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GPS mortars make Army debut in Afghanistan

The U.S. Army tries out mortars with a good sense of direction in Afghanistan. Built-in GPS is the secret ingredient in these precision shells.

Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative
A 120mm GPS-equipped mortar knows where it's going. U.S. Army

The average American uses GPS to navigate a road trip or find cheap gas on the way home from work. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has long been busy coming up with ways to harness GPS for warfare. Soldiers in Afghanistan have a new, very dangerous GPS gadget in their arsenal: 120mm GPS-guided mortars.

The Army loves acronyms, of course, and as such the GPS shells are known as APMI, or Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative cartridges. Translation: Fast Accurate Bombs, but FAB wasn't going to fly as a nickname for these weapons.

The usual method for using mortars is to blast off a huge round of them and hope that a few find find the target. That all changes with the addition of GPS. A receiver in the nose works with a set of computer-controlled directional fins to keep the mortar on target.

The Army notes that it had to achieve a certain standard with these mortars before putting them into use in the field. The APMIs have to fall within a 10-meter radius of the target 50 percent of the time. The new mortars actually exceed that goal, says the Army. That may still sound a little vague, but it's a huge improvement over old-style mortars.

According to the Army, the use of APMIs could translate to less collateral damage, civilian deaths, and friendly fire deaths when used in urban areas. One unit in Afghanistan is already using the mortars, but seven more will soon receive them. War will always be hell, but the addition of a little accuracy is a welcome bright spot amidst the rubble.