WASHINGTON — It is not often the Pentagon concedes the Russians are ahead in some aspect of military power. On Monday, they did just that.
At one of the breakout roundtable press conferences at the annual exposition of the Association of the U.S. Army, officials said the U.S. military has fallen behind the Russians in the prowess of accurate and advanced artillery — a grim realization the Pentagon made after watching Russian support of separatist forces in Ukraine.
Because of the that — and because of this year’s mandated return to possible war competition with Russian and China — the Army is now testing new artillery, officials said Monday.
Some tests were as recent as last week, Gen. John Murray, the head of the newly created Army Futures Command, told reporters Monday. He said the Army tested an Extended Range Cannon Artillery round that traveled roughly 38.5 miles at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.
“Russia still has a slight advantage in terms of quantities,” Murray told reporters Monday. “Quality I would still argue we’ve got the edge. They (the Russians) developed some capabilities that outranged our tactical cannon artillery which is leading us down (the development) path.”
Long-range precision fire, of which artillery is the foundation, is one of six modernization priorities outlined by Army Secretary Mark Esper. The Army’s Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team is part of the Army Futures Command.
A report earlier this year by the RAND Corporation, a research organization that has a strong focus on defense issues, said most Russian artillery have 50 to 100 percent greater range than U.S. equipment.
One Russian attack that shook the Pentagon came in mid-July 2014. Ukrainian Army troops were mustering near the Russian border as part of a then, an ongoing successful operation to cut the supply line of separatist forces.
At about 4:30 a.m. on July 11, the Ukrainian forces were hit with a furious artillery barrage that lasted three minutes and left at least 20 dead, about 100 wounded and wiped out dozens of vehicles, according to published reports. It also blew apart Ukrainian troop morale, reports said.
A similar pulverizing occurred on over the weekend of Jan. 28, 2017, according to news reports.
The Pentagon does not need further reminders, Murray said Monday.
An additional $2.5 billion was added to artillery development and testing for fiscal years 2017 to 2022. Another $1.5 billion is being earmarked to modernize ammunition manufacturing plants, Army officials have said.
The Army’s M777ER program has the goal of boosting the range of smaller U.S. howitzers from 15 to 25 miles to beyond 40 miles, the Army has said. That would match the range of the Russian Koalitsiya-SV howitzer. In a release, the Army said it would use a rocket-boosted shell called an XM1113 to add distance.
Murray also has said the Army is working on enhancements for the M109A6 Paladin 155mm howitzer as well as a long-range cannon with a projected range of 1,000 nautical miles, or roughly 1,150 miles.
At present, the 155mm howitzer-fired artillery has a range of up to 14 miles. Upgrades to the Paladin self-propelled howitzer pushes that to nearly 18 miles.
The Army has had some missteps trying to move forward with artillery. The $11 billion Crusader self-propelled artillery system was canceled in 2002 for being too heavy and too expensive. The Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, which used parts from the Crusader, was part of the canceled Future Combat System program.