The US Army Is Developing a Gun With a 1,000 Mile Range

U.S. Army
U.S. Army

The US Army is developing a cannon that has a range of over 1,000 miles. They are also working on hypersonic weapons. Together, the new weapons will give the Army the ability to attack long-range targets which are currently out of reach.

Colonel John Rafferty, the program manager for long range firing weapons, expects that the new cannon will have a range of 1,000 nautical miles – the equivalent of 1,150 statute miles.

The technology to make such a weapon is so cutting edge that the Army isn’t sure it is even affordable.

There are plans to test a key piece of the new technology “very soon” at the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren in Virginia.

NFS Dahlgren was previously used to test the Navy’s electromagnetic railgun program before that weapon was sent to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to undergo further testing.

The U.S. Navy’s railgun at NSF Dahlgren, Virginia, 2017.U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY JOHN F. WILLIAMS
The U.S. Navy’s railgun at NSF Dahlgren, Virginia, 2017.

It is not clear how the Army would use a weapon with a 1,000-mile range. The Army’s current heaviest gun, the M109A6 Paladin, has a range of just 25 miles. The largest gun ever built, Schwerer Gustav, had a range of only 28 miles.

In the late 1980s, a Canadian engineer designed the System 350 heavy gun for Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That weapon was designed to launch 300-pound projectiles containing 33 pounds of high explosives up to 265 miles. The engineer was assassinated in 1990 and the weapon was never completed.

Two sections of Big Babylon.
Two sections of Big Babylon.

According to Army Secretary Mark Esper, having such a long range weapon allows the US Army to support the other military services with tactical or strategic strikes or to remove threats before human personnel enters the battlefield.

He stated that it is important for the US to have weapons with longer range than its adversaries. He compared the work on the new weapon to the development of the spear.

He said that the spear was invented to give the user range over an opponent with a sword.

He went on to say that the new fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter allows the military to attack targets before sending fourth-generation aircraft in to complete the mission. The new long-range gun would be used in much the same fashion.

A typical artillery gun uses gunpowder to launch the shell. When the gunpowder is ignited , the burning powder creates a massive amount of pressure behind the shell which pushes the shell up and out of the barrel towards the target.

White Sands missile range.
White Sands missile range.

In 2018, a report suggested that the “thousand mile gun” used rocket-assisted projectiles (RAPs). It is believed that the new technology simply scales up things that are already being used in current weaponry.

Rocket Assisted Projectiles contain a rocket motor in the base of an artillery shell. This gives the shell a  longer range but reduces the explosive charge.

If the Army used a larger diameter shell, they could conceivably use more rocket fuel in the shell which would give it a longer range.

September 1963: A sign indicating the direction of the White Sands Missile Range in Alamagordo, New Mexico. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)
September 1963: A sign indicating the direction of the White Sands Missile Range in Alamagordo, New Mexico. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Having a long range gun would give the Army the ability to attack major targets without needing to call on other services, such as the Air Force, to engage them.

The Army’s plan is to have a prototype prepared by 2023 after which it will make a determination as to whether they wish to continue developing the gun for service.

One thing that experts agree on is that the Army’s new weapon is not likely to be a variation on the Navy’s railgun.

This is partly because of the enormous amount of energy that would be required to launch a projectile 1,000 miles from a railgun.

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It is also due to the Army stating that the projectiles for their new gun are said to cost between $400,000 and $500,000. Railgun projectiles are cheap while RAPs are much more expensive.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE