Most Americans today have grown up in the strange bubble provided by U.S. military dominance around the world where our domestic concerns about war rarely extend beyond the political sphere. We don’t worry about things like winning or losing wars. We may lament things like the cost, the politics, or the toll it takes on our veterans, but rarely, if ever, do you hear a pundit raise concerns about losing. America, we all know, has the largest and most capable military on the planet — of course victory is assured.
This national level complacency has led many to believe that the U.S. has the best equipment, the most powerful platforms, and sound strategies encompassing both but the truth of the matter is, as our nation has been fighting a counter insurgency war for decades, America’s competitors haven’t had to devote the same funds and effort to their own wars on terror — allowing their slow but steady technological advances to match, and often exceed our own.
Whether we’re talking about the militarization of low earth orbit or the development of hypersonic missile platforms, the United States has suddenly found itself working to catch up with its competition for the first time in modern history — and this problem extends all the way to tried and true weapons systems like America’s Howitzer artillery platforms.
Way back in March of last year, SOFREP covered the ongoing endeavor to find a way to pull more range and destructive power out of America’s longstanding M777 Howitzer — a staple of of U.S. Army light- and medium-weight combat brigades that has only been in service in its most recent iteration since 2005. As far as weapons platforms go, that’s fairly new, so why the sudden rush to make it better?
In a word: Russia. In a word that’s harder to pronounce, it was the Koalitsiya-SV, Russia’s latest self-propelled Howitzer that boasts an operational range of nearly twice that of America’s M777s. The Koalitsiya-SV accurately reaches targets as far as 43 miles away, as compared to the varied M777 platforms in use throughout the U.S. military that can engage targets ranging between 15 and 25 miles (depending on the specific platform).
The range gap presented between Russian and American artillery effectively ensured that M777s would be nearly useless in an armed conflict against Russia, were one ever to break out. American artillery would be within range of Russian assets for miles before they were able to plant their feet and fire return volleys. Without a way to match the Russian artillery’s reach, the U.S. Army would need to devise an entirely new strategy for engaging with them and it was with that in mind the Army was hard at work when we last checked in with them on the M777ER – a modification on existing towed artillery platforms to extend the weapon’s operational range that could, we were told, eventually find its way onto America’s self-propelled Paladin artillery assets as well.
Now, more than a year later, it appears the U.S. Army may have been successful in matching Russia’s 43 mile mark in tests — and now they’re looking to fast track its production.
“When you are talking about doubling the range you need a longer tube and a larger caliber. We will blend this munition with a howitzer and extend the range. We are upgrading the breach and metallurgy of the tube, changing the hydraulics to handle increased pressure and using a new ram jet projectile – kind of like a rocket,” a senior Army weapons developer told reporters earlier this week.
The new platform, which is already being proposed in towed and self-propelled applications, is over a thousand pounds heavier than the M777 it was based on, prompting some concerns about its mobility as a towed asset — but with a range capable of matching the most advanced artillery on the planet (and even many rocket applications), the advantages presented by Extended Range Cannon Artillery program may outweigh the challenges presented by lugging the heavyweight around.
Despite these improvements (and the Army’s interest in fast tracking production) the development team acknowledge that the extended range presents some challenges of its own.
“Just because I can shoot farther, that does not mean I solve the issue. I have to acquire the right target. We want to be able to hit moving targets and targets obscured by uneven terrain,” an unnamed senior Army developer said.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons