The Extended-Range Cannon Artillery test vehicle arrives in D.C.

The Extended-Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) test vehicle is seen here as it arrived in Washington, D.C., for the annual Association of the United States Army convention in October. An ERCA prototype is almost finished at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., and will soon head to Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., for testing.

Editor's Note: In the second of a three-part series, Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team, tells how the Army cross-functional teams came about, why the one he’s in charge of is the Army’s No. 1 modernization priority and what new armaments are in the works.

While the U.S. and its coalition partners were preoccupied with counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, its near-peer adversaries invested in long-range artillery, long-range and sophisticated air defense systems, and coastal defenses that bring about a layered standoff.

In the event of a major conflict, this layered standoff would deny us access to the operating area and prevent our tactical formations from closing with their opponents, notes Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team (CFT).

Long-range fires is a way to degrade that layered standoff so that U.S. forces can enter the operating area, close with and destroy the enemy, and enable them to fight as either a combined arms team or a joint force, he explained.

Multi-domain operations – the Army’s new operating concept – looks at how U.S. forces can simultaneously converge effects across all five domains: land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.

“It’s integration over time, a convergence of these effects for maximum payoff,” Rafferty said.

The central idea of multi-domain operations is to penetrate the anti-access and area denial system that the layered standoff represents. Once inside their integrated air defenses, capabilities now in development could dis-integrate enemy systems – meaning to disconnect one from another so that they are much less effective.

“That’s why long-range precision fires is the No. 1 modernization priority for the Army, because it enables everything else to happen. At the strategic and operational level we enable the joint force. We enable access for the Navy by eliminating coastal defenses. We enable access for the Air Force by eliminating sophisticated air defense systems.

“And not all of them, right? All we want to do in this idea of penetrate and dis-integrate is to create a window of opportunity for exploitation,” he said.

Although it stands right now as an Army operating concept, that idea runs the gamut from rifle companies to battalions to brigade combat teams to the joint level involving Air Force and Navy fighters.

As former Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley evaluated multi-domain operations, understood the central problem and the fundamental idea, he determined that he had six modernization priorities and put them in order so that, at the tactical, operational and strategic levels, he could make multi-domain operations a reality for the Army.

Other modernization priorities include next-generation combat vehicles and tanks, integrated air and missile defense (also based at Fort Sill), future vertical lift to include attack and reconnaissance and unmanned vehicles, the Army network that all its forces rely on, and soldier lethality.

As the senior leaders evaluated the need for this modernization, leaders like the late Sen. John McCain encouraged the Army to change the way it does research and development and acquisition of equipment. An Army task force met behind closed doors to evaluate new ways to approach modernization.

The Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army could look around the table and ask, “Who’s in charge of modernization?” It was split multiple ways. Training and Doctrine Command would have a piece, Army Materiel Command another piece, members of the Army staff still another, and so on. There wasn’t really one person who was a commander that was responsible for modernization, explained Rafferty.

“That is in a nutshell the main rationale behind the creation of Army Futures Command. Like anything else in the Army, let’s put somebody in charge of it and resource them to accomplish their mission and then hold them accountable to get it done. That’s how we achieve results in the Army. That’s how any organization achieves results,” he said.

“And then it’s ‘how do we put laser-focus on particular projects,’” he said.

The Army no longer expects the slow-moving logical processes of the Industrial Age to keep up with the pace of change in the Information Age. Using that method, any new weapon system would already be obsolete by the time it was fielded. So it looked to the business world for answers. And that’s where the idea of having cross-functional teams came from.

“Let’s count on them, let’s support them right from the top, and expect them, as the Secretary of the Army says, to pull these things through the knothole of the Army so that we can get this stuff in the field, with the expectation that we’re going to improve these things incrementally, with technology spirals.

“But the key thing is just to maintain momentum. And we have momentum, but we have to maintain it by delivering improvements to our combat capabilities as quickly as we can, get them in the force and then keep improving them,” he said.

The Long-Range Precision Fires CFT focuses on three signature systems, but it also has a part to play in a fourth being developed by one of its sister CFTs at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

The two that get talked about the most are Extended-Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) and the Precision Strike Missile, abbreviated as PrSM and pronounced “prism.”

BAE Systems Elgin Operations is where the upgrade to the Paladin howitzer, the M109A7 or Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) system, is assembled. Rafferty describes it as a ‘waist down” upgrade of the Paladin because it mainly involves the chassis with its hybrid power system.

ERCA would transform everything from the turret rim up. Its gun tube length will jump from 39-caliber (about 20 feet) to 58-caliber (about 30 feet). That will generate more muzzle velocity, increasing its firing range.

The chamber will be redesigned so there’s more room for different types of propellant.

“At the same time we’re developing a new rocket-assisted projectile. Right now the rocket-assisted projectile we have was developed in the 1970s. We haven’t made any of them in 25 years. We have enormous stockpiles of these munitions that still work, but those go to about 30 kilometers. The rocket-assisted projectile we’re doing now will go 70 kilometers,” Rafferty said.

“That projectile is reliant on a new propellant, which we’re calling the super-charge. And super-charge is right now being sewn by hand into bags at Yuma Proving Ground for testing,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ERCA prototype is at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., waiting for one last part to arrive before it can be put on a truck and delivered to Yuma Proving Ground for testing later this month.

The PrSM will replace the Army tactical missile, or ATACMS, which has been around for 30-plus years. The replacement missile would deliver a more lethal, longer-range, smaller missile all in the same package.

The static rocket motor tests for PrSM have been completed, and it will shortly undergo its first full flight tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

The other two systems in which the Long-Range Precision Fires CFT has a stake are at the strategic level.

“The one we’re primarily leading is called the Strategic Long-Range Cannon. And this is a pretty closely guarded program that is on a technology demonstration path to demonstrate full-range in 2023,” Rafferty said.

“This program is structured to knock down challenging technology hurdles in a logical fashion leading up to the full integration and demonstration of this capability in ’23. The first technology hurdle really had to do with the initial propelling charge for the projectile and measuring the interior ballistics of that propelling charge to ensure that designs of the system were going to be able to handle that propelling charge and the chamber pressures inside, in kind of a violent gun-launch environment.

“That all went incredibly well. So we think we’re off to a good start with the program. As we move forward with the program it’s important for us to keep in mind that at these strategic ranges this projectile better be more than a hand grenade when it gets there. So lethality and affordability of these projectiles are something we have to keep in mind all the time.”

Rafferty said there isn’t anything like the Strategic Long-Range Cannon in the world right now, and it could very well be game-changing in its use of surface-to-surface fires to defeat integrated air defenses and anti-access and area denial systems.

The other strategic system is the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon in development at Huntsville, Ala., with Lt. Gen. L.Neil Thurgood as director of that program.

“But we represent the operational community on that team, and so we’ll write the technical requirement document, and we’ll continue to work across the Fires Center of Excellence and (Maj.) Gen. (Wilson) Shoffner’s team to ensure that the rest of the domains associated with delivering that capability in 2023 are all there.

“The Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon is an exquisite munition. They’re quite expensive, but they deliver a virtually undefendable capability against our adversaries and could be used very effectively against some of the fixed sites (think command and control facilities) and things like over-the-horizon radars and those sorts of things that support the anti-access and area denial systems,” Rafferty said.

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