The Army is about a third of the way toward its goal to acquire an upgraded fleet of nearly 700 tracked, mobile artillery cannons but will nearly double its inventory over the next five years if a recent budget request is approved.

More than six years ago, the Army began a program to improve the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled 155 mm artillery cannon, which was fielded in 1994.

Since the improvement program began then, they’ve been able to put more than 200 of the weapons into their arsenal and more than 200 more are on the way over the next five years, with an ultimate goal of having 689 Paladins in stock over the next decade, according to recently released Army budget request documents.

When the program started, initial goals were for 580 upgraded Paladins. Strategic concerns about Russian and Chinese fires modernization has pushed that number up by more than 100 in recent years.

Those improvements and procurement will keep the currently quarter-century-old mobile cannon blasting away until 2050.

Last year soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas, did test fires of the M109A7 Paladin.

Soldiers with the unit’s “Bone crusher” Battery fired hundreds of artillery rounds each day for two straight weeks to test the durability, reliability and ease of use of the advanced system.

The variant being tested included interior upgrades to accommodate the crew and hold more rounds. Developers also increased armor protection, which one soldier said dampened the noise and reduced blast over pressure — the shock wave produced by firing the 155 mm round.

Key upgrades from the previous version are digital displays and a 70-kilowatt, 600-volt on-board power system.

The M109A6 Paladin 155 mm Self-Propelled Howitzer, along with the M992A2 Field Artillery Ammunition Supply Vehicle, provide the primary indirect-fire support to armored brigade combat teams. (Army)
The M109A6 Paladin 155 mm Self-Propelled Howitzer, along with the M992A2 Field Artillery Ammunition Supply Vehicle, provide the primary indirect-fire support to armored brigade combat teams. (Army)

Improvements allow a crew of four soldiers — driver, gunner, commander and loader — to operate the vehicle to fire a round in under 60 seconds.

But other than comforts and soldier protection, the operationally significant upgrade comes in allowing the Paladin to shoot farther with more accurate and deadly rounds being developed, tested and fielded.

One such round is the XM1113, which could be available to units within the next two and a half years, Brig. Gen. Stephen Maranian told Defense News, an Army Times sister publication, in March.

The Extended Cannon Range Artillery round would push fires out to the 24-mile range, be safer for soldiers and more precise for targeting.

The specific descriptors are XM1113 Insensitive Munition High Explosive Rocket Assisted Projectile, or XM1113 Rocket Assisted Projectile, according to Army officials.

That’s designed to be compatible with the existing Precision Guidance Kit, or PGK, which lets soldiers turn traditionally “dumb” artillery rounds into “smart” precision rounds.

The additional distance happens through a rocket assist inherent in the design of the XM1113.

Limited production of the round is scheduled for late 2021.