The proving ground actively supports six of the Army Futures Command’s Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) building the Army’s future force, which seeks to retain overmatch with near-peer adversaries in a high intensity conflict while maintaining the competency in waging irregular warfare that has been achieved since the 9/11 attacks.
Chief among these priorities is the CFT concerned with long-range precision fires of artillery and the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) program, which aims to field systems capable of accurately firing at targets more than 70 kilometers away, a dramatic increase over the 30 kilometers a currently-fielded 155mm howitzer shell is capable of when fired at top zone with rocket assistance. YPG conducts developmental testing of multiple facets of it, from the artillery shells to the longer cannon tube and larger firing chamber the improved howitzer will need to accommodate them. YPG’s ammunition plant has been instrumental in building multiple experimental formulations, shapes, and configurations for new propelling charges to accommodate the improved projectiles.
One aspect of ERCA currently being tested at the proving ground is the XM1113 projectile.
“This is one in a series of engineering tests we have been conducting to improve the reliability of the projectile,” said Anthony Austria, test officer. “We’re testing a large sample across a range of temperatures and firing zones.”
Though capable of substantially longer ranges, the new projectile is remarkably similar to currently- fielded 155 mm rounds. The most significant difference is in the round’s much-larger rocket, which testers want to ensure functions properly even when fired under extreme conditions.
“The majority of this test is being fired at top zone plus excess, which means it is a little bit more than what you would normally see in the field,” said Austria.
Methodical test fires of the new round are vitally important, and recovering the fired rounds for careful analysis even more so. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, a stop movement order implemented by the Department of Defense prevented visiting personnel from traveling from other installations. Rather than halt the critically-important and time sensitive testing for the duration of the crisis, YPG personnel found innovative uses for existing technology to allow for remote oversight.
“We are using three different means: video; screen-sharing where customers can see real-time test data; and teleconferencing,” said Kermit Okamura, Munitions and Weapons Division chief. “We’ve been doing this for several weeks and are still refining the process. We move out and get it done.”
At the gun position, the personnel were most impressed by how seamlessly the new electronic oversight was integrated into the daily rhythm of testing.
“The remote oversight hasn’t changed our normal procedures much,” said Austria. “It does require a little more set-up in the morning, but it doesn’t impact our firing operations very much.”
More noticeable were the social distancing policies and increased hygiene measures that were implemented across the proving ground. Personnel unable to maintain six feet of separation were required to wear cloth face coverings at all times, and each work section at the gun position was required to thoroughly clean their areas multiple times per day. A cleaning station with supplies was prominently situated in a central location within the gun position, with a checklist schedule on a clipboard.
“Every station cleans twice per day,” said Austria. “We get enough free time at lunchtime to do it.”
YPG is essential to Army modernization efforts because natural environments testing cannot be duplicated in a laboratory, conditioning chamber, or computer simulation. The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped the proving ground’s vital work, and modernization testing will continue apace into the long-term future.