A U.S. Army M109 Paladin-based 155mm howitzer and a U.S. Navy deck gun fired Hypervelocity Projectiles (HVP), successfully downing BQM-167 target drones acting as stand-ins for cruise missiles, demonstrating the ability of the Mach-5 capable guided artillery shells to take out cruise missiles.
The weapons tests were performed at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 as part of the U.S. Air Force-led Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), Breaking Defense reported.
Video of the ABMS tests showed the Army and Navy artillery pieces firing the HVP shells.
According to a fact sheet by developer Kratos Defense Inc. BQM-167 target drone is capable of reaching speeds of around .91 Mach, or about 700 mph. Subsonic cruise missiles can typically reach speeds of between 500 and 700 mph, making the target drone a capable stand-in.
With the ABMS, the Air Force overall seeks to advance artificial intelligence and sensor technology by integrating information gleaned from satellites, fighters, blimps and ground-based radar installations to form a complete picture of friendly and enemy forces on the battlefield. The advances in the ABMS sensor system enabled the artillery pieces to fire the HPV shells that successfully targeted and destroyed the surrogate cruise missiles.
Dr. William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, described the artillery tests as an awesome development.
“Tanks shooting down cruise missiles is awesome—video-game, sci-fi awesome,” Roper said.
According to a BAE Systems fact sheet, the HVP shells are a “next-generation, common, low drag, guided projectile” capable of being fired from Navy 5-Inch; Navy, Marine Corps, and Army 155-mm systems; and future electromagnetic (EM) railguns. The HVP shells have reportedly been developed for missions ranging from “Naval Surface Fire, to Cruise and Ballistic Missile Defense, Anti-Surface Warfare and other future Naval mission areas.”
Roper said the development of the hypervelocity weapon is “near and dear to my heart,” because the advanced artillery shell began development at the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office in 2013 while he was leading the office.
According to Forbes, guided artillery shells capable of defeating cruise missiles could also serve as an important cost-saving feature should U.S. forces be targeted by China. U.S. bases in the Pacific, such as in Okinawa, Japan, or Guam have Patriot air-defense missiles and longer-range Terminal High-Altitude Area-Defense (THAAD) systems, capable of taking down some ballistic and cruise missiles.
Firing those missiles, however, can come at a cost of about $5 million per patriot missile and about $12 million per THAAD missile. The cost of such missiles could be prohibitive to maintaining good missile defenses against a potential Chinese attack, where the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces could potentially rain down hundreds of missiles on U.S. targets. By contrast, the HPV shells could come at an estimated cost of about $86,000 per shell, driving down the cost for weapons capable of destroying incoming missiles.
The U.S. military has been working to improve its artillery capabilities in recent years. Along with guided shells like the HVP, the Army has also been in the process of developing Extended Range Artillery Cannons (ERCA) capable of firing accurately over 40 miles, as well as Strategic Long-Range Cannons (SLRC) capable of firing over 1,000 miles. The programs aim to enable artillery pieces to serve as strategic fire support against adversaries like China, whose military doctrine includes anti-access area-denial (A2AD), aimed at blocking the U.S. from accessing strategic areas like the disputed South China Sea.