The U.S. Army is continuing development of a so-called “super gun” artillery piece capable of sending projectiles 1,000 miles downrange, or more than far enough to be free of counterbattery fire from existing enemy guns.
Top service officials say the new gun, when fully developed and deployed, would be able to attack targets in and around China, including Beijing’s bases on the South China Sea islands, well out of range of Chinese defenses.
“You can imagine a scenario where the Navy feels that it cannot get into the South China Sea because of Chinese naval vessels, or whatever,” Army Secretary Mark Esper said during a media roundtable earlier this week.
“We can – from a fixed location, on an island or some other place – engage enemy targets, naval targets, at great distances and maintain our standoff and yet open the door, if you will, for naval assets or Marine assets,” he added.
Testing with extended-range artillery is part of the service’s aim to incorporate hypersonic technology into new weapons systems in which the Pentagon chose some years ago not to weaponize. That’s changing now as near-peer competitors like China and Russia develop and field their own hypersonic delivery systems for both conventional and nuclear warheads.
Task & Purpose asked Esper why the Army believes it needs artillery pieces that can fire shells up to 1,000 miles; he responded by saying that the military has a mission requirement to outrage enemy guns.
“You want to be outside the range that they can hit you,” Esper said.
“Why was the spear developed? Because the other guy had a sword. A spear gives you range,” he said. “Why was the sling developed? Because the spear closed off the range of the sword. You want to always have standoff where you can strike without being struck back. That’s what extended-range cannon artillery gives us, case in point vis-à-vis the Russians.”
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2016, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley was asked if the U.S. military was outranged or outgunned by any potential adversary.
“Yes … the ones in Europe, really Russia. We don’t like it, we don’t want it, but yes, technically [we are] outranged, outgunned on the ground,” he said.
Last year, reports noted that the Army was developing a new prototype Extended Ranger Cannon Artillery weapon that had a larger-caliber tube and new grooves designed to hang weights for gravity adjustments, really just a modified M777A2 mobile gun.
Officials noted that the modifications increased the weapon’s range from about 30 km (18 miles) to about 70 km (43 miles).
That said, a senior Army official told Warrior Maven, “Just because I can shoot farther, that does not mean I solve the issue. I have to acquire the right target. We want to be able to hit moving targets and targets obscured by uneven terrain.”