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Analysis: US M109A6 for Ukraine 155mm self-propelled howitzer combat capabilities

The Ukrainian armed forces will receive M109A6 artillery systems from the United States, one of the most modern self-propelled howitzers in the world produced by the American company by BAE Systems Land and Armaments. The M109A6 is able to fire the latest generation of ammunition including the M982 Excalibur extended-range precision-guided projectiles at a maximum firing range of 40 km.
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An M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer is positioned for a test fire at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command training area on March 23, 2015, in Grafenwoehr, Germany. (Picture source U.S. DoD U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Nicole R. Paese)

On January 6, 2023, the United States Department of Defense announced a new military aid package for Ukraine, and for the first time, the U.S. will provide the Ukrainian army with 18 M109A6 Paladin 155mm tracked self-propelled howitzers.

The M109A6 Paladin is a self-propelled, tracked howitzer artillery system used by the United States Army. It is an upgraded version of the M109 series, with the "A6" designation reflecting improvements made in comparison to its predecessors. The Paladin was first fielded in the mid-1990s and has since seen service in various conflicts and operations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The M109A6 has a crew of five, consisting of a commander, a gunner, two ammunition members, and the driver. The hull is made of all-welded aluminum armor. It also has improved armor protection to withstand counter-battery fire and other threats. The driver is at the front of the hull on the left, the power pack is to his right and the turret is at the rear. The turret also houses the crew compartment, where the commander, gunner, and ammunition loader work.

The primary armament of the M109A6 Paladin is a 155mm M284 howitzer which is able to fire a wide range of ammunition including High Explosive (HE), High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), White Phosphorus (WP), illumination rounds, and GPS-guided Excalibur artillery round.

The M109A6 Paladin is designed to provide a high level of mobility on various types of terrain, allowing it to keep pace with mechanized units and rapidly deploy to firing positions. Its tracked chassis provides excellent off-road capabilities, while its suspension system is designed for a smooth ride and improved stability during firing operations.

The engine of the M109A6 Paladin is a turbocharged diesel engine, specifically the Caterpillar 3126, which is capable of generating around 440 horsepower. This engine provides the Paladin with sufficient power to achieve a top road speed of approximately 61 km/h and a range of about 320 kilometers on a full tank of fuel.

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The Excalibur (XM982, M982, and M982A1) is a 155 mm, Global Positioning System (GPS)-guided, extended range artillery projectile in use as the Army’s next-generation cannon artillery precision munition. (Picture source U.S. DoD)

The M109A6 Paladin is able to fire the M982 Excalibur artillery round, a GPS-guided, extended-range projectile designed to provide precision targeting capabilities to 155mm howitzers like the Paladin. The projectile utilizes GPS guidance to accurately strike targets with minimal deviation from the intended impact point. This increased accuracy allows for more effective engagements and reduces the need for multiple rounds to neutralize a target. Excalibur's onboard guidance and control system allows for trajectory shaping, enabling it to avoid obstacles or reach targets in complex environments, such as urban areas or mountainous terrain.

The Excalibur round offers an extended range compared to traditional artillery projectiles. Depending on the variant and firing conditions, the Excalibur can reach targets at a distance of up to 40 km or more. Some sources state that the range can be extended up to 60 km under optimal conditions. This extended range enables artillery units to engage targets from a safe distance while still providing effective fire support.

Thanks to the integration of a GPS guidance system, the M982 Excalibur has better accuracy compared to conventional artillery rounds. When fired from a 155mm howitzer, the Excalibur round can achieve a Circular Error Probable (CEP) of less than 10 meters.

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