The U.S. Army showed off improvements to its M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzers on Friday, touting the newly extended range of the tracked artillery vehicle’s cannon.
The new improvements to the Paladin, dubbed “Prototype Zero,” have effectively doubled the weapon’s range. The howitzer can now accurately fire at targets up to 65 km (40 miles) away, according to Army Times.
“We’re making artillery great again,” Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Joseph Martin said of the new artillery project.
The Army demonstrated the weapon system at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona by firing a guided 155 mm projectile. The Army required high-speed cameras to observe the firing of the weapon and the projectile’s initial trajectory.
The artillery projectile was then tracked by a series of radars as it reached the top of its arcing trajectory, 50,000 feet in the air. It reportedly took about four minutes for the round to cross the approximately 40-mile distance before landing within a meter of a tan SUV set out in the Arizona desert.
After firing its first projectile, the Army loaded the cannon again, this time with its XM1113 Rocket Assisted Projectile.
The Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) program is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Army to develop accurate long-ranged artillery weapons for countering Russian and Chinese military developments. The ERCA program is reportedly working to extend the range of its artillery weapons to between beyond 70 km, and even up to 100 km (62 miles).
Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Joseph Martin, was at Yuma Proving Ground on Friday to observe a live test firing of the capabilities of the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system. pic.twitter.com/hC2Wlue6Fs
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If successful, ERCA would effectively provide brigade combat teams with the ability to call in artillery fire for targets beyond 60 km in range. Currently, divisions supporting brigade-level units beyond 60 km in range must call on rocket artillery or aircraft to provide fire support.
“It comes down to providing them additional range capability at the division level,” Martin said of the ERCA program.
The Army hopes to further implement the extended range artillery cannons on mobile platforms like the Paladin, along with autoloaders to increase their firing rate. The plan is to field 18 of these prototype weapons by 2023.
The older models of the Paladins will reportedly continue in service for shorter ranged missions, but the ERCA Paladins will help extend the Army’s artillery capabilities in longer-ranged missions.
Implementing the new weapons may come with additional challenges and changes in doctrine. For example, the autoloaders added on the new Paladin howitzers are designed to allow the cannons to fire 10 rounds a minute. With a magazine of 30 rounds, the artillery pieces could run through their ammunition in a matter of minutes, meaning units fielding the new artillery systems will need to maintain good logistics to supply ammunition for their weapons.
The ERCA program falls under the U.S. Army’s Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team. The team is also developing other long-ranged weapons projects like the Precision Strike Missile and the Strategic Long Range Cannon.
The Strategic Long Range Cannon (SLRC) program is another long-range artillery program meant to develop artillery that can fire up to 1,000 miles away. The technology could prove useful in a potential conflict against China, whose military doctrine is increasingly focused on anti-access, area-denial weapons designed to cut off supply lines and hinder U.S. counter attacks. China’s anti-access, area-denial strategy appears designed to uproot U.S. maritime supremacy in the area of the Pacific Ocean, such as the contested South China Sea.
These SLRC weapons could provide long-range suppressing fire for U.S. military movements through heavily controlled regions and allow strikes against targets more difficult to reach by seaborne or airborne strikes.