Gun Propellants

Picatinny has been involved with gun propellants since the nation's first manufacturing facility for nitrocellulose-based propellant, called smokeless powder, was built on Arsenal grounds in 1907. Smokeless powder was used exclusively as the main propellant charge in U.S. guns through World War II.

The Arsenal gained experience in propellant manufacture and loading large caliber (larger than 40mm) rounds during the First World War. At the time WWII broke out, Picatinny was still the only installation that had both the expertise and physical plant capable of producing large caliber rounds. After manufacturing all the munitions for the first year and a half or the War, Picatinny broadened its scope to provide training and technical expertise to industry to help provide critical arms to our soldiers.

In addition to propellant production and round loading expertise, Picatinny's experts conducted research and development efforts aimed at creating new propellants. Much of this research was devoted to the triple base propellant in which additives lower the flame temperature of the propellant to extend the wear life of the gun and reduce gun flash. Triple base propellants were not produced for Army guns until after WWII when the research and development effort led to the use of triple base propellant in both tank and artillery rounds.

Although production of propellant at Picatinny was discontinued after the Vietnam War, research, development and charge design of large caliber continued. The M3A1 and M4A2 155mm artillery charges, improvements on World War II designs, use single base propellants and are still in use today. The M119 and M203 155, artillery charges, introduced in the 1970s and 1980s for extended range, use single and triple base propellant respectively. The M203A1 charge was the first artillery charge to use a rigid combustible case and the cool burning variant of triple base propellant to extend tube life. Development continued with the Modular Artillery Charge System (MACS), which was recently type classified for use in 155mm howitzers. The range of howitzer firing varies with the amount of charge loaded into the gun chamber. The low zone, short range charge module M231 and the high zone, long range M232 replace the M3A1, M4A2, M119A2 and M203A1 charges in the M109A6 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzer, the M198 Field Howitzer and Crusader Self Propelled Howitzer. In addition, Picatinny reformulated the single base propellant used in zones 1 and 2 to remove all toxic and carcinogenic ingredients. The resulting propellant used in the M231 charge is the Army's first "green" propellant. This development reflects the increased emphasis on producing environmentally friendly propellants and propelling charges.

Examples of Gun Propellants Being Developed and/or Fielded by Picatinny

The 120mm M829A2 Armor Piercing, Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot-Tracer (APFSDS-T) Cartridge is a kinetic energy (KE) armor defeating round. The M829A2 replaced the M829A1 and was widely regarded as the most effective tank-fired (M1 Abrams 120mm main gun) antiarmor weapon in the world.

The M900 Depleted Uranium Armor Piercing, Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot-Tracer (APFSDS-T) Cartridge is the primary antiarmor 105mm tank ammunition in service in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. This kinetic energy projectile is capable of penetrating the frontal slope of fielded adversary armor systems. The round used an advanced propellant designed to lower the vulnerability for conventional propellant thermal ignition by spall when the armored vehicle is impacted by antitank ammunition.

The M933/934 High Explosive Cartridges are designed for use with the M120 and M121 120mm Mortar Systems against personnel, bunker, and light material targets. The 1090 steel projectile is loaded with Composition B explosive; the cartridges are identical except for the fuze. The 120mm mortar propelling charge increment container has recently been redesigned to make the round easier and safer to handle.

The M935 120mm Precision Guided Mortar Munition (PGMM) provides a battalion with a lethal, surgical strike capability to destroy high value targets beyond line of sight direct fire weapons. It is a multi-mission, multi-mode precision munition capable of defeating high value point targets at double the range of conventional 120mm mortar ammunition (12km required, 15km desired).

The SM984 120mm Extended Range DPICM Mortar Cartridge (ERMC/ER-DPICM) can deliver a variety of payloads, including cost-effective antimaterial/antipersonnel submunitions, enhanced screening and multi-spectral smoke, IR illumination, countermeasures, sensors and other potential non-lethal munitions to ranges 50 percent greater than currently obtained. The use of a high-performance, advanced, post-launch tractor type rocket assist propulsion unit provides extended range capabilities.

The Future Combat System (FCS) Multi Role Armament and Ammunition System (MRAAS) provides direct fire, indirect fire and air defense capabilities that can defeat the full spectrum threat from 0-50km from a common armament module design that can be integrated into a Future Combat System (FCS) vehicle transportable on a C-130 aircraft. Current Army gun propulsion development is primarily focused on this system. The MRAAS ammunition suite consists of three rounds - an Advanced Kinetic Energy (KE) Munition for heavy armor (Line of Sight) LOS defeat from 0-40km, a Multi-Purpose Extended Range Munition (MP-ERM) for precision strike of high value LOS and (Beyond Line of Sight) BLOS targets from 2-15km, and a Smart Cargo Munition for BLOS and (Non-Line of Sight) NLOS engagements against area targets 4-50km. Because this munitions suite is based on common cartridge geometry, the warfighter is able to adapt faster than the enemy to rapidly changing battlefield conditions.