Army's long-range cannon gets direct hit on target 43 miles away

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The Army's Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system successfully hit a target 43 miles away, or 70 kilometers, during a test at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on Saturday. The successful test comes as the U.S. Army has been looking to close the field artillery gap against military adversaries like Russia.

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The ERCA cannon uses an M109A7 Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) howitzer chassis and replaces a 39-caliber gun tube with a 58-caliber, 30-foot one. The system allows the Army to dramatically boost artillery ranges using Excalibur munitions made by Ratheon in combination with an XM1113 using supercharged propellant.

When fielded, the ERCA cannon should be able to fire and take out targets from a position out of the range of enemy systems.

“I don’t think our adversaries have the ability to hit a target on the nose at 43 miles,” Brigadier General John Rafferty, director the Army's Longe-Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, told Defense News and several other media outlets at a teleconference immediately following the test.

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The ERCA cannon fired off three M982A1 Excalibur extended-range guided artillery shells, with the third round making a direct hit on its target after the first round came up short by roughly 100 meters due to very high head winds at a high altitude and the second failed due to a hardware problem.

“This demonstration is not a destination,” Col. Tony Gibbs, the Army’s program manager for combat artillery system, told reporters. “This is really just a waypoint in our ongoing campaign of learning as we work to really realign U.S. supremacy in cannon artillery. It’s definitely a big knowledge point for us today.”

Rafferty noted that each munition fired during Saturday’s event had slight design differences in order to address how best to design and prepare the Excalibur rounds to absorb the high pressure and force of being fired at 1,000 meters per second from a gun tube of ERCA’s caliber.

“What was consistent was the propellant configuration,” he added. “So we got that propellant configuration, I think dialed in really close down, which is great.”

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Gibbs said that the Army is looking to nail down its design of the cannon in 2021.

“The muzzle velocities and pressures that those munitions see is important in the final design choices they make, [but also] for example, the size of the rocket motor, the type of joint holding the rocket motor to the warhead, that ultimately affects the performance in the range that it will get, to include the type of steel that we use affects lethality," Gibbs said. "You see there’s multiple factors that are in play right now and as we converge on our designs this year, we’ll start to neck down on those choices into our final designs and that we will take into qualification.”

The Army hopes to acquire urgent material and safety releases to field the ERCA system by 2023.

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