PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — A christening ceremony to officially introduce the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) into the U.S. Army via an operational artillery battalion was hosted here on Sept. 15.
Maj. Adam Kinder, the event's narrator, explained that the ceremony was to honor both past and present artillery vehicles with the christening of a new product and to highlight the dedicated personnel who've put forth tireless efforts to bring the ERCA product to fruition.
"The USA’s 155mm M109 self-propelled howitzers were first introduced in 1962 as a form of armored mobile artillery that could stand up to the massed fire tactics of Soviet heavy artillery and rockets," Kinder said. "The M109 and companion, the M992 Armored Ammunition Resupply Vehicles, have been rebuilt and upgraded several times, most recently as the M109A7 Paladin.
The ERCA systems that were part of the ceremony are known officially as mid-tier acquisition prototypes. They feature an ERCA cannon integrated into the chassis of an M109A7 Paladin.
As the name suggests, the ERCA cannon was designed to provide substantially increased range compared to the cannon in the current version of the M109A7 Paladin.
"The need for our forces to maintain an unmatched posture in large-scale combat operations is critical,” Kinder said. “Our ability to attack anti-access and area denial targets gives us that competitive edge required to remain the world’s best equipped and trained military. This is why you are here as witnesses to the latest addition to our military inventory."
The event's presiding official, Brig. Gen. Glenn A. Dean III, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, said, "This is an exciting day for the artillery and artillery men everywhere."
Dean said he hopes that merely the existence of this capability will deter adversaries.
Beginning as a science and technology effort to address a growing need, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Command, Armaments Center initiated ERCA in 2015. ERCA became a significant project when the desire to deliver long-range precision fires became a priority within the 2019 Army Modernization Strategy.
The Armaments Center completed integration and assembly efforts for the first two mid-tier acquisition prototypes here over the last five months.
Dean said the hard part begins now as these systems will be aggressively tested starting when two ERCA prototypes from the ceremony are delivered to members of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, which will incorporate the deliveries into its operations immediately, as well as perform an operational assessment in 2023.
In total, 18 ERCA prototypes will eventually be produced and delivered to the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery at Fort Bliss, Texas.
"We have to take these systems, put them into the crucible of test, identify and burn away any flaws before handing them over to the great Soldiers of the Iron Thunder Battalion," Dean said.
The Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery will be providing important feedback regarding the material design and concept of sustainment.
Lt. Col. Stefan Hutnik, commander of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, said, "We are completely honored to have been selected to be the operational assessment battalion... As a battalion, we're looking forward to demonstrating our capabilities in this new platform. We understand that we'll identify best practices, ensuring those best practices for optimal employment across the entire force."
During his speech, Brig. Gen. John L. Rafferty, Jr., director of the Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team, highlighted the efforts of those within the cross functional team at Picatinny Arsenal; Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.; and Detroit Arsenal, Mich.; as well as industry partners. He recognized all those who played important roles in developing the ERCA capabilities, to include engineers, technicians, scientists, machinists, testers, acquisition professionals, Soldiers and support personnel.
"I'm very proud to serve in a people-first Army," he said. "Sometimes people ask how does that square with our laser focus on modernization systems and weapons platforms. I think it's pretty easy to take a people-first approach to modernization. What you see in front of you is absolutely impressive but not nearly as impressive as the people who put it together. They're the reason why we have the finest equipment in the world and why we're continuing to deliver modernized equipment."
The ERCA was officially christened with a bottle of artillery punch, a potent punch containing several adult beverages. Its symbolism, historic significance and charges were read by Maj. Fred Janoe.
"Artillery Punch consists of seven charges.
"The Base Charge ladies and gentlemen, traces its heritage to the Home of all Field Artillerymen Block House, Signal Mountain where every Redleg learns to cut a charge.
"Charge 2 is the champagne, which signifies the quality of the artillery the King of Battle. As it is well-known, we artillerymen lend dignity by our mere presence.
"Charge 3 is good corn squeezin's, Moonshine, which remind us of our American heritage as citizen-soldiers who served honorably and well at a moment's notice.
"Charge 4, quality scotch, represents our British heritage. It recalls our noble allies with whom we have fought many rounds and with whom we guard freedom today.
"Charge 5, a cognac, represents the French, who contributed so much to the winning of our national freedom and who have provided many fine artillery pieces for our Army.
"Charge 6 is a blended bourbon to serve as the catalyst that binds our punch together. It represents all the services, all the men of arms and all our allied nations. And it serves to remind us of our common bond, and that no one arm can do it all. We must have a combined arms team on the field of battle.
"The Final Charge is a red elixir representing the color of artillery and reminding us of the blood shed by so many in the pursuit of freedom."
The ceremony ended with the singing of The Army Song.