Pentagon urges US Army to boost 155mm artillery rounds’ range

US Lieutenant General Carl Gingrich, Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs [G-8], urged the US military to think beyond just acquiring new artillery systems, stressing the importance of improving the range of artillery shells. On Tuesday, Gingrich highlighted that future artillery capabilities could see significant enhancements through innovation in the artillery rounds themselves, rather than simply upgrading the launch tubes. 

Ukraine gets 155mm M982 guided shells: PBX warhead, 23-70 km range
Photo credit: Naver

He explained, “It’s possible to achieve the required ranges and lethality for divisional operations by enhancing the rounds instead of purchasing entirely new systems.” 

Gingrich added, “Rather than getting a longer gun barrel, there are technologies out there—many of which your companies represent—that allow us to optimize existing gun configurations, whether it’s 39 calibers, 52 calibers, or the like, with 52 being a common NATO standard today.”

As part of the Extended Range Cannon Artillery [ERCA] program, designed to replace some of the current M109A7 Paladins, the Army is also focusing on the development of advanced 155mm artillery rounds. The program initially included plans for a now-canceled tracked self-propelled 155mm howitzer. 

In a push to enhance projectile firing ranges, the Army first experimented in 2018, successfully doubling the range of its M777 towed howitzer using rocket-assisted projectiles. 

Following the M777 tests, the Army launched the ERCA program. This initiative involves a howitzer featuring a 30-foot gun tube mounted on a Paladin wheelbase. The primary aim is to extend the range from 30 km to 70 km.

BulgarianMilitary.com noted that in February, aligning with the Ministry of Defense’s National Defense Industrial Strategy, the U.S. Army made a strategic decision. They decided to significantly ramp up production capacity for 155 mm artillery ammunition. This effort, led by the Joint Arms and Munitions Program [JPEO A& A], targets producing 100,000 155 mm artillery shells per month by 2025. 

Ukraine expects dozens of T-72 tanks and 155mm M777 towed howitzers
Photo credit: Wikipedia

To address the growing demand for ammunition, the JPEO A& A quickly rolled out several measures. These included additional shifts, investments in supply chain resilience, and targeted facilitation efforts. 

Currently, the U.S. Army produces 30,000 155mm rounds per month, a significant increase from the previous 14,000 rounds before the Ukrainian conflict. Furthermore, there are plans to build and commission new production facilities to further boost production capacity. 

The U.S. military has an assortment of 155mm artillery shells tailored for specific missions. One prominent example is the M107 High-Explosive [HE] shell. This shell packs a powerful blast and fragments effectively, making it ideal for targeting personnel, light vehicles, and fortifications. Fired from a standard M109 howitzer, it achieves a range of about 18.1 kilometers [11.2 miles]. 

us made m795 shell
Photo by Lance Cpl. Sean Searfus

Another crucial type is the M795 High-Explosive shell, which boasts enhanced range and lethality over the M107. With a maximum range of up to 22.5 kilometers [14 miles], the M795 is crafted with a thicker casing to generate more effective fragmentation. It’s commonly used for general bombardment and counter-battery operations. 

The also employs the M549A1 Rocket-Assisted Projectile [RAP] to extend the reach of its 155mm artillery. Featuring a rocket motor that ignites mid-flight, the M549A1 can cover distances up to 30 kilometers [18.6 miles], making it perfect for long-range engagements. 

Precision-guided munitions are another vital piece of the US 155mm artillery toolkit. Take the M982 Excalibur, for example. It’s a GPS-guided shell, delivering pinpoint accuracy that minimizes collateral damage and maximizes effectiveness against high-value targets. This smart munition can strike up to 40 kilometers [24.8 miles] with an impressive circular error probable [CEP] of less than 10 meters. 

Ukraine gets 155mm M982 guided shells: PBX warhead, 23-70 km range
Photo credit: The Diplomat

But that’s not all—the US military also uses specialized shells like the M864 Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition [DPICM]. The M864 is engineered to scatter submunitions across a target area, making it highly effective against both personnel and light vehicles. This shell can reach targets approximately 29 kilometers [18 miles] away.

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