- Boeing and Nammo have completed their first test of the new Ramjet 155 artillery shell.
- Unlike conventional artillery, the new shell uses a ramjet to fly farther and faster.
- The Ramjet 155 will be able to fire farther than Russian and Chinese artillery, making American guns invulnerable to most types of counter-battery fire.
Two defense contractors, one American and the other European, have teamed up to produce a new howitzer that could make artillery the dominant weapon in ground warfare. The Ramjet 155 artillery shell (pictured above) can not only range up to 44 miles, but it can also lock on and destroy moving targets. The shell, currently being tested, would allow US and NATO armies to hit targets while out of range of Russian and Chinese artillery.
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The last Ramjet 155 test, announced by Boeing and Nammo this week, was conducted on June 28 at the Andøya Test Center in Norway. The shell’s ramjet ignited successfully and it “demonstrated flight stability with a well-controlled engine combustion process”.
For more than two decades, artillery technology was a relatively low priority for the US military. The post-9/11 emphasis on guerrilla warfare and fighting low-capability adversaries like the Islamic State and the Taliban has reduced the need for powerful long-range artillery. The U.S. Army and Marines, lacking a credible enemy artillery threat, were able to operate with impunity, setting up protected artillery sites with little regard for enemy artillery fire, with airstrikes filling vacuum to hit targets at very long range.
The return to conflict between great powers is a game-changer. US ground forces must once again fight large armies with high-tech weaponry, ensuring that US equipment is technically superior to that deployed by potential adversaries. Planes attacking targets at very long ranges have the potential to be shot down in the process, losing a pilot and a $100 million plane. The artillery war between Ukraine and Russia – with hundreds of howitzers and multiple rocket launchers every day – is a stark and real reminder of the power of artillery and what happens to the losers in a artillery duel.
One of the main lessons of Ukrainian artillery warfare is that the side that can shoot the farthest dominates the battlefield. Russia 2S19 Msta-S 152-millimeter self-propelled howitzers have a range of 24.7 kilometers, or 15.3 miles. Moscow is newer 2S35 Koalitsiya self-propelled gun has a standard range of 40 kilometers or 24.8 miles. These weapons have surpassed those of Ukraine 2S3 self-propelled howitzers, which had a range of just 10.8 miles. As a result, Ukrainian artillery forces had to continually operate their guns within range of Russian guns, placing them in constant danger. Russian gunners, on the other hand, can stay out of range of Ukrainian guns with careful planning.
Most artillery shells are fired from a distance by the detonation of a propellant charge in the breech of the gun. The charge creates pressure behind the shell, which then pushes the shell out of the barrel and towards the target. More thruster can mean more range, but at a certain point it becomes dangerous. Instead, some shells inject a gas into their wake, reducing drag as the shell flies through the air, a method called “lost funds.” Other shells, called “rocket-assisted projectiles” (RAP), use real rocket engines to fly farther.
The new Ramjet 155 shell, jointly developed by Boeing and Norwegian defense company Nammo, is the first artillery shell to use a ramjet for propulsion. The shell has been in development since 2019, when the military funded it under the XM1155 Long Range Artillery Projectile Program. Ramjets are aerobic engines that draw in air at high speed and then mix it with gases produced by burning fuel. Air and pressurized exhaust gases are then expelled through the rear nozzle, producing thrust.
A ramjet propelled shell has a few advantages over basic bleed and RAP technology. First, the hull uses oxygen from the air itself as a propellant, and there is plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere. This reduces the amount of onboard fuel the shell needs. Second, unlike other types of shell propulsion, the ramjet shell can accelerate a greater distance, giving it greater velocity until impact.
Of course, a ramjet shell has some drawbacks. For one, the addition of a ramjet makes it much more expensive than a typical artillery shell. Second, the shell must incorporate a guide assembly, steering fins and the ramjet, reducing the explosive payload of the shell.
These trade-offs are worth it. Older artillery systems without precision guidance lacked the ability to land a shell directly on a target, instead neutralizing targets by dropping multiple nearby shells. The Ramjet 155’s precision guidance system is probably accurate enough to drop a shell over the target. This requires fewer lobbed shells and fewer high explosives per shell. Artillery units will also be able to provide support to ground forces that were previously provided by attack fighters and attack helicopters. Also, the ability to fire at moving targets draws attention to enemy tanks.
The army has a brand new howitzer, the range of 43 miles Extended Range Cannon Artillery. Does the Ramjet 155 make it obsolete? Not really: the Ramjet 155 can work with the army’s M777 towed howitzer, the M109A7 self-propelled howitzer and the ERCA itself. While the military still needs ERCAs, the M777 or M109A7 howitzers could use regular artillery shells if needed and stockpile a smaller amount of Ramjet 155 for when the gun crew really needs to tend hand and touch someone. M777 crews, whose laborious and time-consuming movement process leaves them vulnerable to enemy artillery fire, would particularly welcome the Ramjet 155s.
The Ramjet 155 is not a game-changer in itself, as gunners flying their howitzers cannot see enemy forces 44 miles away. The new shell will be a game-changer once dropped in a reconnaissance strike system that combines drones and other intelligence-gathering systems with long-range artillery, with the two groups linked by communications secured. Artillery units will be able to fire deeper into enemy territory and fire more shells without moving to avoid enemy fire. It’s an amazing combination that should give any potential opponent pause.
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