By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Throughout weapons development history, the competition to build the biggest gun in the world has pushed engineering to the limits. Big guns have been mounted on Land, Sea and Rail. Now the U.S. Army is bringing back the Big Gun concept with its Strategic Long Range Cannon (SLRC).
The SLRC is designed to be transported by truck, operated by a crew of 8 per platform, with 4 platforms per battery, and has a range of more than 1,000 miles! The Army wants a prototype ready by 2023.
In the Beginning
One of the first large cannons was the Krupp-designed Schwerer Gustav. It was a railway gun created during the late 30s and could fire a 7-ton projectile 29 miles! It was designed to destroy the French Maginot line, however, the Wehrmacht’s Blitzkrieg offensive around the Maginot line through Belgium made the gun unnecessary.
During WWII, many more big guns were designed and mounted on rail cars. One railway gun the Germans deployed was the K5. The K5 was equipped with a 283mm caliber barrel that was 71 feet long. Two of the cannons were shipped to the Italian town of Anzio where they were used against U.S. forces during D-Day.
The two guns were dubbed “Anzio Annie” and “Anzio Express” by U.S. troops because of the train-like sound the incoming shells made. The K5 was also built by Krupp during the rush to build large guns that were prohibited under the Treaty of Versailles. Krupp was and is a large German manufacturing concern that produces just about everything. You may know them as the company that built your coffeemaker!
In the 50s and 60s, it was the US Army’s M65 Atomic Cannon, aka “Atomic Annie,” designed to fire nuclear artillery rounds approximately 20 miles. The Cannon used a 15 kiloton warhead, and its one and only test firing occurred in Nevada in 1953. Twenty of these cannons were built and deployed to West Germany, Korea, and Okinawa.
In the 80s, Canadian engineer Gerald Bull designed the System 350, aka “Babylon,” for Saddam Hussein. Bull’s system employed a barrel with a 350 mm diameter and was designed to fire a 3,000-pound projectile 265 miles. The cannon design died with its designer when Bull was assassinated. Rumors were that the Iranians were not happy with Bull working for Saddam. A portion of the unfinished Babylon gun was recovered by Great Britain and now resides in the Royal Armories Museum in Portsmouth, UK.
Currently, the US Army’s biggest gun is the M777 155mm howitzer, which has a range of 25 miles.
The Army is keeping the SLRC cannon propulsion system a secret. Bigger bores and barrels can only go so far. Some think it will be some type of Electromagnetic Rail Gun Technology. Some believe it must be some type of Ramjet powered projectile. To strike targets more than 1,000 miles away, some type of guidance system will be required.
Other projects currently underway by the Army is the Extreme Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA). The ERCA is a modified Paladin Howitzer with a longer barrel and advanced propellant that struck its intended target more than 40 miles away in testing this year.
Another system in development is the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon: a rocket-powered boost glide missile that was successfully test fired this year. The range is classified but believed to be 2,000 miles.
It is unknown whether the range the Army desires is cost-prohibitive or not. One estimate puts the cost of a single SLRC round at $400,000-$500,000! The cost of an Air Force Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) is approximately $1.5 million.
The Army wants to upgrade its long neglected artillery command, and only time will tell if the SLRC is technically and financially feasible.
That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – let’s be careful out there!
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.