Developments of the past for the gun of the future: the SLRC project and predecessors

Information on the SLRC project. Photo

In the United States, a promising artillery complex SLRC (Strategic Long Range Cannon) is being developed. In 2023, the Pentagon plans to test a cannon with a firing range of at least 1,000 nautical miles (over 1,800 km). Reportedly, the project will be based on a number of modern technologies and solutions capable of achieving the desired characteristics.

Land records

In recent years, the United States has been actively involved in the problem of improving the combat qualities of artillery and for this purpose is developing several new projects. So, SLRC is created in a strategic niche, and projects ERCA, HVP and their derivatives are intended for the tactical level. Some of the new products for these projects have already been brought to testing, but the characteristics obtained are much more modest than expected for the SLRC.

The result of the ERCA (Extended Range Cannon Artillery) project has already become an experienced M777ER 155 mm howitzer. It features an elongated 58-caliber barrel (versus 39 clb in the original M777), and is also designed to use the new round with an enhanced charge and the XM1113 active-rocket projectile. The improved howitzer is proposed for use as part of advanced self-propelled guns.

Elongated howitzer M777ER against the background of a serial gun. US Army Photos

The main decisions of the ERCA project are already paying off. In the spring, the next tests with shooting at an increased distance took place. This time, the M777ER gun on a self-propelled platform was able to hit the target at a distance of 65 km. Used for firing ammunition XM1113 and M982 Excalibur. The developers of the project are already talking about the fundamental possibility of a shot at 100 km, but have not yet specified when it will receive practical confirmation.

Developments for the fleet

For surface ships, an artillery mount Mk 51 Advanced Gun System with a 155 mm barrel and a length of 62 klb has been developed. By its design, this product is to a certain extent similar to other ship installations, but it has a number of differences. Installation Mk 51 can use a variety of ammunition, incl. promising Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP) shells with increased characteristics.

HVP is a unified guided projectile for use in systems of different types and calibers. Due to the optimization of aerodynamics, the presence of a solid fuel engine and controls, an increase in range is provided. With the help of different leading devices, the projectile can be used with 127 and 155 mm cannons, as well as in rail guns. The existing 155-mm cannons are capable of sending HVPs up to 80 km, and for the long-barreled AGS, the calculated range reaches 130 km. High-energy railguns should provide a range of more than 180 km.

HVP projectile. BAE Systems Graphics

The HVP product has passed part of the tests using various systems. A variety of tasks are performed. So, in early September it became known that an experienced AGS gun with the help of HVP was able to hit an approaching cruise missile. At the same time, the exact prospects for HVP have not yet been determined. Tests are ongoing, and the army or navy is not yet ready to make a final decision.

Technologies of the past

In the context of ultra-long-range guns, it is necessary to recall the American-Canadian program HARP (High Altitude Research Project), work on which was carried out in the sixties. It was based on the idea of ​​launching light spacecraft using a special artillery complex. At the same time, the key elements of the project were a special cannon and a high performance projectile.

Within the framework of HARP, several experienced smoothbore guns with a caliber of 5 to 16 inches (from 127 to 416.5 mm) were created. So, a 16-inch gun was made from two serial barrels by welding them and then drilling a channel to remove the rifling. Such a gun with a length of more than 36 m was supposed to fire almost vertically and provide an initial velocity of the projectile in excess of 2150 m / s. One of the prototypes in the course of development received a barrel length of 53.5 m.

For the HARP cannons, a special ammunition was developed called the Marlet. At different stages of the program, several versions of such a product were used, differing in their design, characteristics, payload, etc. The project began with the use of arrow-shaped sabot projectiles, and in the later stages, full-fledged active-rocket and rocket systems were used.

HVP in the master for use in 155mm guns. BAE Systems Graphics

Tests of HARP cannons with Marlet ammunition continued for several years. Different projectiles with different propelling charges were tested. Various combinations of charge, elevation angle, etc. were studied. In the course of such experiments, the maximum trajectory height of 180 km was obtained – the 16-inch gun fired almost vertically.

Thus, the energy of the gun, when using the optimal angles, made it possible to send the projectile to a distance of hundreds of kilometers. However, this mode of fire was not considered the main one, since the project had other tasks. Firing at low angles was carried out with only a few experimental guns in the order of separate experiments.

Experience and best practices

Thus, in the past and present, US specialists managed to conduct a lot of experiments and accumulate solid experience in the field of long-range and ultra-long-range artillery. At different times, various systems and individual components have been developed and tested – and all these developments can find one or another place in the modern SLRC program.

One of the experienced guns of the HARP project. US Army Photos

Obviously, in order to fulfill the set requirements, the SLRC complex must include several components with special characteristics. The basis of the complex is a large-caliber gun capable of providing the initial acceleration of the projectile to high speed. It also requires a special projectile capable of using its initial energy as efficiently as possible, additionally accelerating on a trajectory and accurately hitting a distant target. Of great importance in such a complex are fire control means, communication and target designation systems, etc.

The experience of the HARP project shows that even with the technologies of the middle of the last century, it is possible to create a weapon with a firing range of hundreds of miles. However, borrowing a ready-made design is not possible. This is hindered by the obsolescence of experimental systems, the complexity of their production and operation, as well as insufficient operational qualities for the army. The development of a modern ERCA product is also impractical due to the insufficient level of initial characteristics. In fact, an ultra-long-range cannon has to be developed from scratch.

Perhaps the SLRC in the future will be able to use a guided “hyperspeed” projectile HVP, modified as necessary. However, it is unclear whether such a product will be able to provide the required 1,000-mile range. Perhaps the development of a new product is required, incl. based on the same technologies.

Models of advanced artillery systems. There is probably an SLRC between the two SPGs. Photo

Perhaps the simplest task is to create a complex of communication and control facilities. The United States has extensive experience in this area, and in addition, a variety of systems for this purpose are already in service. Probably, the SLRC complex can be easily integrated into the existing control loops, which will simplify the interaction of artillerymen with reconnaissance and headquarters – and bring the effectiveness of fire to the desired level.

Unknown future

It should be recalled that not much is known about the SLRC program to date. Only the most basic requirements and some features of future operation have been announced. The exact composition, appearance, etc. have not yet been disclosed, although some models and posters appeared at the events.

If they reflect reality, then in the future the US Army will receive a weapon on a platform with the ability to transport using a tractor. It will be serviced by a crew of eight people, and four cannons will be included in the battery. Also, such a unit should include a command post, communications equipment and various support vehicles. The complex will be air transportable, although it will require heavy aircraft.

With the help of the SLRC, the American army plans to hack into enemy defenses. Shells with a range of more than 1800 km will have to hit key defense targets at great depths, simplifying the further work of other types of troops. Ultra-long-range guns will take over part of the tasks of operational-tactical missiles, but they will be able to use simpler and cheaper ammunition – with obvious benefits.

At the moment, the SLRC project is at the development stage, and the appearance of a prototype and the first firing is expected in 2023. As you can see, by now the United States has accumulated solid experience in the development of artillery and increasing the firing range. Whether with its help it will be possible to solve a new super-difficult task of creating an ultra-long-range weapon, it will become known in the foreseeable future.

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