WEB EXCLUSIVE: Army Looks to Add Autoloader to Extended Range Cannon
Photo: ArmyThe Army is examining options to add an autoloader to the extended-range cannon artillery system, according to the director of the long-range precision fires cross-functional team.
The extended long-range cannon, or ERCA, is designed to extend the range of the Paladin self-propelled howitzers to 70 kilometers, which is double its current capability. The move is part of the Army’s effort to improve its fires capabilities to counter adversaries that can outgun current systems. The first ERCA prototype will begin testing from October to January at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, Col. John Rafferty told reporters July 17 during a media day at Joint Base Meyer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
The service has an “incremental strategy” for the system and plans to field it in a battalion in 2023. A second battalion will be fielded in 2024 with an autoloader, he noted.
“We're working on ... ‘How much do we need to know before you make the decision? Whether we want to produce prototypes of each one of these ... autoloaders or is there a way that we can make a smart decision earlier and then move faster to deliver the autoloader?” he said.
Adding the device would help the artillery system shoot up to 10 rounds per minute and reduce the crew needed to operate it, Rafferty noted.
“In large-scale ground combat operations, we need to be able to mass and deliver a volume of projectiles,” he said.
The Army is looking at two potential options for the autoloader, Rafferty said. One is provided by a vendor and one is designed by the government, he noted, declining to name the vendor.
There are multiple potential designs that can fill the role of an autoloader, Rafferty noted. For example, one resembles as “Coke can dispenser” that has a belt feeding into a magazine. Others have proposed designs that resemble a “robotic arm grabbing a projectile,” he said.
Additionally, the Army awarded BAE Systems a $45 million contract this week for the ERCA increment one prototype, according to a company announcement. Under the contract, BAE will integrate the extended-range cannon artillery system onto an M109A7 Paladin Integrated Management, replacing the 39-caliber turret with a 58-caliber, 30-foot long gun barrel. This will “improve the rate and range of fire with the development of power distribution software and hardware integration solutions,” the announcement stated.
Rafferty said the service is performing developmental testing on new projectiles as well.
“One of the big things to emphasize is ... it requires new projectiles to go that far,” he noted. “It takes new propellant … a new cannon and new fuse to get the accuracy we want … at 70 kilometers.”