The Army and the Air Force are working together to explore new methods of destroying enemy air defenses made possible by advances in networking technology, precision-guidance systems and long-range weapons.
The Army’s Long Range Precision Fires program, for instance, is fast refining new weapons able to travel hundreds of miles beyond previously possible ranges to potentially attack and destroy enemy air defenses in order to help air forces achieve and maintain air supremacy.
“We are going to have long range precision fires which will enable us to penetrate anti-access/area denial capabilities which they are very concerned about. We will have that capability. We are going to have air and missile defense capability that they will be concerned about because that is how we will protect their bases and it is how we aligned the sensors and shooters together,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told The National Interest last Fall at Project Convergence 2020, Yuma, Ariz.
The Army has several fast-developing weapons programs including Extended Range Cannon Artillery, a program which leverages modifications to 155mm artillery cannons to fire precision-guided rounds as far as 70km. Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, Director of the Army’s Long Range Precision-Fires Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command, said the ERCA program recently reached the breakthrough range of 70km.
“We had a 70km target hit with Excalibur. We have been pushing incrementally up to higher chamber pressures and proved that it can get out to 70km and we feel pretty good about that accomplishment,” Rafferty told The National Interest in an interview.
Typically, Army 155mm artillery shells fire from either a mobile M777 or self-propelled Howitzer can travel 30km, a baseline the ERCA program has now more than doubled. This is accomplished in part by making modifications to the tube.
“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 The National Interest in an interview earlier in the development of the program.
The ERCA is configured to fire from an M109a8 Self-Propelled Howitzer, using a 58-Cal. tube; the existing M109a7, called the Paladin Integrated Management, fires a 39-Cal. weapon.
“The ERCA program develops not only the XM907 cannon but also products, such as the XM1113 rocket assisted projectile, the XM654 supercharge, an autoloader, and new fire control system,” an Army statement said.
The modification adds 1,000 pounds to the overall weight of the weapon and an additional six feet of cannon tube. The ERCA systems also uses a redesigned cab, new breech design and new “muzzle brake,” the official explained.
Rafferty explained that the success of ERCA is also opening doors to new applications for evolving Excalibur munitions such as a “shaped” charge effort and a now-in-development tank-killing “hit-to-kill” round.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.