what's the biggest gun?
August 23, 2007 6:15 PM   Subscribe

What is the largest calibre artillery piece currently in service? Not historic pieces but modern.
posted by wilful to Technology (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The M198 howitzer fires 155 mm shells.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 6:28 PM on August 23, 2007


Pretty sure we can get a lot bigger than that!
posted by wilful at 6:35 PM on August 23, 2007


This baby is 203 mm. But are there no super guns left ion the world? North korea?
posted by wilful at 6:40 PM on August 23, 2007


The 2S4 Tyulpan fires 240mm mortar rounds.

In terms of cannon, I can't seem to find anything bigger than 155mm. Above that, I believe you run in to problems with ammunition storage (for self propelled artillery/tanks) and rate of fire. Then you might want to consider rockets, though your question says 'gun'.

Theoretically, of course, the USS Iowa, mounting 16 inch guns, is regarded as a 'potential mobilization asset'.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:41 PM on August 23, 2007


In terms of places to do research, this page and this page are your best bets online.

It says that there are still a few 8" SP guns in service elsewhere in the world.

Do you consider a rocket launcher to be "artillery"? Or are you talking only about guns?

American MLRS launch tubes are 227 millimeter (8.9 inches). The US Army considers those to be "artillery", and MLRS has largely replaced big guns in our land-based arsenal.

The Russians have a 240 mm SP mortar, which is kind of misbegotten. Considering the state of the Russian military right now, I wouldn't be surprised if there are none which are actually in working order, though there are probably a few on the TOE.

They also have a rocket launcher with 240mm tubes.

Big guns are obsolete. They're slow, heavy, expensive, and not as effective as the alternatives. The problem is the fire rate. Experience has shown that when bombarding an enemy position, the first fifteen seconds of arriving fire are the most effective. After that, the (surviving) men at the receiving end will have found cover. So a lot of fire in a short time is more effective than even more fire over a longer period of time. Rocket launchers are better at that than big guns.

Another problem is that counter-battery fire has gotten too good. In combat, a gun that sits in one place firing for more than 10 minutes will start receiving fire in turn. So artillery engages in what's known as "shoot and scoot" -- they fire for a couple of minutes, limber up, and haul ass before counter-fire arrives. But that means the gun can't shoot for very long, which means it can't send much towards the enemy.

Those are the main reasons why the US Army has largely abandoned big guns and switched to rocket launchers, and the rest of the world is going that way, too.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:49 PM on August 23, 2007


We use cruise missiles these days to do what big artillery used to.
posted by Irontom at 6:49 PM on August 23, 2007


...are there no super guns left in the world?

Probably not. They don't make any sense on the battlefield because they're hard to move. Perhaps they can fire big shells, but lots of small shells (or rockets) are more effective, and a big gun would be too easy of an asset for the enemy to find and knock out.

North Korea?

That's an interesting question. Big guns on a mobile battlefield don't make any sense anymore. But NK has a huge number of guns north of Seoul dug into bunkers, and it's possible some of those are pretty large. But I can't find any definitive information about that online.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:59 PM on August 23, 2007


IronTom, cruise missiles are long range and expensive. The Tomahawk costs half a million dollars and only carries a half ton warhead.

They're an alternative to air strikes. Artillery is an entirely different issue.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:01 PM on August 23, 2007


Another problem for a big SP gun is ground pressure. The tracks can only be so large, and a big gun weighs a lot. That means it's easy for them to get bogged down in mud or sand, two of the most common mobility problems on the world's battlefields.

An SP rocket launcher weights a lot less, which means its ground pressure is a lot lower. It can handle poor ground conditions better, and has a better top speed of movement.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:06 PM on August 23, 2007


All I can find out about the DPRK suggests 170mm howitzers and 240mm MRLs - 5 million shells in the first hour would sound like a bit of a barrage.

BTW, the russian Smerch MLRS is 300mm.
posted by wilful at 7:10 PM on August 23, 2007


do you specifically need ground-based artillery? the main guns on the uss iowa are 406mm bore, but it was officially decommissioned in 2006 along with the wisconsin, and wikipedia claims they were the last battleships in the world in service.

so that's a little bit too late. there might be some big guns on one of the older ships in the navies around the world though.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 8:34 PM on August 23, 2007


I was going to say the 16" guns on the Wisconsin but I see she is in some sort of quasi-permanent retirement as of March last year.
posted by Mitheral at 8:39 PM on August 23, 2007


Those 16" guns can't be fired anymore. No one would want to take the risk, for one thing, after the catastrophic explosion in Number Two turret of USS Iowa in 1989.

Big gunships make as little sense now as big land-based guns, for about the same reasons. Carriers have to be big, and they're immense (97,000 tons). Boomers have to be big, and they are too (17,000 tons). But nothing else does, and all the rest of the fighting ships in the US Navy are light cruisers, destroyers, and frigates, none of which are more than 10,000 tons displacement.

The biggest gun you'll find on any of those is 5". Their main weapons are missile launchers.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:11 PM on August 23, 2007


so that's a little bit too late. there might be some big guns on one of the older ships in the navies around the world though.

I looked, and the biggest naval guns left are only 152mm (on the Brazilian _Almirante Grau_). I was surprised -- I knew that there were only a bare handful of gunships left, but Grau is the last big-gun cruiser and her guns aren't much bigger than the 5" guns on destroyers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 PM on August 23, 2007


No one would want to take the risk, for one thing, after the catastrophic explosion in Number Two turret of USS Iowa in 1989.

Iowa-class ships (on googling: Missouri and Wisconsin) did shore bombardment with their 16" guns in the first gulf war in 1991. For large values of "shore."

Maybe big guns will come back into vogue, at least for navies, when railguns become effective weapons. Or when they invent wave-motion guns.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:20 PM on August 23, 2007


ROU_Xenophobe, not likely. For the Navy, the biggest problem with a big gun is recoil.

They're useless without a rotating mount of some kind, because without that you'd have to lay the gun with the tiller, which is nearly impossible to do accurately. But if you have a rotating mount, then it means you have to have a bearing that can handle the gun recoil -- which is incredible.

When we look at a picture of a battleship we see the turret, but we don't see the part that's hidden. It turns out that the turret extended down nearly to the keel, a huge wide bearing. To enter the turrent you had to go down to the lowest deck of the ship, move under the turret, and then climb all the way inside of it.

That, at least, meant that the gun didn't tear itself off the ship when fired. On the other hand, it meant that the recoil was transmitted to the ship itself, which if you were firing broadside meant that the ship rocked massively.

That's why they fired all the guns at once. It took a long time for the ship to stop rocking from the recoil.

The big advantage of missiles is that they don't produce recoil. The launching mounts don't have to have preposterous bearings, and the ship doesn't roll when it fires missiles. Any kind of gun, whether based on powder or electromagnetic acceleration, takes the Navy back to the problem of dealing with recoil -- and they'd rather not have to deal with that.

If the recoil is huge, the ship has to be to handle the recoil. But any size ship can fire missiles, and missiles are more accurate and more deadly than gunfire.

The only reason they used big guns from 1890 to 1945 was because there wasn't any alternative then. Now there are alternatives, and they're better. No one wants to go back.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:57 PM on August 23, 2007


This article fantasises about railguns. But they'll not be particularly large-calibre. I reckon rail(way) guns are far more impressive. Which leads me to (according to Wikipedia) the largest artillery piece ever, Heavy Gustav (except for this more boring mortar).
posted by wilful at 10:20 PM on August 23, 2007


Saddam was thought to be developing a super cannon of some sort but the designer died of gunshot.late eighties?
posted by hortense at 11:41 PM on August 23, 2007


Gerald Bull designed some big ones.
posted by hortense at 11:46 PM on August 23, 2007


The only reason they used big guns from 1890 to 1945 was because there wasn't any alternative then. Now there are alternatives, and they're better. No one wants to go back.

Well, the Office of Naval Research disagrees, since they're trying to put a railgun on the DDX instead of the 5" gun.

This article fantasises about railguns. But they'll not be particularly large-calibre.

Sure, but if you're hoping for warships with gun tubes all over them, you should probably hope that railguns take off. They might be spindly gun tubes, but they're better than nothing if that's what you like.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:10 AM on August 24, 2007


Now there are alternatives, and they're better.

I bet the biggest way they're better (or at least most important to their prevalence) is that the contractors get a hell of a lot more for a missile than for a shell.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:16 PM on August 24, 2007


TOCT, fashionable cynicism notwithstanding, missiles are better than shells because they have much longer range and a much higher probability of hitting.

If USS Iowa in her prime were to take on USS Arleigh Burke (a modern guided missile destroyer) Iowa would be reduced to a burning wreck long before she got within gunnery range of Arleigh Burke.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:44 PM on August 24, 2007


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