March 3, 2009 Automation offers many advantages regardless of what you're doing, but on the battlefield, it can quite literally be a lifesaver. One of the many interesting exhibits at last week's AUSA Winter Symposium was the M326 120-mm Mortar Stowage Kit. The highly-automated, trailer-mounted system makes it easier for soldiers to quickly set-up and take down a M120 Mortar system on the battlefield, and apart from reducing a physically gruelling team job to the press of a button, the end result is astonishingly quick. The M326 uses an electrical/hydraulic system to hoist the fully assembled 300-pound M120mm Mortar into and out of its trailer and the process is now so quick that soldiers can emplace, fire and stow the system and be on the move again in less than three minutes.
Quite obviously, the mobility offered by the M326 enhances mortar crew survivability by several factors – with a go-to-go time of three minutes, it is unlikely that the location of a mortar crew could be pinpointed.
The M326 is also quite versatile in that it can be easily attached to a variety of vehicles and incorporates off-the-shelf parts for minimal maintenance cost. It can be mounted to M1101/M1102 Trailers, High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) or a variety of prime movers.
In September 2007, BAE Systems received a USD13.9 million contract from the U.S. Army’s Product Manager – Mortar Systems (PM-MS) to procure 588 of the M326 systems. If all options are exercised, the contract could grow to USD 20.5 million. The M326 is expected to begin full-rate production in June 2009. The program is currently in Low-Rate Initial Production with fielding expected later this year.