Big guns firing in Portugal (part 1)

In October, you might remember that I wrote a blog for Quill about my travels to Switzerland to see what might just be the most beautiful firing range in the world. Last week I was off again exploring the firing ranges of the globe and this time I was in Alcochete, Portugal, to see some heavy calibre munitions being fired.

The firing rounded off a busy week with Nexter, the French defence company that recently expanded its ammunition portfolio with the acquisitions of Italy-based Simmel Difesa and Belgium-based Mecar. The companies now form the Nexter Ammunition Business Group (NABG), which is enjoying healthy growth through consolidation.


Myself and a group of journalists were invited to tour all the companies’ facilities and see the ammunition being fired, spanning five packed days that saw us fly across four countries in Europe. Amazingly for a group of journalists, no-one got lost or missed their flight due to an extended stay at the bar drinking Portuguese Super Bock.

Firstly, the Alcochete range – which is run by the Portuguese Air Force and used almost exclusively by Mecar – does not take Rheinmetall’s crown of having the most scenic range in the world. It’s more what I consider the everyday range to be, vast expanses that are completely desolate and devoid of wildlife.


Though it does have its upsides over the freezing Swiss range, namely the weather. Even in December, the temperatures here can reach anywhere between 15 degrees and 20 degrees. Rarely are range days cancelled because of weather conditions (which cannot be said for Switzerland or most ranges in the UK).

The Alcochete range is used primarily by Mecar for development, qualification tests and customer demonstrations. Here, the company can fire against a range of targets including NATO-standard rolled homogeneous armour (RHA), reinforced concrete and bunkers.

Here’s an example of a 250mm-thick steel RHA target. These targets are often angled to properly imitate sloped armour used on vehicles:

Steel thickness

Nexter and Simmel Difesa have their own firing facilities in France and Italy, so don’t tend to use this range. Mecar used to have a range in Belgium, but it was closed by the authorities over concerns about noise and the environment (a decision Mecar is still trying to overturn as it’s expensive to ship ammo to Portugal).

Under agreements with the Portuguese Air Force, the range is available to Mecar for 120 days a year and has 150m, 600m and 1,000m lanes for direct fire shooting. For indirect fire with mortars, there are impact zones up to 10km away.

The range uses extremely high tech equipment for testing purposes, which can be seen in the photos above. The photo on the right shows the doppler radar, which measures the velocity of projectiles at distance. The top left photo shows the Phantom V711 high-speed camera, which can record an incredible 1,400,000 frames per second.

That kind of performance leads to stunning pictures that this reporter can only dream of!


Our firing demonstration would be split into two separate shoots. The first would be a 1,000m shoot, firing a 30mm Bushmaster ballistic gun, then a 90mm MK8 cannon and then a 120mm mortar. The second shoot, on another range, would be at 150m firing the 84mm Carl Gustaf and the 90mm F4 gun.

More details and photos from the live firing will be included in part 2 tomorrow.


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