WASHINGTON: After decades of neglect, the Army is investing heavily in artillery, creating new units and new weapons, ranging from long-barreled howitzers to hypersonic missiles.
Now the service has made a major decision to expand the artillery force by creating new battalions to operate the new XM1299 Extended Range Cannon Artillery, an armored tracked howitzer with double the range of the current gun, said the director of artillery modernization at Army Futures Command. me.
Much remains to be determined: how many ERCA battalions to build, what the mix of active duty and National Guard units will be, and where to pull personnel from in a service whose final strength will be static at best. The ERCA program itself is one of the Army’s highest priorities, and the service has moved billions from lower priority programs to fund it and other long-range sniper weapons. But the entire military budget is under intense pressure in the post-COVID fiscal crisis.
“We will develop battalions,” Brig. said General John Rafferty in an exclusive interview. “We will figure out how to pay the bills for this in terms of people [drawn] other army locations.
Artillery at all levels
Significant nuance in the army plan: the new ERCA battalions will belong to the divisional artillery commands (DIVARTY). Why is this important? Today, DIVARTY units have headquarters for planning and coordination, but no permanently assigned artillery, only batteries which they borrow from higher (corps) or subordinate (brigade) headquarters. Giving DIVARTY its own long-range weapons provides division commanders with a new tool to shape the flow of battle on a much larger scale than village-by-village, neighborhood-by-neighborhood counterinsurgency.
The ERCA is just one part of the Army’s priority modernization drive, the development of an entire family of long-range sniper weapons to take on artillery-heavy adversaries like Russia and the United States. China. The Army was already creating five multi-domain task forces equipped with multiple types of missiles – subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic, with ranges of 1,100 miles and more – that will report directly to theater HQs.
With ERCA battalions at the division level and multi-domain task forces at the theater level, the army will close long-standing gaps in its order of battle and create a hierarchy of artillery units, a where each level has longer range and more expensive weapons. than the one below:
- The armored brigades will keep their existing artillery battalions, equipped with the M109 Paladin, a tracked and armored howitzer; but they will have access to new and improved Rocket Assisted Projectiles (RAPs). Paladins fire 155mm ammo, reaching ranges of almost 25 miles if the new XM1113 rocket-propelled shells are used. (Paladins are upgraded from the M109A6 model to the M109A7, a program called Paladin Integrated Management, but the two versions share the same gun, with the PIM upgrade focusing on automotive components).
- Armored divisions will gain the new ERCA battalions, equipped with the M1299. This is a new armored howitzer using the Paladin PIM chassis but a new turret, new thruster and an almost 50% longer gun barrel (58 caliber instead of 39) that can fire the same 155mm ammunition than Paladin, but much further: over 40 miles for the rocket-assisted XM1113 shell. Future ramjet shells will extend their range even further.
- Corps Headquarters will retain its existing rocket/missile launcher brigades – using a mix of wheeled HIMARS launchers and tracked MLRS launchers – but will get new, longer-range munitions to fire from. the Guided multiple launch rocket system (GMLRS), with a range of 43 miles, will be replaced by GMLRS-Extended Range, currently in testing and capable of firing over 90 miles. And the Reagan-era Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), with a range of over 185 miles, will be replaced by the New Precision Missile (PrSM), with a range of over 300 miles. ( Future upgrades will increase the range of the PrSM, potentially up to three times).
- Finally, several Theater Commanders will gain one or more of the new Multi-Domain Task Force units. The Army is planning two in the Pacific, one in Europe, one for the Arctic and one for global response. While MDTF arrangements are still evolving and are likely to be tailored to a given mission, the default design – as revealed in a recent article by the Army Chief of Staff – will include two long-range missile batteries. One battery, called Mid-Range Capability (MRC), but capable of firing more than 1,100 miles, will use SM-6 Standard supersonic missiles and subsonic Tomahawks (both already in Navy service). The other battery will field the new long-range hypersonic weapon (co-developed with the Navy), which has a classified range likely to be several thousand miles.
- Theater HQs will also receive a new coordination element called Theater Fire Command to oversee all of these long-range assets. Currently, Rafferty said, the Army Service Component Commands (ASCCs) at the theater level are understaffed to plan such complex bombings, gather intelligence on targets in peacetime, or coordinate adequately. with Allied artillery. The new Fires commands are intended to fill this gap.
Now, all of these arrangements are designed to be flexible. The higher staffs regularly lend their artillery to the lower echelon, the better to reinforce a decisive point; or take direct control of the artillery of subordinate units, to better coordinate a centralized fire plan. In particular, the divisional ERCA battalions must be able to reinforce the combat teams of the front line brigades and fight alongside the M109s. That’s why the ERCA is built on the M109A7 Paladin chassis, adding a new gun to the existing armor protection and automotive mobility.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re so convinced that in a heavy division, the ERCA should have a similar level of protection and mobility as the Paladin units it reinforces,” Rafferty told me. . “It’s one of the fundamental principles of fire support planning.”
(That said, the Army is also exploring lighter and less expensive foreign-made wheeled howitzers – but not for its tank units. These wheeled howitzers will accompany the wheeled and relatively lightly armored 8×8 Strykers) .
The Army is currently building 18 ERCA prototypes, a full battalion’s worth, for a year-long operational evaluation beginning in late 2023. To meet this schedule, the test unit will be an existing Paladin battalion converted to a fire ERCA, rather than a new unit. created from scratch like the following ERCA battalions.
In future ground warfare, Rafferty told me, the military expects Paladin, ERCA, and GMLRS rockets to hit the vast majority of targets, simply because they are cheaper per shot than higher-powered systems. Long range. But these longer range weapons – Precision Strike Missile, Mid-Range Capability and Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon – will play a vital role in attacking priority targets deep within enemy lines, especially in the vastness of the Pacific.
This requires rethinking the traditional divisions of labor between the army’s artillery, on the one hand, and the attack aircraft of the air force, navy and marine corps, on the other. hand, admitted Rafferty. But the military seeks to support and supplement airpower, not replace it, he stressed, with priority targets including both anti-aircraft defenses and enemy ships.
“The signal from combatant commanders has been very clear that long-range surface-to-surface fire is absolutely essential to penetrating and disintegrating the Anti-Access/Area Denial [defenses],” he said. “The ability to attack maritime targets from land is another one of those loud and clear signals of demand from combatant commands.”
Moreover, he said, in a world of great power competition, “there is plenty of work for everyone.”