The Koalitsiya-SV—Russia’s latest self-propelled howitzer—boasts a maximum firing range of 43 miles, more than double that of America’s M777 howitzer, but the U.S. Army has its sights set on evening the odds. The M777 howitzer is a current staple of U.S. Army light- and medium-weight combat brigades, and has been in use in its latest iteration since 2005. It has seen service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and has proven to be a capable artillery platform. The weapon system is on a towed trailer that can be moved into position via a number of different military vehicles.

Although the M777 has proven reliable and accurate, the United States has shifted its sights away from combat operations against insurgent minority groups and back toward peer-level combat operations. As tensions with nations like China and Russia continue to surge, the U.S. is faced with the prospect of warfare against nations with similar or even superior equipment in some theaters—equipment like the Koalitsiya-SV.

The Koalitsiya-SV boasts a 152-millimeter howitzer mounted on a tank-like chassis. Its mobility and range could pose a significant threat to American forces in a potential future battlefield where current American howitzers would find themselves outmatched. As a result, the U.S. Army is nearing completion of the M777ER, with the ER standing for “extended range.”

The new howitzer adds an additional 94 inches to the barrel length of the platform, increasing the velocity of the projectile as it leaves the weapon and, in turn, dramatically increasing the range of the round. In addition, the howitzer has been modified to use the XM1113 rocket-assisted projectile, which swaps a traditional round’s explosive payload for a rocket motor that can further increase the distance covered by the weapons system. A new fire control system and autoloader have also been added to the howitzer to increase its combat effectiveness.

All of these improvements have added a hefty thousand pounds to the weapon system, but the researchers at the Picatinny Arsenal research facility tasked with making the modifications claim they have been paying close attention to how the added weight affects the mobility and stability of the howitzer, noting the center of gravity has changed, requiring some modifications in order to keep it easy to tow by a variety of military vehicles.

Testing is ongoing, particularly in terms of the lifespan of the howitzer’s barrel under the increased stresses introduced by the new barrel length. It is possible that the modifications to the M777 may result in a dramatically reduced barrel lifespan; worn barrels can reduce accuracy and even present a safety hazard to troops in the area.

Army wants to fast track production on artillery that can match Russia's in range

Read Next: Army wants to fast track production on artillery that can match Russia's in range

The M777ER is slated to continue testing through 2018, but it appears the Army’s team is already nearing their goal of doubling the howitzer’s range. Army officials have stated that, with the existing modifications alone, the weapon platform may be able to beat the Russian 43-mile mark already.

If proven successful, the extended barrel and 155-millimeter munitions used by the M777ER will likely see deployment on America’s self-propelled Paladin howitzers currently in use in the Army’s heavy brigade combat teams as well. By converting existing platforms, the Army can match their Russian opponents shot for shot at a significantly lower cost than developing and purchasing new howitzers with capabilities on par with the Koalitsiya-SV.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army