The US military is watching the war in Ukraine closely and realizing that it needs long-range weapons – think artillery – that can hit from as far away as possible: If the US military has its way, it will one day get a howitzer capable of firing at ranges of over 1,000 miles. Although it may seem that the army is joking and many wonder how it is possible, the army is exploring the possibilities of building its weapon.
To put that into perspective, let’s take a look at the current best howitzer in the military, the M109A6 Paladin 155mm self-propelled gun that can launch a GPS-guided projectile Excalibur. The Paladin’s range is considered ultra-long, but it’s only 25 miles, even with the long-range Excalibur hull.
How the hell will the army get a gun to shoot 1,000 miles?
Long Range Strategic Cannon – What is it?
This is called the Strategic Long Range Gun (SLRC). The weapon seems to come from the First World War. Instead of a train, the gun is mounted on an M1070 heavy equipment transport system. It’s the vehicle that can bring an M1 Abrams tank to the front line, so the HET is ready for something big. The SLRC certainly qualifies as great. The entire weapon system could be up to 70 feet long.
Just make a longer tube
Usually a howitzer can extend the range by lengthening the barrel and using more powder and the SLRC certainly looks like it has a long barrel, but how do you achieve a range of 1,000 miles? There is not much room for the powder in the tube.
Use ramjet projectile
One possible answer is ramjet technology. Popular Mechanics’ Kyle Mizokami describes it this way.
“Ramjets are air-breathing engines that use the forward motion of the projectile to shovel air into an air intake and then into a combustion chamber, providing plenty of oxygen for fuel and propelling the projectile at speeds ranging from Mach 3 to Mach 6. Because the ramjet uses available air as fuel, it requires less stored fuel and is a smaller overall package,” Mizokami wrote.
Could a ramjet eclipse 1,000 miles?
It’s unclear if the long-range strategic gun uses ramjet shells, but a Norwegian company called Nammo is developing a ramjet-powered 155mm projectile to extend the range of a howitzer to 60 miles. While it’s obviously less than 1,000 miles that the SLRC is striving for, it’s progress. And the SLRC likely relies on the Excalibur’s precision-guided GPS system to target the bestial gun more accurately.
Granted, the military hasn’t tested the long-range strategic gun, so the 1,000-mile range may be inflated. But it’s safe to say that the howitzer will one day outlast existing guns and it could cement the field artillery branch’s reputation as the king of battle.
Long Range Strategic Cannon – Can it be airlifted?
One problem with the SLRC is how do you get him to fight in the first place? Yes, the HET truck can move it to the ground operations area, but how do you pilot it there? Would it be compatible with a C-17 or a C-5? It’s not likely. It just looks too long and heavy.
Long range strategic cannon – Many possibilities for this range
But the 1,000 mile range offers many possibilities for use. As Mizokami wrote, “…from southern Germany the army could launch shells on the outskirts of Moscow. From the Philippines, the military could tear to pieces the Chinese artificial islands, as well as the missile sites and airfields on them. From Japan, the SLRC could hit Beijing itself.
But wait, couldn’t the US military just use a cruise missile or a hypersonic missile launched by a bomber, fighter or submarine? It could be easier. This is why the SLRC could be something that enters the valley of death of defense acquisition without going from prototype to mass production. What it could accomplish is make soldiers who specialize in field artillery very enthusiastic about their work.
Now as 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPhD, is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.