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calendar   Friday - April 01, 2016

Army’s latest idea is 143 years old

Defense Department To Build “Buntline” Howitzer




In 1873 Sam Colt built a few dozen of his pistols with crazy long barrels. The idea was to give the rather anemic .45 Colt cartridge a bit of extra range. Or maybe he was just against any kind of concealed carry. Somehow the ungainly pistol became known as a Buntline Special.

The pistols looked about like this:

image

modern reproduction 1873 Buntline Special by Uberti

In 2016 the Defense Department announced that multiple subcontractors are working on several projects with silly sounding acronym names, spending huge amounts of money, to reinvent the wheel and stick a double length barrel on the M777, our current lightweight towable 155mm Howitzer.

It artillery piece looks pretty much like this:

image

modern pre-production 2016 Buntline Special 155mm Cannon by BAE Systems

While the general idea is to build a field gun with extra long range, the new gun will also have several other benefits, such as adding 1000 pounds to the idea of “lightweight”, making a gun just a tad heavier than can be safely carried by the 1947 design Chinook helicopters that the M777 was designed for, which in turn will really complicate things for our Marines and soldiers in the field, and eventually force the services to spend billions developing a new helicopter system with all sorts of cost overruns. The new extra long barrel makes the cannon a towing nightmare, taxing the ability of the standard trucks to haul the thing around and to be able to turn corners and negotiate uneven ground, which in turn will really complicate things for our Marines and soldiers in the field, and eventually force the services to spend billions developing a new truck and towing system with all sorts of cost overruns. Let’s not forget the further added cost and logistical benefits of carrying a grossly larger spare parts inventory to replace all the barrels that will get bent or broken, since the M777 is wisely designed to be pulled along by the end of the barrel, protecting that nice chassis and pretty wheels at the other end of the gun, where anyone with half a brain would hook up a towing hitch to. Sure, just stress the hell out of the barrel, because goodness, who cares if that stays straight or not?

Right. And don’t mention that South Africa already has a robust extra long range 155mm gun system, with autoloading no less, that we could simply just go and purchase.

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J.—Picatinny Arsenal engineers have been working to create a longer, newly modified M777A2 howitzer that has the potential to double the system’s current artillery range.

The modification adds six feet to the cannon and less than 1,000 pounds to the overall system. A mobility demonstration is the first step to determine if the howitzer can be modified for extended range, or if a new system is required.

“Their [user] concern is that when the self-propelled program is done they will be left with a towed cannon variant that they can’t tow around, which is its number one mode of transportation,” said David Bound, M777ER Lead, Artillery Concepts and Design Branch, which is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC.

The Extended Range Cannon Artillery, or ERCA, project is funded by ARDEC’s science and technology office and charged with developing technology to extend the range of all 155mm artillery.

The ERCA program develops not only the XM907 cannon but also products, such as the XM1113 rocket assisted projectile, the XM654 supercharge, an autoloader, and new fire control system.

Program Manager Towed Artillery Systems, or PM-TAS, which leads the M777ER program, is taking the ERCA cannon design and adapting it to the M777 to determine if it can be a cross-platform solution.

This PM-TAS effort is a dual-funded program by the Army and the Marines.

PM-TAS is part of the Program Executive Office for Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal.

“Right now (the M777) can shoot about 30 kilometers, but once all of the upgrades are complete it will be able to shoot about 70 kilometers,” said Bound.

“So, it will be able to reach out and hit targets well in excess before the targets can reach them. It will also give a lot of operational over match so the warfighter won’t have to worry about coming into a situation where they are under fire before they can return fire,” said Bound.

After the ERCA program, the M777ER program is engaged in making sure that ERCA’s system is suitable for the M777 system.

The final ERCA system will be demonstrated with an M109A7 system, which is the Paladin self-propelled howitzer.

Well ... except that the M777 has kind of had a 40km range for 9 years now, but that was pretty much only with the magnificent M982 Excalibur shell, a guided munition - I made a huge post about it and a few other boom toys back during the fighting phase of Gulf War II - that cost a mere $150,000 a shot. But double good news there! Not only has mass production lowered the cost to a bargain basement $70,000 per shot, a new, really inexpensive ($15,000 or less), replacement fuse with steering fins has been developed that works 99.5% as well (12m accuracy at 40km vs 5m at 40km, attached to an exploding shell that can destroy everything within a 50m radius of where it goes off), that will fit on any standard shell in the arsenal. This is the XM1156 Precision Guidance Kit:

image

A base canard? Nay nay, a fuse-ed one; the base is well blooded!

image

a base bleed artillery shell utilizing a thrustless rocket engine

So, 40km range with a couple types of shell. The base bleed design is pretty cool; a solid fuel rocket with no nozzle is built into the boat-tail base of the VLD projectile. Firing the gun ignites the propellant, which does nothing more than produce a lot of hot air. But this air fills the vacuum vortex behind the moving shell, and thus eliminates nearly all the base drag. The result is much higher retained velocity which means much longer range. And it makes a great tracer too! Just hanging a rocket engine back there doesn’t really help, as the thrust has to be absolutely perfectly even and aligned or else it will cause an imbalance and destroy accuracy, if not destroy the shell itself as it yaws sideways while spinning a couple hundred thousand RPM. Nope, neat idea but it don’t work.

I couldn’t find anything on the “supercharge” gun powder. But any slower powder will work better in a longer barrel, and if the barrel is long enough there’s no reason not to do a “supergun” style series of secondary powder charges. Just make sure your burn through bags are well tested first!

So, long barrel, bigger charge of slower powder, drag reducing Ultra Low Drag (ULD) projectiles ... add it all up and it very well could work out to 70km ranges. Hey, when you care enough to kill your enemies an extra long way away, and not harm anyone near them ... all it takes is buckets of tax money. 


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 04/01/2016 at 03:50 AM   
Filed Under: • Military •  
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