is a much more difficult task since the entire feed system must be designed from scratch. This includes opening and closing of the chamber, feeding the rounds into the chamber, ejecting rounds from the chamber, operating the firing mechanism, and opening the loader for rounds to be reloaded. There are modern designs for such an autoloader, but none of them are American, since US artillery doctrine supported flexibility of charge size and payloads. This is a virtual impossibility for the design specifications of the MMWS-FS, which must be autonomous. Independent construction of such a system is likely to be very costly, especially since design prototypes must be constructed, tested, and graded -- this is not a system that can be "good enough."

The last system that must be developed is munitions. Although grid coordinates can be used with great effect for deploying frag or thermobaric shells (CEP of 50ft once all calibrations are made), precision-guided munitions would be able to strike specific vehicles, allowing for diversity in payloads; even possibly allowing for HEAT rounds to hit enemy vehicles. A more pertinent problem is that all American 105mm howitzer rounds are separate from their propellants; a round must be created (ideally at Charge 9) that can be fed into an autoloader without coming apart.

Mobile Modular Weapon System - Anti-Tank (MMWS-AT)

The MMWS-FS with laser-guided munitions (or even TW-guided munitions) may be able to function in a limited anti-armor role. However, even in a best case scenario it will take multiple direct HEAT hits to disable an enemy armored vehicle, and the MMWS-FS has a limited fire rate of roughly 1 round per 15 seconds. Thus, the MMWS-AT should be able to disable enemy armor faster; ideally within 15 seconds of engaging.

Option number 1 is some sort of heavy anti-armor cannon. The RG-14, if once could be acquired, would be a reasonable choice; the recoil suppression system in the MMWS-FS could most likely accomodate the RG-14's recoil energy. A more realistic option is the Royal Ordinance L7 105mm rifled cannon. However, there is simply no way a powered armor can handle the L7; the round is over 2 feet long and has massive recoil. In addition, the cannon is over 19 feet long. There is simply no way to fit this gun in a heliborne weapon system.

A lighter weapon, capable of more rapid fire is also a possibility, since it could do the duty of both antiaircraft and anti-tank. However, this is really unfeasible. 25mm SAPHE ammunition deals 1/3 damage to tanks, rendering even large bursts ineffective.

The ideal solution is rockets. A HYDRA launcher loaded with APKWS laser-guided missiles can deliver a rapid salvo of indirect fire ordinance on a laser-designated armored target at 7 miles away. The MMWS-AT with HYDRA rockets could dispense all of its payload in 3 melee actions, allowing minimal time for an enemy vehicle to retreat. This sounds effective for both MMWS-FS and MMWS-AT, since it can carry all the same payloads as the M102 howitzer. However, the howitzer can be reloaded with 10-15 rounds by a skilled reloading team, while a HYDRA-70 would be limited to its 7-rocket payload before having to RTB.

The installation of a HYDRA-70 launcher would be dramatically easier; depending on the onboard computer installed, it may even have basic software to incorporate a system. It would likely only take 20-30 man-hours of work, including electrical. If no software is purchased or available, it would take another 50-60 man-hours of software development.

Mobile Modular Weapon System - Anti-Aircraft (MMWS-AA)

The AA system has many logistical challenges. Without a separate radar vehicle, the 1 mile radar is insufficient to track an aircraft. The vehicle will need to be equipped with a large external electronics package; even then, due to the size of the vehicle and its ground position, it would be limited to a 5 mile radar, boosted to 10 miles with a booster antenna. If a Wild Weasel SAMAS could be acquired and reverse-engineered, its electronics package could be used for the MMWS-AA and would be the most ideal option.

Another option, although it violates the "independent operation" clause, is the use of a nearby radar truck (within 1 mile) which could relay information to the MMWS.

As mentioned in the MMWS-AT, an autocannon is an ideal solution but it limits the amount of ammunition that can be carried. Because the radio equipment would be mounted on the rear of the MMWS, it would be limited to a revolving drum feed and the payload would be greatly reduced.

Also due to the radio equipment, anti-aircraft missile launchers (using IRHS) would be difficult to mount. Still, it is plausible to mount up to two 2-shot IRHS mini-missile launchers for a total of 4 shots. These would be reloadable at an ammo truck by crew (possibly a radar truck could hold ammo), making it a good choice. However, since 4 shots is a rather small payload, this limits its use as an autonomous vehicle. If the electronic equipment was removed, a pair of IRHS launchers would be a strong choice.

Although little has been discussed about a secondary armament, a railgun would be needed for the MMWS-AA. A NG-202 or TX-250 would be more than capable of providing anti-aircraft deterrent fire for low-flying air vehicles and could be used even while the shoulder missiles are being reloaded by crew. A full-sized railgun would not be really feasible for the other models. The FS and AT could be armed with a small railgun, plasma cannon, or similar personal defense weapon instead.

The 30 minute swap time is pretty impractical for the MMWS-FS, although it could be done with skilled mechanical labor or specialized equipment. The MMWS-AT with HYDRA-70 would also take mechanical labor or Supernatural PS, but could be done relatively quickly. The MMWS-AA with radio equipment would take the longest, while the MMWS-AA without could be mounted in minutes.

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