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U.S. Army begins testing a key component of its newest self-propelled howitzer

The U.S. Army has taken one other vital step in the direction of acquiring a brand new artillery system by starting testing of Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) autoloader at Picatinny Arsenal.

On Thursday, the Picatinny Arsenal press launch mentioned that the event of the ERCA autoloader functionality is notable as a result of it will allow the cannon to fireplace at considerably quicker charges, improve lethality, and it might set the stage for future “optionally manned” artillery battery configurations the place fewer – or presumably no Soldiers – can be required on the cannon throughout firing operations.

The ERCA effort is nested inside the Army’s prime Modernization Priority, Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF). The Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team (CFT) has set plans in movement for a two phased functionality enchancment by first offering the Soldier a self-propelled howitzer with elevated vary, adopted by a rise to rate-of-fire. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., is main the ERCA design effort.

Cannon loading requires choosing the appropriate sort of projectile and fuze to ship the specified impact to the goal and choosing the appropriate propellant to match the required distance. First, the fuze is ready. Next, the projectile after which the cost are loaded into the cannon’s tube, the breech is closed and the cannon is able to hearth.

The autoloader is a machine that performs these well-orchestrated duties, which have traditionally been carried out by cannon crew members. The autoloader, nevertheless, can attain a charge of hearth that’s 2-3 instances quicker than a cannon crew, with limits to length such because the cannon tube overheating, in line with Armaments Center Project Engineer and ERCA Ammunition Handling System Lead, Jimmy Lee.

A pc-aided design (CAD) graphic depicts an Extended Range Canon Artillery system built-in onto an M109A7 chassis with coloured cutouts displaying parts of the full-capacity Ammunition Handling System, which incorporates the autoloader and journal.

In November 2018, an earlier variant of the ERCA, the XM1299 howitzer, fired projectiles out to 72 kilometers at Yuma, the farthest-reaching photographs ever made by U.S. Army howitzers, and greater than double the attain of presently fielded Army artillery methods.

In the demonstration in June 2019, an early science and know-how ERCA prototype outfitted with a restricted capability autoloader, loaded 5 mass simulator excessive velocity projectiles and 5 prototype XM657 Extended Range Supercharge propellant costs, and successively fired a five-round cannon “burst” downrange at a charge of seven-rounds-per-minute. The goal of the demonstration was to tell growth of the ERCA XM1299E1 in accordance Armaments Center Project Officer for ERCA, Josiah Fay.

The restricted capability autoloader was designed to deal with just one sort of projectile and cost, and it labored with a restricted capability journal, in line with Lee. It was constructed to validate key points of the engineering strategy through the march towards the target autoloader, and the exams allowed the workforce to confirm that key parts would work as supposed in life like circumstances, whereas shut commentary of its efficiency would inform future autoloaders.

Next up, in line with Lee, was constructing and demonstrating the target capability autoloader, which can be capable to load and handle a collection of the Army’s legacy and rising fuzes, propellant costs and projectiles, and it’ll work with bigger capability magazines. It is a extra advanced machine as a result of projectiles, fuzes and propellant costs come in several shapes, sizes, and weights, which requires the autoloader to deal with a spread of configurations to execute a hearth mission.

Also, the newer autoloader should ship at the next charge whereas working in synchronization with the bigger magazines, which retailer and handle the hundreds so that it’ll ship the appropriate mixture of fuze, projectile and propellant for the fireplace mission.

The Armaments Center engineers are working at Picatinny with an trade companion through an Other Transaction Agreement contract car to realize the specified ammunition dealing with functionality. The trade companion develops the magazines whereas working in coordination with the Armaments Center’s autoloader growth workforce.

The ERCA system’s growth emerged as a proper analysis effort – referred to as a “STO” for Science and Technology Objective – following a 2013 research that assessed next-generation artillery. According to Lee, the principle takeaway from the onset of the trouble was that considerably elevated vary coupled with elevated charges of hearth was technologically inside attain, and it will be a “game changer” for cannon artillery.

Lee added {that a} important functionality of the autoloader was that it portends future artillery battery configurations the place a howitzer would carry out hearth missions with out essentially requiring that Soldiers be within the car through the firing operations.

Along with the autoloader, outstanding parts of the ERCA program embrace the XM1113 Rocket Assist Projectile and XM659 Stub Charge, which have been formally transitioned and are actually managed by Project Manager Combat Ammunition Systems (PM CAS). There are additionally a number of variations of the “Supercharge” in varied levels of growth to assist an elevated vary functionality.

The cannon encompasses a sliding block breech constructed to resist the immense strain of the supercharge and a cannon tube made with new alloys shaped to a 30-foot size, which permits a projectile’s velocity to proceed growing contained in the cannon tube earlier than exiting.

The ERCA armaments are fitted on an M109A7 “Paladin” chassis to type the self-propelled ERCA system.

After the June exams, the ERCA mission groups had demonstrated independently each the interim vary and rate-of-fire objectives that had been established through the STO part.

The ERCA Integration Team is within the remaining levels of informing the LRPF CFT’s Increased Rate of Fire functionality with the XM1299E1 ERCA system, which is now built-in onto a M109A7 chassis with an optimized cab and full-capacity autoloader. Two extra demonstrations are deliberate for fiscal 12 months 2021 that can additional validate autoloader applied sciences and with larger charges of hearth.

The December exams had been half of the preparations for these demonstrations. In the exams, the engineers efficiently fired a number of rounds utilizing the target capability autoloader at Picatinny’s Ballistic Evaluation Center. It was the second time Picatinny services have live-fired built-in autoloader applied sciences from a Paladin platform, the primary being a restricted capability auto loader demonstration in June of 2019.

The take a look at goals had been to confirm built-in {hardware} and software program auto loader know-how maturation in a live-fire setting previous to continuing to full scale testing at Yuma Proving Grounds.

“What we are seeing today is a result of Army investments in future cannon artillery technologies that are transitioning out of the Science and Technology phase and to Project Manager Self-Propelled Howitzer Systems under Section 804 Middle Tier Acquisition Authority as well as to PM CAS to equip the warfighter with more capability and further informing the ERCA Capability Development Document requirement,” mentioned Rich Granitzki, DEVCOM’s Science and Technology advisor to LRPF CFT.

The most difficult facet of the target capability autoloader’s continued growth revolves across the coordination of the movement controls and software program testing that underpins the profitable functioning of the advanced system, mentioned Lee.

Photo by U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center

“We always start work in software emulators,” mentioned Lee. “We have been maturing the software, running it in the lab, testing the design, and improving a lot of the simulations. We started with the virtual and now we have hardware in the loop.” Lee works with the Armaments Center’s Principal Design Engineer, Bill Burgermeister.

“We take small steps to prove things out, and it grows bigger and bigger. We’re at the point we’re controlling almost every single aspect of the autoloader.”

“We have been building new components and maturing components so we can deliver the best product out there,” mentioned Lee. At this stage of the method, the job is to “prove out the design, prove out how things work, improve on the final,” he mentioned.

The June 2019 exams did inform the continued engineering for the objective-capacity autoloader, however largely it confirmed that the system is heading in the right direction.

Fay mentioned the workforce verified that the basic structure and ramming strategy had been right, they usually additionally validated their assumptions about component robustness to resist environmental points which might be actually distinctive to cannon artillery engineering: Violent, huge and sudden releases of power occurring inside a cannon breech and shaking all the pieces close by, and not-so close by.

“We were certainly putting more energy into the system, but that’s one of the things we tracked early on, and now we’re much more comfortable with those higher loads then when we first started out,” mentioned Fay.

The workforce additionally verified they should proceed, if not improve, their teams-centered strategy. “Rate of fire is a system level effort,” mentioned Fay. “It isn’t just the autoloader.”

The elevation system must be designed in order that it factors shortly and precisely. The breech must be designed in order that it opens and closes shortly whereas the cannon is elevated. This breech additionally should maintain the propellant in place because the ammunition handler is retracting earlier than it closes.

“The pointing has to be in the right place at the right time and not be moving while we’re loading. If any of those things aren’t there, we’ll be waiting until those things happen before we can load, so getting it all to work together, it’s a team effort,” mentioned Lee.

“The people doing the ammunition handling design work are familiar with the munition products that are being handled, this familiarity helps in the communications between the ammunition handling team and the munition teams on day-to-day design activities, this enables innovation and quick resolution of technical problems,” mentioned Fay. “It is just built into the fabric of the culture here.”

Fortunately, the workforce is multi functional place: “ERCA from the turret bearing up is a 100-percent Armaments Center-developed system,” mentioned Fay. “The ERCA 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.”

This is the primary main re-design in a very long time, Lee continued. “The Armaments Center is going through a renaissance period where we did a lot, an almost 100-percent in-house effort to design the cannon, the autoloader and the breech design. In my lifetime here– and I’m ancient–I’ve never seen this much innovation and productive work.”

“The fabric of Picatinny has all those things on the same campus that enables the keys of communications, synergy and ensuing innovation to occur,” mentioned Fay.

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