The US Army is scaling down an autoloader for its new Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) programme and will not meet its initial goal of having the enhanced capability ready by 2024. At the same time, however, the service has awarded five companies with contracts to look for alternative ways to accelerate the weapon’s rate of fire.
Brigadier General John Rafferty, the head of the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team, and Program Manager for Armored Fighting Vehicles Colonel Timothy Fuller briefed reporters on 15 April about the service’s multi-pronged approach for improving ERCA’s rate of fire.
The weapon is an incremental upgrade to BAE Systems’ Paladin M109A7 self-propelled howitzer that includes a 30 ft (9.1 m) gun tube designed to launch 58 calibre (155 mm) rounds. Service leaders are working with the company to have 18 ERCA Increment 1 (Inc 1) weapons ready for operational testing in 2023.
Their plans had then called for an autoloader capability to be added in 2024 as part of ERCA Inc 2. However, they have determined that the government designed autoloader that carries 31 rounds is too large for the vehicle and it is now being scaled down to carry 23 rounds, Brig Gen Rafferty explained.
“Scaling down to that 23 round, reduced capacity is the sweet spot for weight, centre of gravity, and onboard kills,” he added.
If autoloader development proceeds as planned, the one-star general said the service will demo it about the September timeframe, but it will not be ready in time for the previously anticipated 2024 date.
”That’s okay,” Brig Gen Rafferty added. “The guidance we got from the senior leaders was range, mobility, and then rate of fire when we’re ready with the right alternative.”