As the American military and armaments specialists have repeatedly noted, modern 155 mm caliber artillery guns can send conventional projectile to a range of about 30 km. The use of a number of already known and new solutions, according to calculations, makes it possible to increase the firing range by two or more times. It is for this purpose that the development of a new ERCA project (Extended Range Cannon Artillery - “Long-Range Barrel Artillery with Increased Range”) is underway.
Project, layout and prototype
The proposal to create a promising sample of howitzer artillery with increased range appeared at the beginning of this decade. The program, which later became the current ERCA project, was launched in 2015. Arsenal Picatinny, who is part of the Center for Military Development, was appointed the lead contractor. The defense industry in the program was represented by BAE Systems and other organizations responsible for the supply of certain components.
Model howitzers M777ER. Photo US Army
The ERCA research work showed that the new artillery complex with enhanced characteristics should include several components of various kinds. First of all, it is a weapon with a recycled barrel and advanced controls. In addition, it became necessary to develop a new projectile and a propellant charge for it. The resulting multi-component system could be produced in a towed version or mounted on self-propelled chassis.
All components of the artillery complex ERCA received their own working designations. The howitzer of the new type is designated as XM907. The controlled active-projectile for it is called XM1113, the propellant charge is XM645. Also in the course of the program some other samples were created with their own designations, including indications of their origin.
In March, 2016, Arsenal Picatinny and BAE Systems told about the completion of part of the work and the transition to a new stage. To carry out the first checks on the ERCA project, a prototype model of a promising howitzer was built. This product was made on the basis of the M777A2 serial gun and was named M777ER - Extended Range. The product with the letters “ER” retained the serial gun carriage and part of the artillery units. In this case, an updated stem group was applied. The main difference between the base gun and the prototype was the increased length of the barrel. As part of the M777ER instead of the standard barrel length 39 calibers used elongated - 55 calibers. Due to this, the length of the towed gun increased by 1,8 m, and weight - by 1000 pounds (about 450 kg).
The M777ER mockup could not be fired and used in full-fledged testing. Nevertheless, with its help, the project developers were able to carry out part of the necessary checks and identify all the main technical and operational features of the updated tool. Apparently, according to the test results of the prototype, the existing project was finalized with the elimination of the main drawbacks. All this work took about a year.
At the beginning of 2017, BAE Systems built the first full-scale prototype of the M777ER towed howitzer, capable of solving all the tasks. The prototype was tested, during which showed its capabilities. Due to the lack of new shots during testing, existing projectiles and variable charges such as MACS were used, however, in this case, it was possible to obtain remarkable characteristics. According to the Pentagon, an increase in the maximum range of fire of several kilometers was shown. However, the exact distance indicators were not disclosed.
After testing the start of the 2017, the M777ER gun was sent back for refinement and refinement. A few months later, in the middle of the summer, new tests took place in the conditions of the landfill. The military once again went without details, but reported that the activities were a success. At the end of the autumn passed new tests. This time artillerymen from army units and the Marine Corps were attracted to the works. The howitzer should have been evaluated by its future operators.
Last year it was reported that construction of new prototypes of various kinds was planned for 2018-19 years. In addition, during this period, the Pentagon was going to test the future M777ER gun with a new shot. Checks of the artillery system in full force made it possible to count on obtaining all the desired characteristics and combat capabilities. However, the details of future activities until a certain time remained unknown.
In October, the regular annual exhibition-conference of the Association of the US Army was held. As part of this event, various news and showcasing promising designs. This year, for the first time, the conference showed materials on a new project under the ERCA program. This time it was about creating a promising self-propelled artillery, armed with an improved howitzer. A prototype had already been built, which during tests was able to show very high combat characteristics.
As the basis for the ERCA ACS, the chassis of the M109 serial machine is used. Instead of a standard turret on a new self-propelled gun, a different combat module with advanced equipment is used. Inside the turret of a new type are placed the gun installation, the laying of ammunition and crew jobs. Replacing the old howitzer with a new model using other ammunition led to the need to restructure the entire turret, including its armored dome. In some sources, the re-armed combat vehicle is designated as M109A8, but this name is not used in official reports.
The ERCA prototype is equipped with an XM907 155 caliber mm. Unlike the previous M777ER, the new howitzer has a barrel length 58 caliber. It is equipped with a developed muzzle brake, but it does not have an ejector on the barrel. The charging chamber is optimized for the application of promising shots in the composition of the XM1113 projectile and the XM645 charge. Experienced howitzer XM907 complies with all the basic provisions of the ERCA program and is fully capable of solving the tasks.
Together with the self-propelled gun of a new type, the XM1113 controlled active-projectile was launched for testing. This product is an ammunition caliber 155 mm with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead and its own solid-fuel engine. Control and guidance is carried out by the system of inertial and satellite navigation, as well as with the help of aerodynamic control surfaces. The projectile can be used as a promising tool, and the existing ACS family M109. At the same time, a howitzer with a barrel of 39 calibres of length sends it to a distance of more than 40 km.
At the AUSA-2018 conference, the military told about the beginning of fire tests of the promising self-propelled gun ERCA / M109A8. During the firing with the use of all the components of the new artillery complex, it was possible to obtain a shot range at the level of 62 km. It was noted that such indicators are not the limit. In the future, the system in the form of XM907, XM1113 and XM654 should show a firing range of more than 70 km. When exactly such results will be obtained was not specified.
Plans for the future
According to several reports in recent years, the current stages of the ERCA program will continue until the beginning of the next decade. Over the next few years, Picatinny Arsenal and related organizations will have to complete development work, and then new products will be able to go into the series, after which they will go to the troops. At the same time, the process of mastering the latest material part will be delayed in some way.
The initial plans of the ERCA program, compiled in the 2015 year, included the launch of full-scale trials in the 2017-18 years. In the second quarter of 2019, the launch of mass production of one of the new products was scheduled. Apparently, already in 2020, the US Army will be able to receive the first serial howitzers M777ER or similar towed systems created under the ERCA program. Exact plans to launch the production of self-propelled artillery installations with new turrets and XM907 guns have not been published yet.
A key element of the artillery complex ERCA are promising shots with an active-projectile. These products will enter the series only in the 2022 year, since they need time to be refined and improved. The XM1113 guided projectile, capable of attacking targets at long distances and striking them with high accuracy, is pinned great hopes in the context of re-arming land artillery. Because the army can not afford to order a "raw" product, although it is ready to sacrifice time for its fine-tuning.
The main task of the program Extended Range Cannon Artillery, as its name implies, is a radical increase in the firing range of the barrel artillery. As its solution, it is proposed to use several well-known principles in combination with a completely new material part. The result of this approach has already become a shot at a distance of 62 km. It is quite possible that the M777ER and XM907 guns are already storming the line into the indicated 70 km, and soon the Picatinny Arsenal or the Pentagon will tell about such successes.
It should be noted that the use of obvious ideas did not save the authors of the ERCA project from the need to develop various components that meet current requirements. So, at first glance, howitzer M777ER differs from the basic M777A2 only in the barrel length. However, according to representatives of the American army, the creation of a new trunk was not the easiest thing. It took to find the optimal material and design of the trunk, providing the necessary strength.
In the next project, XM907, a propellant charge is applied, giving greater pressure in the bore, resulting in the creation of a new pipe with enhanced strength and stiffness characteristics. At the same time, both guns, having relatively long barrels, are distinguished by a great return. For the compatibility of such stem groups with existing carriages and chassis needed new recoil devices and muzzle brake. Thus, the unification of the two prototypes, the M777ER and the M109A8, with the base products is much lower than it might seem.
M109 with a standard turret (left) and an upgraded prototype (right). Photo Militaryleak.com
However, such efforts make sense. The new towed howitzer can now be built on the existing gun carriage without its serious processing, and the advanced fighting compartment for self-propelled guns is compatible with the serial chassis. In this case, two samples of artillery weapons show a significant increase in combat performance.
Unfortunately, American organizations have not yet clarified the cost of a promising project and the economic features of its results. In 2015-17, the ERCA program spent about 5 million dollars, but in the future, according to the plans, the costs should constantly grow. The main part of the program budget will eventually be spent on the purchase of mass-produced weapons. The total cost of a promising program, including the release of new weapons, may exceed several billion dollars. However, such expenses may be considered acceptable - given the advantages of new designs.
Currently, howitzer artillery of the US Army, both towed and self-propelled, is capable of hitting targets at ranges of no more than 30-35 km; and for this it needs to use active-reactive and / or guided projectiles. In terms of range, modern versions of the M109 self-propelled gun or the M777 towed howitzer, as well as other weapons, have almost no advantages over foreign models. Moreover, in some cases, American artillery even lags behind them.
To maintain parity or even gain benefits, the Pentagon launched the ERCA program. In just a few years, it has led to the desired results, although it has so far only been observed at the test sites. New artillery complexes could show a range of more than 60 km, and this, it is said, is not the limit. Work continues, and in the future long-barreled guns will have to launch active-missiles at a distance of more than 70 km.
In general, while the program Extended Range Cannon Artillery looks very interesting. Its technical part shows its viability, and prototypes demonstrate the desired characteristics. Thus, in just a few years, the US Army will be able to become the world leader in terms of the range of artillery fire. However, the financial features of the current program are not yet clear. The development of new projects, the construction of finished samples and their operation in the troops can be very expensive, which may have a certain effect on the results of the entire program.
The ERCA program in recent years regularly shows new successes, and the Pentagon takes the opportunity to boast of them. Thus, new reports on the development of promising artillery guns may appear in the very near future. In addition, we can already expect news on the launch of mass production and the purchase of weapons. Unless, of course, the US military decides to complain about the excessive cost of the new howitzers and the impossibility of their mass purchase.
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