U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Keeler/DVIDS
- A U.S. Army Paladin howitzer shot down a low-flying cruise missile.
- The project is part of an effort to repurpose existing weapons to do new things.
- U.S. Army guns, which were originally designed to rain explosive shells on the enemy, can now engage low-flying aircraft, cruise missiles, and likely drones.
A U.S. Army howitzer successfully engaged a simulated cruise missile, shooting it down with a projectile traveling at Mach 5. The howitzer crew was assisted by a new U.S. Air Force battle management system. The test is the result of a Pentagon program designed to take existing weapon systems and modify them to take on new and important roles.
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The intercept took place at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. In a key test for the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), B-52 bombers launched six BQM-167 “Skeeter’ aerial targets. The “Skeeters” served as a stand-in for a salvo of low-flying cruise missiles.
Air Force sensors detected the “cruise missiles” and then provided targeting data to a F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter and MQ-9 Reaper drone equipped with AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, a ground launcher, a U.S. Navy 5-inch deck gun, and U.S. Army M109A7 Paladin self-propelled howitzer.
According to Air Force magazine, the Paladin fired a new hypersonic Mach 5 hypervelocity projectile and successfully intercepted the target. The Hyper Velocity Projectile, or HVP, is made by BAE Systems and uses technology developed for the U.S. Navy’s railgun program. The result is a howitzer round that flies faster and can be used to precision-target ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, ships at sea, and targets on the ground. BAE says a Paladin howitzer can fire the HVP to a range of up to 43 nautical miles, and fire six rounds per minute.
Here’s footage of a BQM-167 launch:
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The test was a win for the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO). Established in 2016, the SCO’s mission is to take existing military technology and modify it to assume an entirely new role. In this case, a self-propelled howitzer designed to rain high explosive artillery shells on targets more than a dozen miles away was equipped with a new projectile that can shoot down cruise missiles. Until recently, this was known as the Department of Defense’s Third Offset Strategy, meant to ensure the U.S. maintains a lead over a rising China without bankrupting itself in the process.
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The test is a big win for the U.S. Army’s artillery branch. Now, in addition to providing fire support to tanks and artillery, the Army’s 155-millimeter howitzers can shoot down cruise missiles–so long as the Air Force’s flying sensors can provide targeting data. The test strongly suggests the new HVP round can intercept other aerial targets, including low-flying aircraft, helicopters, and perhaps even drones.
The successful use of a howitzer, of all things, to intercept a cruise missile shows the military can introduce new capabilities without designing entirely new weapon systems. Rather than develop an expensive new anti-cruise missile system, a program that almost certainly would cost billions of dollars, the Pentagon took literally the last weapon system you would think capable of shooting down a cruise missile and made it work.
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