Artillery genius Gerald Bull would have been impressed.
The Canadian inventor who went to the dark side, only to be brutally gunned down by suspected Mossad assassins in Belgium, was building the biggest gun that ever existed for feared Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Bull knew advanced artillery could be done, and the US military has now proven it.
According to the UK’s Daily Mail, a “supergun” being trialled by the US military has successfully fired an artillery shell to hit a precise target at a distance of more than 43 miles (70 kilometres) away.
Breaking the record for the longest precision-guided cannon shot in history, the “extended-range cannon artillery system” was tested at a firing range in Arizona, the Mail reported.
The weapon has now achieved its designed range — following a successful shot over a distance of 40 miles (65 kilometres) back in March of this year.
The supergun was developed with the aim of being able to shell enemy positions from a safe distance, well beyond the range of any potential retaliatory strikes, the Mail reported.
The US army has said that the new piece of heavy artillery will be readied for deployment onto the battlefield by the year 2023.
“I don’t think our adversaries have the ability to hit a target on the nose at 43 miles,” Brigadier-General John Rafferty — who is in command of the long-range artillery development project — told The Times.
The successful shot — made at Arizona’s Yuma Proving Ground — followed two undertaken on the same day which failed.
Strong winds meant that the first attempt fell short of its target, while the second failed due to an unspecified malfunction.
The experimental supergun is also testing a new design of guided artillery shell — the Excalibur S — which is also being trialled by the US Navy.
Developed by Raytheon, a US-based defence contractor, the Excalibur S is equipped with a GPS system that allows it to accurately course correct and laser seeker technology that enables it to even hit moving targets.
The biggest supergun ever conceived, however — dubbed “Big Babylon” — was commissioned by the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 1988.
It was based on the research of the Canadian artillery expert Gerald Bull, who had hoped to build a gun capable of economically launching satellites into orbit.
Work on the project was abandoned in 1990 after Bull was assassinated outside of his home in Brussels, Belgium, on March 22.
It has been largely speculated that his assailants were operatives from Mossad, the Isreali National Intelligence Agency.
The remains of Big Babylon — and its smaller precursor, “Baby Babylon” — were seized and largely destroyed in the following year by the United Nations. One piece remains in the Imperial War Museum in Duxford.
According to BBC News, Big Babylon would have overshadowed all previous supergun designs for size – including guns built for military use like the giant German guns from the two World Wars and later spacegun designs.
Using nine tonnes of special supergun propellant, Big Babylon would have been theoretically capable of firing a 600kg projectile across 1,000 kilometres, putting Kuwait and Iran well within striking distance from inside Iraq.
Alternatively, the gun could be used to launch a 2,000 kg rocket-assisted projectile carrying a 200kg satellite, BBC News reported.
To do this would have required an enormous charge.
“One very considerable technical problem with a gun of this size is how you ignite the charge,” says Nicholas Hall, Keeper of Artillery at the Royal Armouries.
“It burns quickly, but with such a long barrel you need a sustained release. This means you need to solve some far more complicated calculations than with smaller types of artillery.”
He believes Bull could have worked it out though.
“We know roughly what the projectiles would have looked like. Something similar to an anti-tank round, where the projectile is housed in a light-weight casing which falls away at the muzzle of the gun. Beyond that, we don’t really know.”
Had Bull been able to solve these issues, the capabilities of Big Babylon would have made the supergun an attractively cheap way to launch satellites, BBC News reported.
The cost was roughly $1,727 per kilogram, adjusting for inflation. By comparison, NASA estimates that it costs $22,000 per kilogram to launch a modern satellite into orbit using conventional rockets.
While the Vietnam war was raging, Bull’s researches on projectile aerodynamics had made him, and his company Space Research Corporation, into a hot military-industrial property, GlobalSecurity reported.
In pursuit of space research, Bull had invented techniques that lent much greater range and accuracy to conventional artillery rounds.
With Bull’s ammunition, US Naval destroyers and battleships could cruise miles off the shore of North Vietnam, destroying the best Russian-made shore batteries without any fear of artillery retaliation.
North Vietnamese troops would call it “silent death.” You could not hear the shell coming, only the resulting deadly explosion.
On 22 March 1990, Dr. Bull was surprised at the door of his Brussels apartment.
He was shot five times, in the neck and in the back of the head, with a silenced 7.65 millimeter automatic pistol.
Reuters reported that $20,000 in cash was left untouched in his pocket, leading investigators to believe that he was slain for other reasons.
Meanwhile, self-propelled howitzer designs from Israel, Serbia, and Sweden, as well as American models, will take part in a US Army shoot-off at Yuma Proving Ground early next year, The War Zone reported.
The service is looking for new mobile artillery piece for its brigades equipped with Stryker armored vehicles, which are presently equipped with towed 155mm M777 howitzers.
Israel’s Elbit Systems, Serbia’s Yugoimport, and UK-headquartered defense giant BAE System’s Bofors division in Sweden have all confirmed that they will be taking part in the event. American automotive company AM General will also be participating.
The competitors are as follows, courtesy Breaking Defense:
- AM General, maker of the iconic Humvee, is offering the Brutus, boasting a unique recoil-reduction system (built by Mandus Group) that lets them mount the gun on a relatively lightweight truck. This is a brand-new system not in service with any army.
- BAE Systems, which builds the M2 Bradley and other heavy armored vehicles, is offering the Archer, built by its Swedish branch and already in service with the Swedish army.
- Global Military Products is offering a Serbian gun, the Yugoimport NORA. Not much is known about about this one.
- And the Israeli ATMOS Elbit, an up-and-coming company in Israel, is specifically bringing the same 8×8 configuration used by the Israeli Defense Force, nicknamed “Iron Sabre.”
Sources: The Daily Mail, Times of London, BBC News, GlobalSecurity, The War Zone, Breaking Defense