The US Army wants guns, big ones. The service is modernizing for high-intensity combat against top adversaries, and one of the top priorities is long-range precision fires.
The goal of the Long-Range Precision Fires team is to pursue range overmatch against peer and near-peer competitors, Col. John Rafferty, the team’s director of the LRPF who is part of the recently-established Army Futures Command, told reporters Oct. 10, 2018, at the Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, DC.
The Army faces challenges from a variety of Russian weapons systems, such as the artillery, multiple rocket launcher systems, and integrated air defense networks. While the Army is preparing for combat against a wide variety of adversaries, Russia is characterized as a “pacing threat,” one which has, like China, invested heavily in standoff capabilities designed to keep the US military at arms length in a fight.
The US armed forces aim to engage enemy in multi-domain operations, which involves assailing the enemy across the five domains of battle: land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the US desires “a perfect harmony of intense violence.”
Rafferty described LRPF’s efforts as “fundamental to the success of multi-domain operations,” as these efforts get at the “fundamental problem of multi-domain operations, which is one of access.”
“Our purpose is to penetrate and disintegrate enemy anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) systems, which will enable us to maintain freedom of maneuverability as we exploit windows of opportunity,” he added.
Long-range hypersonic weapon and strategic long-range cannon
At the strategic fires level, the Army is developing a long-range hypersonic weapon and a strategic long-range cannon that could conceptually fire on targets over 1,000 miles away.
With these two systems, the Army is “taking a comprehensive approach to the A2/AD problem, one by using the hypersonic system against strategic infrastructure and hardened targets, and then using the cannon to deliver more of a mass effect with cost-effective, more-affordable projectiles … against the other components of the A2/AD complex.”
The strategic long-range cannon is something that “has never been done before.” This weapon is expected to be big, so much so that Army officials describe it as “relocatable,” not mobile. Having apparently learned from the US Navy’s debacle with the Zumwalt-class destroyer whose projectiles are so expensive the Navy can’t pay for them, the Army is sensitive to the cost-to-kill ratio.
The Zumwalt-class destroyer
(U.S. Navy photo)
This cannon is, according to Rafferty, going to be an evolution of existing systems. The Army is “scaling up things that we are already doing.”
Precision Strike Missile
At the operational level, the Precision Strike Missile features a lot more capability than the weapon it will ultimately replace, the aging Army tactical missile system.
“The first capability that really comes to mind is range, so out to 499 km, which is what we are limited to by the INF Treat,” Rafferty explained.” It will also have space in the base missile to integrate additional capabilities down the road, and those capabilities would involve sensors to go cross-domain on different targets or loitering munitions or sensor-fused munitions that would give greater lethality at much longer ranges.”
Extended Range Cannon Artillery
At the tactical level, the Army is pushing ahead on the Extended Range Cannon Artillery, “which takes our current efforts to modernize the Paladin and replaces the turret and the cannon tube with a new family of projectiles that will enable us to get out to 70 km,” the colonel told reporters. “We see 70 km as really the first phase of this. We really want to get out to 120 and 130 km.”
And there is the technology out there to get the Army to this range. One of the most promising technologies, Rafferty introduced, is an air-breathing Ramjet projectile, although the Army could also go with a solid rocket motor.
The Army has already doubled its range from the 30 km range of the M777 Howitzer to the 62 miles with the new ERCA system, Gen. John Murray, the first head of Army Futures Command, revealed in October 2018, pointing to the testing being done out at the Yuma proving grounds in Arizona.
“We are charged to achieve overmatch at echelon that will enable us to realize multi-domain operations by knocking down the systems that are designed to create standoff and separate us,” Rafferty said. “Long-range fire is key to reducing the enemy’s capability to separate our formations. It does that from a position of advantage.”
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