In their earliest and rather primitive World War I guise, tanks were called "landships" by the British military testing the capabilities of such a weapon. The formidable frame of the machine itself was a key armament, and it was devised with the simple key intention of barreling through trench defenses and clearing a path for infantry.
As the decades went on, tanks became ever more sophisticated, and so did the cache of weapons connected to them. Britain's Mark I, first used at the Battle of the Somme, was equipped with a pair of 57mm cannons and smaller guns. These would have been tricky to employ on the slow-moving tank, and effective range would have been limited indeed. The M109A6 Paladin Howitzer, years later, has the astonishing capacity to (potentially) hit targets more than 18 miles (approximately 29 kilometers) away.
Here's a closer look at the development of this mighty vehicle, and the remarkable guns it employs to possibly reach such a range.
What is the M109A6 Paladin?
The M109A6 Paladin isn't, strictly speaking, a tank. Instead, it's a self-propelled howitzer, a weapons system twinned with a Field Artillery Ammunition Supply Vehicle. Running on treads, sporting modest aluminum armor and operated by a six-person crew, it has much in common with classic tanks like the M1 Abrams, but is a rather different beast.
The first M109 arrived in 1963, and was intended to rectify the M108's issue with the lighter weight of its primary weapon. The creators of this 155mm weapon, then known as United Defense LP, gave it a range of about nine miles in its first iteration, but the M109 family would expand as surely as the maximum range at which it could fire.
By the time of the Paladin (which was produced until 1999), the M109A4 had added sophisticated equipment like Mission Oriented Protective Posture Equipment, the M109A5 had upgraded to a 440hp engine, and that formidable gun could potentially strike further and more accurately than the initial M109 could have dreamed of doing.
What makes it so powerful?
Whether the projectile in question is fired from a peashooter or a huge tank cannon, there's one almost universal truth: Hitting a moving target is far more difficult than a stationary one. The same is true if the weapon itself is moving at the time. What BAE Systems wanted to do with the Paladin, then, was balance the convenience of its mobility (its 8V71T Detroit Diesel engine could propel it at 35mph) with the need to maintain accuracy.
The Paladin is armed with a 155mm Howitzer that can fire M712 Copperheads, M864s and M549A1 HERA ammo. It's the latter that has the most impressive range, over 18 miles. To make its use practical over greater distances, the Paladin boasts sophisticated software to prevent electronic interference and advanced systems to coordinate target locations through the battery fire direction center.
The M109 has been a part of the United States' arsenal since the Vietnam War, a stalwart like the M3. Its potential to strike at such a range is remarkable indeed, though how effectively it could do so is another matter.