- The US Army is developing long-range cannons with a conflict in the disputed South China Sea in mind, Task & Purpose reportedWednesday.
- Explaining the need for artillery with the unmatched ability to fire a round over 1,000 miles, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper told reporters to “imagine a scenario where the Navy feels that it cannot get into the South China Sea because of Chinese naval vessels.”
- He then suggested that long-range cannon artillery firing from fixed positions on land could blow a hole in Chinese defences, allowing the US naval assets to break through.
- The Army’s ongoing efforts to develop artillery with exceptional range is driven by competition with both China and Russia.
The US Army wants a cannon that can fire a round over 1,000 miles, with the aim to blow a hole in Chinese warships in the South China Sea should a conflict occur, according to Army senior leadership.
“You can imagine a scenario where the Navy feels that it cannot get into the South China Sea because of Chinese naval vessels, or whatever,” Secretary of the Army Mark Esper revealedWednesday, “We can – from a fixed location, on an island or some other place – engage enemy targets, naval targets, at great distances and maintain our standoff and yet open the door, if you will, for naval assets or Marine assets.”
The Army, relying heavily on the newly-established Army Futures Command, is undergoing its largest modernisation program in decades, and it is doing so with a renewed focus on China and Russia, the foremost threats to US power in the National Defence Strategy.
A key priority for the new four-star command is Long-Range Precision Fires, a team which aims to develop artillery that can outrange top adversaries like Russia and China.
“Our purpose is to penetrate and disintegrate enemy anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) systems, which will enable us to maintain freedom of manoeuvrability as we exploit windows of opportunity,” Col. John Rafferty, head of the LRPF cross-functional team, explained to reporters last October.
The Chinese and Russians have made significant advancements in the development of effective stand-off capabilities. Now, the Army is trying to turn the tables on them.
“You want to be outside the range that they can hit you,” Esper told Task & Purpose Wednesday.
“Why was the spear developed? Because the other guy had a sword. A spear gives you range. Why was the sling developed? Because the spear closed off the range of the sword,” he explained. “You want to always have standoff where you can strike without being struck back. That’s what extended-range cannon artillery gives us.”
The ERCA is an ongoing project that may eventually create opportunities for the development of a supergun with the ability to fire a round over 1,000 miles. The extended-range cannon artillery currently has a range of 62 miles, which is already double the range of the older 155 mm guns.
The Army is also looking at adapting current artillery for anti-ship warfare.
During the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises last year, Army soldiers fired multiple rockets from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) at the ex-USS Racine during a combined arms sinking exercise. The drill highlighted what a war with China in the Pacific might look like.
China has one of the world’s largest navies, and there is significant evidence that it intends to use its growing military might to drive the US out of the region.