Howitzer millions

BAE Systems has been awarded an $834 million dollar contract for full-rate production of the M777A1 lightweight 155mm howitzer.

Under the production contract, issued by the US Joint Program Office, BAE Systems will manufacture 495 howitzers over the next four years.

The M777A1 was designed and developed by BAE Systems in the UK, and is a joint program between the Army and Marine Corps to replace the M198 towed howitzer.

The M777A1 is the first ground combat system to make extensive use of titanium and titanium castings, which reduces the weight of the howitzer by 7,000 lbs. The lightweight howitzer can be transported by Marine Corps MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and airdropped by C-130 aircraft.

The lightweight howitzer program is currently in low rate initial production after the company received a contract in November 2002 to manufacture 94 howitzers. The LRIP units were used during operational testing at Twentynine Palms, CA, in October 2004. During the four-week joint Army-Marine Corps test, nearly 12,000 artillery rounds were fired by four production howitzers. The operational test verified the weapon was reliable and met or exceeded all of its operational requirements.

In May, the 3rd Battalion 11th Marine Regiment, located at Twentynine Palms, will be the first unit fully operational with the M777. All 94 LRIP units delivered to the Marine Corps will be upgraded with a digital fire control system (DFCS) as part of the full rate production contract.

The DFCS was developed as a pre-planned product improvement to the M777. It uses inertial navigation together with GPS and vehicle motion sensor to accurately locate and point the howitzer and digitally interfaces with the existing Army/Marines Corps fire control system. The DFCS is currently being modified to integrate the Excalibur precision-guided projectile with the M777A1. The Excalibur will give the M777A1 better than 10 metre accuracy at all ranges out to 40 kilometres. The Excalibur capability will be fielded with the Army’s first operational M777A1 howitzers during 2006.

The howitzer is assembled at BAE Systems’ integration facility in Hattiesburg, MS and incorporates components manufactured in 10 states and the UK.