Army long-range cannon gets direct hit on target 43 miles away
WASHINGTON - The Army's under-development Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system hit a target 43 miles or 70 kilometers away with an Excalibur extended range artillery shell on Dec. 19 at the Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona to Brig. General John Rafferty, who is responsible for modernizing the service's long-range precision fires.
"I don't think our opponents will be able to hit a target at 43 miles in the nose," Rafferty told a small group of reporters on a conference call immediately after the test shot.
The army was in a race to expand artillery range on the battlefield in order to reduce the advantages of high-end opponents like Russia. When deployed, the ERCA cannon should be capable of firing and disabling targets from a position out of range of enemy systems.
The ERCA cannon accepts a Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) howitzer chassis M109A7 and replaces the 39-caliber cannon barrel with a 58-caliber 30-foot cannon barrel. When combined with Excalibur ammunition made by Raytheon and an XM1113 with a charged propellant, the army was able to dramatically increase the range of the artillery.
In March of that year, the Army was nearing its final target of 70 kilometers when it fired two shots, both of which reached a range of 65 kilometers.
In this test event, the army shot three times. The first shot came off a little short due to very strong headwinds at high altitude and the second shot had a hardware failure, but the third shot proved that the service is getting closer to dialing in the right balance between fuel and projectile design and other factors Rafferty said help to reach greater distances.
"This demonstration is not a target," Colonel Tony Gibbs, Army Program Manager for Combat Artillery Systems, told reporters. “This is really just one waypoint in our ongoing learning campaign as we work to truly realign US supremacy in cannon artillery. It's definitely a great point of knowledge for us today. "
Each ammunition fired during Saturday's testing event had slight design differences to help identify how best to design and prepare the cartridge to absorb the high pressure and force Rafferty said was 1,000 meters per second can be fired with an ERCA caliber cannon barrel.
"What was consistent was the propellant configuration," added Rafferty. "So we have this propellant configuration, I think it was taken very close, which is great."
The first shot fell back about 100 meters due to the winch, which sounds like a lot according to Rafferty, but not when the ammunition has to travel 70,000 meters. The army knew that the wind would miss the first shot, but wanted to take it anyway to learn from it.
On the second shot, the army had changed the hardware configuration and found a hardware failure, Gibbs confirmed. In particular, the Army added an isolator for the inertial measurement unit, which is essentially a shock absorber to counter the pressure spike in the chamber.
"We had some survivability concerns," Rafferty said.
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"Today we really did a year and a half of testing and analysis that we did on the Excalibur projectile to withstand a harsher environment," Gibbs said. “Through a series of tests and analyzes, we have determined what muzzle velocity is required, what chamber pressures the projectile can withstand and what all came together in today's test. We fired it with the right combination of propellants to get the right muzzle velocity for range. "
Additionally, the Army has shown that the Excalibur, as it is now in inventory, is viable with a higher muzzle velocity and pressure to get within 70 kilometers of range and hit targets directly, Gibbs added.
In the year ahead, "we're going to make a lot of decisions and actually start addressing them by getting to the heart of a few things," Rafferty said. "We're going to snap the chalk line onto the propellant, we're going to snap the chalk line onto the projectile design, and start looking at manufacturability and production."
The Army will continue their soldier-centric design efforts to ensure that the propellant and cargo configurations are something the soldiers can handle and that this will not affect the rate of fire, Rafferty noted. "We obviously don't want to give them a configuration that would make them shoot slower."
And the configuration of projectiles and propellants must also be optimally stowed in a howitzer to maximize the number of kills on board.
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The Army wants to pin their design down in 2021, Gibbs said. “The muzzle velocities and pressures that this ammunition sees are important in the final design decisions that it will make, [but also] such as the size of the rocket motor, the type of connection that holds the rocket motor to the warhead that ultimately makes the die Performance in the range it will reach, including the type of steel we use, affects lethality. You see, there are several factors that are currently at play. As we move closer to our drafts this year, we will incorporate those decisions into our final drafts and consider qualifications. "
The Army is pushing for urgent material and safety clearances to deploy the ERCA system in 2023, Rafferty said.
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