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Land Platforms

ERCA prototype testing to begin in October, autoloader decision still to come

18 July 2019
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A US Army M109A6 Paladin howitzer conducts a fire mission at Qayyarah West Airfield in Iraq as coalition forces move towards Mosul. The army's ERCA effort is designed to increase the M109A7's range and rate of fire. Source: US Army

US Army leaders are preparing to begin testing an Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) prototype this October while they continue to weigh their options for developing an autoloader for the system.

Colonel John Rafferty, the head of the army’s Long-Range Precision Fires modernisation effort, spoke with reporters on 16 July about the way ahead for ERCA development. Just days earlier, the army awarded BAE Systems a USD45 million contract to help integrate the government-owned cannon onto a Paladin M109A7 self-propelled howitzer.

“The earlier we bring [BAE Systems] in, the better; [and] they’re prepared to start making these things,” Col Rafferty said.

According to the company, who manufactures the weapon at its facility in York, Pennsylvania, for the ERCA Increment 1 prototype it will replace the current 39-calibre turret with one that is 58-calibre, 30 ft long to increase the platform’s range and rate of fire.

The army will receive this first prototype in October and will “immediately” begin combined shakedown testing along with technology readiness level (TRL) 6 testing that will run from October until January, Col Rafferty explained.

“If it passes through the initial shakedown testing and TRL 6 demo, then it gets turned over to the [programme manager], and they will go on and make six or seven more prototypes,” he said, adding that the service will also be conducting ammunition qualification testing during this time frame.

While the service eyes upcoming ERCA prototype testing, it is continuing to plot the way ahead for acquiring an autoloader for the system. Under the incremental strategy for the extended range cannon, the army plans to field the capability to the first battalion in 2023 without the autoloader. However, the autoloader will be included in the fielding to the second battalion in 2024, according to Col Rafferty.

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