Nexter Munition offers a range of standard and smart ammunition
A FORCE Report
Bourges, France: What Canjuers is to the French Army, Bourges is to the French ministry of defence. Roughly 200km south of Paris, this sleepy town in the middle of France has traditionally been considered so secure that not only was this the chosen ground for French defence industry and French MoD’s defence procurement agency for the armed forces, DGA (it carries out acceptance and pre-induction trials of equipment here), but also a specialised military school.
Driving through the town (90 per cent of which moves to the beats of the defence industry) to reach Nexter Munitions’ facility, a senior Nexter executive remarks, “Bourges is almost like the capital of French defence industry.” She couldn’t have been more accurate, as facilities of MBDA and CTA among others loomed in the view. Security of the town emanates not only from its geographical location but also from the thick forest which surrounds it, insulating the rest of the people from pyrotechnics and other hazards.
Well inside one of these forests is Nexter Munition, a subsidiary of Nexter, which manufactures a wide range of ammunition for artillery, tanks, medium calibre and systems protection equipment, in addition to components. While the primary customers are the French armed forces, by ploughing nearly 20 per cent of its revenue into research, design and development, Nexter Munition ensures regular export orders. “It is because of our constant focus on upgrades and development that we have been able to successfully develop intelligent munitions like Bonus and Spacido,” said general manager, Nexter Munition, Dominique Guillet in a short briefing before personally conducting the visiting media team around the facilities.
The centre point of the facility was a robot system developed with an investment of Euro three million to manufacture shell bodies. While the main machine came from Japan, the entire system was put together at Bourges by local French company to the specifications of Nexter. By doing machining, banding, hydraulic control, final machining and 3-D control, the robot does the work of 12 to 15 people making 20,000 to 30,000 shell bodies. The bulk of its work is French Army standard LU211 shells, which Nexter calls insensitive munition because they do not go off accidentally. LU211 are resistant to contact or any other kind of battlefield aggression that may occur due to improper transportation, storage or usage. In addition to these, the robot also makes smoke and illumination shells.
Even as increased automation has improved efficiency, it has also brought in greater degree of safety in operations. This is the reason Guillet said with a measure of pride, “We have not had a single accident at this facility.” But he knows that security is work in progress; which is why various units of the facility are segregated by distance and concrete defences around it, so that in an event of an accident, the impact can be restricted to one section only. Moreover, only two people work at a workshop per shift. The idea being that more the number of people, greater the chances of accidents and casualties.
Nexter Munition currently manufactures 20-30mm, 76mm, 100mm, 105mm, 155mm and LU 211 ammunition at this facility. Among intelligent ammunition, it makes the 155mm Bonus MKII anti-tank ammunition which is currently in service in the French Army apart from a few foreign armed forces. In collaboration with BAE Systems Bofors, Nexter Munitions has so far produced more than 6,000 Bonus shells. Bonus MKII combines a multi-spectral infrared detection device with a laser range finder in order to simultaneously detect the temperature signature of the target and its three-dimensional signature.
Buoyed by the response to Bonus, Nexter Munition is currently developing Spacido, which improves the precision of artillery ammunitions, considerably reducing the risk of collateral damage. Being developed in partnership with Junghans T2M and INSNEC, Spacido is based on a system which includes a multi-function electronic fuse provided with aerodynamic brake, programming resources and muzzle radar. Its precision has been improved by a factor of four at long range without the need for GPS. Nexter Munition has already done some validation firing with Spacido for DGA in 2011. “We are still fine-tuning Spacido,” said Guillet. “After a few more series of tests, it will be put on the market in 2014.”
While the average life of Nexter’s munition is 15 years, according to one of its officials, depending upon the storage conditions, the life can be extended by a few years. Interestingly, this official has not come across an instance so far where munition spoilt so badly that it had to be destroyed. But in an event it happens, he suggested that since Nexter offers life-time support for its munitions, it may be able to assist in its cremation too.