Ok, the house-cleaning first: I want to thank everyone for your patience, and for continuing to send articles, this past week in my absence. It is much appreciated.
Ok, with that said, let's dive back in. Judging by the amount of people that sent me some version of this story, I suspect that my well-known fascination with artillery, and particularly artillery systems that "push the envelope", was the reason why. But I also suspect that many of you who passed along some version of this story also were noticing a few "weird" things in the article, and their correspondingly "weird" implications. So with thanks to everyone who saw and shared the story, here's one version of the story:
There are a number of interesting things to note about this:
However, advances in the military-technical field by U.S. rivals like China and Russia—who have each developed advanced hypersonic deterrent weapons—have gripped U.S. war-planners with a feeling of insecurity over the state of the U.S. military’s overstocked arsenals, as well as a nagging sense that U.S. power is on the long-term decline.
With that in mind, the U.S. Army set about developing a brand-new weapon: a powerful cannon that can fire a projectile over a distance of more than 1,150 nautical miles—or the same distance between Nashville, Tennessee and New York City.
The Army hopes that the new cannon can offer an edge on U.S. adversaries who have their own formidable defensive and deterrent capabilities. Rafferty believes that a U.S. strategy imbued with long-range air defense systems and artillery and coastal defense seamlessly integrated with long-range, over-the-horizon radars will be difficult to counter for U.S. foes.
In a recent interview, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told Defense News:
A lot of that comes down to cost.
If we are able to develop the strategic, long-range cannon system, the rounds may be only $400,000 or $500,000 compared to multimillion-dollar rounds. Cost does matter, and we are concerned about cost.
There are some, definitely, physics challenges in doing these types of things, and that is the trade-off.(emphases added)
In other words, the US Army is looking for a "super-cannon" that (1) has a range of around one thousand miles, (2) can be integrated into a strategic posture with other systems for continental defense (and notably, particularly with over the horizon radars), and (3) whose operational cost of building, maintaining, and bombarding, is relatively low; a low-cost artillery projectile, versus a multi-million dollar missile.
But exactly in what role does the Army expect this cannon to function? This is a crucial question, for reasons we'll see in a moment when I flesh out today's high octane speculation. The answer to that question might be implied by the sentence in the above quotation, "The Army hopes that the new cannon can offer an edge on U.S. adversaries who have their own formidable defensive and deterrent capabilities." In other words, this cannon us being envisioned as a kind of penultimate stand-off weapon, capable of offensive strategic bombardment, or alternatively taking out targets - large naval vessels for instance, as the article notes also its integration into coastal defense.
These are all important clues as to what type of weapon we may be looking at. And I don't think we're looking at a conventional artillery piece, with a barrel, propellant, breech, recoil and recuperator cylinders, equilibrators, trunion, cradle, carriage and so on. Indeed, there have been only three such long-range conventional cannon systems, and only one of them was ever operational. These were (1) the Germans' World War One "Paris Gun", with which they shelled Paris (mostly ineffectively, incidentally) from over 70 miles away; (2) the post-war French experiments with a similar gun conducted by the French firm of Schneider-Cruesot, and Canadian-American ballistics expert Dr. Gerald Bull's "super-gun" of the 1980s which he was building for Saddam Hussein, with a reputed range of about 1000 miles, and capable (allegedly) of firing small satellites into orbit. In the case of the German and French efforts, the guns were at least semi-mobile, and could be moved around, but their operational range was nowhere near that suitable for "strategic" purposes. In the case of Dr. Bull's gun, this had to be permanently emplaced on the side of a mountain(!), and was more or less a fixed target. Dr. Bull's gun was never completed, as he was assassinated shortly after returning from Iraq, by whom no one knows, but the conventional wisdom is that the Israeli Mossad took him out. It is worth mentioning, however, that Dr. Bull's thoughts on ballistics were inspired by the Germans' "Paris Gun," and were fleshed out during a long-term research project he was doing for the US army in the 1960s and 1970s called project HARP (not to be confused with the Air Force's ionospheric heater in Alaska, Project HAARP).
But I suspect that here we're looking at something completely different, something that can be used to target accurately and that can be used in both offensive and defensive roles. To achieve that, and to avoid the problems of a very large, but still very conventional type of system such as Dr. Bull was developing for Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a weapon forever wedded to a mountainside, I suspect that if this story be true, then what the US Army might be trying to develop is a very large, but mobile, electromagnetic rail gun. Rail guns are simply weapons that replace the standard barrel of an artillery piece with a "track" or "rail" along which a projectile is propelled to extreme velocities not by chemical propellant but by the force of electromagnets. As such, they could conceivably be used as "rod of God" kinetic weapons based on the ground, and capable of doing enormous strategic damage (Tianjin chemical plant, anyone?), and possibly capable of being used as anti-satellite weapons, coastal defense, you name it. Indeed, during the era of Reagan's "Star wars" strategic defense initiative, a railgun system firing many small bullets like a shot gun was proposed called Brilliant Pebbles. Many in the alternative research field think that some such system is evident on the famous NASA STS 48 space shuttle video, where "something" on the earth's surface appears to be shooting "something" at UFOs visible on the space shuttle's camera system.
The problem with rail guns - which incidentally were first proposed before World War One - is not to much the concept, but the limitations of technology, for they require massive amounts of electrical power. In World War One, that's a problem...
... today, it isn't so much.
That's what I think they're up to... and there's one more disturbing thing that the article mentions. In mentioning the alleged range of the weapon, it indicates that it would have a range from New York City to Nashville (or conversely, Nashville to New York City). They could just as easily have said "Seoul to Beijing" or "Warsaw to Moscow".
But they didn't.
See you on the flip side...