Big guns firing in Portugal (part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about my recent travels to Portugal to see a live fire demonstration organised by Belgium ammunition company Mecar. In that blog we looked at the company’s impressive (and pleasantly warm) firing range, located in Alcochete, just east of the Portugese capital of Lisbon.

Today we will look at the firing demonstration itself, including the type of weapons used, the ammunition being fired and the targets being fired at. All firing would use Mecar ammunition, with the first shoot of the morning featuring three weapon systems over a distance 1,000m-1,200m.

First up, the 30mm Bushmaster would fire three APFSDS-T rounds. That acronym stands for, *deep breath*, armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding-sabot-tracer. In layman’s terms, it is a mini dart made of hardened Tungsten that travels at 1,430m/s and can penetrate 60mm of steel at 1,000m.

Not something you want to be on the receiving end of.

30mm ammunition

The first shoot would see three APFSDS-T rounds fired from a 30mm Bushmaster ballistic gun at a 60mm-thick rolled homogeneous armour (RHA) target.

30mm bushmaster

Here’s a view from behind, the blue string attached to the carabiner clip is part of the manual firing mechanism. After the guns are checked for accuracy and loaded, the Mecar team retreats behind a bunker and fires the weapon.

30mm SABOT effect

This is the effect on the target, with the darts slicing through the steel like a hot knife through butter.

Next up in the firing was the Cockerill 90mm MK8 gun, firing three rounds of high explosion squash head (HESH) or, as the US calls it, high explosive plastic (HEP). It is a multi-purpose round that can be used in an anti-armour role or, more popular, as an anti-structure warhead that can blast entry holes into buildings.

Mecar is one of the only producers of 90mm ammunition and as guns, such as the Cockerill 90mm MK8, are still in use on the Belgium Army’s Piranha IIIC 8×8, the Kuwait National Guard’s Pandur 6×6 and Saudi Arabian LAV-AG 8×8 vehicles, there is high demand. Around 25% of Mecar’s sales in 2015 were for MK8 ammunition, although that share is likely to decrease in the future.

Interestingly, for stability, the MK8 gun on the range is held down by four massive 250mm-thick steel slabs that were once used as targets.

After the firing of the 90mm we moved onto the 120mm mortar shoot, which would fire three rounds of smoke ammunition. Mecar is the only company within the ammunition group that manufactures white phosphorous rounds, an extremely difficult manufacturing process that has to be done underwater.

Here’s an example of the WP round with its distinctive blue/green colour and its effect on target 1,200m away. This ammunition is used to create huge smoke screens to obscure advancing or retreating forces on the battlefield.

And here’s the 120mm mortar itself and firing.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, Mecar’s testing equipment includes super high speed cameras that can shoot up to 1,400,000 fps, resulting in spectacular image like this:


Then we moved to the 150m range area, just a short drive from the 1,000m range. Here we would see the 84mm Carl Gustaf firing and another 90mm gun firing.

The Carl Gustaf would fire two rounds of smoke ammunition. As you can see from the photos below, the 84mm recoilless gun is fired in a mounted position with the Mecar staff firing remotely from several metres away. My first impression was how much force comes from the firing and being amazed that this is a shoulder-fired weapon!

And lastly, the live firing concluded with another 90mm gun shoot, this time the Giat Industries F4 used by the French Army on its ERC 90 Sagaie. The ammunition used would be the 90mm APFSDS, another sabot offering from Mecar. The target would be 250mm-thick RHA with no offset angle, meaning the round hits dead-on.

Christophe Soleil, Mecar’s director of R&D, told me that hitting a target without an angle can in fact be more difficult than a target with obliquity. That’s because the projectile changes course as it hits the steel and actually passes through more than 250mm of material. He even wondered whether it would go all the way through!

At 150m, all the range staff and spectators had to go inside a steel bunker in case there was any shrapnel from the target. If you wanted to view the target, you had to look through a mirror:

90mm sabot firing

The effect on target was pretty devastating and if it were a real tank, it would probably be a flaming piece of scrap metal by now. Here you can see the entry and exist holes (note: the other holes have been made with the target at a 60 degree angle):

And that concluded an interesting day’s firing. It was fascinating to see the numerous types of ammunition being fired and the different effects it has down range. Ammunition technology is constantly being advanced and refined and it is on these ranges that new materials and designs are tested for the battlefield.

And what press trip would be complete without an obligatory photo of some of the greatest scribes in the defence industry. We look forward to returning soon!



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