PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- A joint-service program office at Picatinny Arsenal has completed development and is managing the purchase of 589 new lightweight 155mm howitzers for the Army and Marine Corps.
An $843-million four-year contract has been awarded to BAE Systems, of Barrow-in-Furness in the United Kingdom, to manufacture the weapons and 94 digital fire-control retrofit kits, according to Jim Shields, deputy program manager for the lightweight 155mm howitzer program.
Shields said that the howitzer is known as the M-777A1 howitzer in the services inventories.
The M-777A1 will replace all of the corps current M-198 towed howitzers and will be the artillery system for the Armys Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, he said.
As the first ground combat system to make extensive use of titanium in its major structures to trim weight, the M777A1 is 7,000 pounds lighter than the weapon it replaces.
The weight reduction improves transportability and mobility without impacting range or accuracy, Shields said, adding that the system is compatible with the entire family of 155mm ammunition.
The new howitzer is transportable by the Marine Corps MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and two can fit on the C-130.
Currently, BAE Systems is manufacturing 94 howitzers under a low-rate initial production contract, Shields said.
The first 94 weapon systems will be equipped with an optical fire control system that will be upgraded to incorporate digital fire control under the full production contract, he said.
All 495 full-production units will be manufactured with digital fire control systems also known as towed artillery digitization or TAD.
The 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, located at Twentynine Palms, Calif., will be the first unit fully equipped with the weapon.
Shields said that BAE Systems facility in Hattiesburg, Miss., is assembling the howitzer.
Approximately 80 percent of the howitzers components are built in the U.S., Shields said. We utilize a supply chain that spreads across 10 states, the U.K., Canada and Italy.
The Armys Watervliet Arsenal in New York manufactures the cannon assembly, he said.
The howitzer system underwent a successful joint-service operational test during October 2004 at Twentynine Palms, Shields said. During the four-week test, nearly 12,000 artillery rounds were fired by four M777A1s.
The system demonstrated high reliability, met or exceeded all its operational requirements, and a team of independent evaluators determined the M777A1 was both operationally suitable and effective.
The M777A1 will be capable of firing the Armys Excalibur precision-guided projectile that is also under development at Picatinny Arsenal.
Excalibur will be fired out to a range of 40 kilometers from the M777A1, and because of its GPS and inertial navigation guidance, will deliver precision-strike capability (less than 10 meters Circular Error of Probability) at all ranges.
Excalibur is scheduled to be fielded in late 2006 when the Army starts taking delivery of its first M777A1s.