Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems and the Army have completed a key testing milestone for the latest version of the Excalibur M982 precision-guided artillery shell, moving the weapon a step closer to full-rate production.

Raytheon said it also is working on a version that will add a laser tracker to further boost accuracy of the Excalibur, which has seen extensive use by the Army and Marine Corps in Afghanistan.

During recent initial operational testing of the Excalibur Ib projectile at the Yuma Proving Ground, Army artillerymen fired numerous rounds, scoring several direct target hits and averaging less than two meters miss distance, Raytheon said in a news release.

Lt. Col. Josh Walsh, the Army’s Excalibur product manager, said in the release that the 155 mm, satellite-guided projectile is exceeding all its key performance goals.

Raytheon has won three low-rate initial production contracts for the Excalibur Ib and said it expects the Army to announce a decision on full-rate production by midyear.

In its pending fiscal 2015 budget request, the Army is seeking $35.7 million for procurement of 416 Excalibur Ib shells.

Raytheon also said it is funding its own program to improve the combat-proven Excalibur with a laser spot tracker, giving it a dual-mode GPS and laser guidance capability. Excalibur is jointly developed by Raytheon and Sweden-based BAE Systems Bofors.

The company is planning a live-fire demonstration of the new Excalibur S this year. Laser guidance will reduce target location error, enable attack of mobile targets and ensure precision when GPS is degraded or denied, Raytheon said.

Raytheon says the laser spot tracker itself can also be incorporated into the 5-inch-diameter Excalibur naval version the company is also developing. Raytheon is planning a live-fire demonstration of the Excalibur N5 later this year.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.