CSIR principal engineer Danie de Villiers is the mastermind behind a technology innovation that is – literally – aiming for a high hit rate. His brainchild, Lobsight, is a novel Indirect Aiming System (IAS) to improve the hit probability of mortars and other light artillery weapons used in indirect firing mode, in other words, in situations where a projectile is aimed and fired without the gun and target being in line of site.
Indirect fire most commonly occurs in field artillery, although it sometimes is used in naval combat, anti-tank operations
or anti-aircraft guns. It is mostly used when the target is at longer range and invisible to the firer due to the terrain. Many factors can influence the projectile trajectory – atmospheric conditions, the velocity of the projectile, differences in altitude between the firer and the target, to name a few. Determining the trajectory to ensure that the elevation and range are effective, is therefore a challenge.
Lobsight consists of a ballistic computer with an integrated tilt sensor and a shaft encoder interface. The tilt sensor determines the elevation of the weapon and the shaft encoder keeps track of the compass bearing – measuring the angle at which to fire. The system is battery-powered.
In a deployment of forces, an observation post identifies the target’s location and issues the coordinates to the artillery operators. The data are then entered into the computer to aim the weapon in terms of the angle and elevation to ensure that it is on target. The firing table data on the system can be rapidly updated with corrective data to re-aim – should that be required.
By improving the accuracy of indirect fire, the Lobsight technology has delivered many benefits in terms of tactical and
logistical advantages in the principles and doctrines required by modern warfare – particularly in the realm of a ‘system-of systems’ approach of network centric warfare where various components work together to achieve optimal firepower or situation awareness. Also, more accurate firing means less waste due to missing targets – and less ammunition needed to be carried or otherwise brought to the combat space. Not only a logistical improvement, but more importantly, the risk of secondary impact – for example accidentally striking a non-threatening target – is also reduced.
The man behind the invention
Inventor Danie de Villiers has a background in electronic engineering and a track record of coming up with solutions that
improve soldier systems.
De Villiers had started work on the indirect aiming system in the mid ‘90s when employed by the company Mechem.
“I was the lead engineer at that stage and my team and I demonstrated an indirect firing system for mortars,” he says. The demonstration soon piqued the interest of players in the industry. In 2000, Denel requested an indirect aiming system for grenade launchers similar to that demonstrated earlier by De Villiers.
“This is the critical point in the process of developing a new product: One needs the specific requirements from a client and work towards solving a specific problem,” De Villiers explains. Increasingly, the defence industry opts to further
develop or enhance existing capabilities instead of investing in new and novel tools. This requires highersystems level integration and technology adaption.
The Lobsight technology was licensed to a manufacturing partner and it was phased into use by the SA Army over a number of years. It has become a tried and tested – and well-used – technological aid in the field. It is used most often to improve the speed and effectiveness of the 40mm automatic grenade launcher. Several hundreds ofthe systems were deployed.
De Villiers is always onto new challenges. Aside from his work in indirect fire solutions, he has also contributed to the
development of battery power (specifically for dismounted troops and soldiers in the field).