The US Army’s Picatinny Armaments Center recently highlighted its progress toward developing automated loading for its self-propelled howitzers.
These efforts are receiving increased attention as a part of the Extended Range Artillery Cannon (ERCA) project a key component of the Long Range Precision Fires a priority initiative in the Army’s modernization.
The lethality and operational benefits of auto-loaded self-propelled howitzers has been well established in its field use in the German PzH2000, Russian 2S19 “Msta-S”, and Swedish Archer.
ERCA XM1299E1 auto-loading integration on to the M109A7 requires not simply new ammunition handling but also a new breech, gun positioning, and ammunition and fuse selection and setting. Achieving a rate of fire of 7 rounds per minute has been demonstrated in Army evaluations, though these employed a limited capacity loader.
The next step for the ERCA Integration Team is preparing a full-capacity autoloader and optimized turret system for two demonstrations planned for 2021. These will further validate autoloader technologies and increased rates of fire.
Mr. Josiah Fay, Armaments Center Project Officer for ERCA, explained ERCA from the turret bearing up is a 100-percent Armaments Center-developed system. The armament and munitions have been thought about and innovation applied to them by the engineers at the Armaments Center for the XM1299, which gets’ you the range, and XM1299E1, which gets you the rate of fire capability.
A major challenge is having the ability to load and manage the range of legacy and emerging fuses, propellant charges and projectiles of different shapes, sizes, and weights to execute a fire mission.
In addition, ideally the auto-loader technology should also be able to be applied to the other M109A7 155mm 39 caliber self-propelled howitzers that make up the vast majority of the fielded inventory.