The Defense Department has set the stage for low rate initial production of an upgraded version of the Paladin self-propelled canon system.

The Defense Acquisition Executive approved Milestone C for the Paladin Integrated Management Program (PIM), the U.S. Army and PIM contractor BAE Systems announced Monday (Oct. 21) at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington. Milestone C is a key incremental step in the Pentagon’s acquisition process, allowing entry into the production and deployment phase.

The program enhances the 78,000-pound M109A6 Paladin self-propelled 155mm howitzer and its M992A2 Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicle in three broad areas, according to Joseph Ruotolo, engineering manager of Field Artillery Programs at BAE Systems’ Land & Armaments unit.

The Paladin first entered Army service in 1963.

The PIM will replace obsolescent parts and equipment on the Paladins, including weak, aging torsion bars that make it impossible to add more armor to the vehicle. Maintenance-intensive slip rings that transmit both power and data from Paladin’s hull to its rotating turret will also be replaced, as will leaking hydraulic systems. Instead they will be replaced by a 600 volt generating system that will power motors doing the work previously handled by the hydraulics and slip ring.

To address weakening torsion bars and increasing vehicle weight, the Paladin’s entire suspension system as well as the engine and transmission and other parts will be replaced with parts that can also be used by a Bradley vehicle.

“That tremendously reduces the logistical footprint of the heavy brigade combat team,” Ruotolo said. It will also keep life-cycle costs down as Bradleys and Paladins will be able to use many of the same parts. The new 600 volt generator produces 70 kilowatts of power, 40 to 45 kilowatts more than needed to power the Paladin. “We now have more than enough electrical growth potential to hang all kinds of electronic and [command and control] hardware on the vehicle, if we need to,” Ruotolo said.

The improved engine and suspension will permit 10,000 pounds in additional armor to be applied to the Paladin boosting the max armor load from 63,000 pounds to 83,000 pounds. The LRIP is slated to begin in 2014 with anticipated full rate production beginning in 2017.