The cannon of the 21st century - the Howitzer M777
By Mike Hanlon
December 4, 2005
December 5, 2005 The Chinese were the first to experiment with explosive powders around 300 AD but it was not until 1252, when the secret ingredients of those powders were documented in an essay by Roger Bacon that the age of the cannon and “gun powder” began. The cannon of the modern era was first used sometime between 1300 and 1350 and was widely used throughout Europe by 1400, redefining warfare and reaching the heights of its powers in the 17th century before further technological developments matched its key military role. These days it would be easy to underestimate the role of the cannon in warfare where brute force has been replaced with surgical precision but ponder for a minute the capabilities of the new Howitzer M777. The M777 is the first ground combat system to make extensive use of titanium and aluminium and is approximately half the weight of comparable systems, making it easily transportable, easily towed across country at high speed and easily fitted to faster, lighter, purpose built vehicles. It is capable of firing a 155mm shell at up to five rounds per minute while achieving high levels of accuracy with targets up to 30 kilometres away. Firing Raytheon’s new Excalibur satellite-guided artillery shell, the M777 has proven pinpoint accurate, and although specifications call for them being capable of striking within ten metres at a range of 40 kilometres, tests have shown much greater accuracy.
Currently in low initial rate production, the Excalibur shells are coming in at around US$140,000 each, but once full production begins, the new Excalibur XM982 rounds will cost roughly 30 times more than existing unguided artillery shells which costs around US$1000 each, but are only accurate with 200 metres.
In terms of its ability to take out a target, the Excalibur can deliver precision-strike capability to a range of 40 kilometers because of its GPS and inertial navigation guidance - it is accurate to less than 10 meters Circular Error of Probability at all ranges. Accordingly, army studies have shown the Excalibur to be far more cost-efficient in taking out targets. The M-777A1 will replace the US Army’s current M-198 towed Howitzers and will be the artillery system for the Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, weighing in at a staggering 7000 pounds less than the unit it will replace. The weight reduction improves transportability and mobility and is transportable by the Marine Corps’ MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft with the C-130 capable of carrying two.
The M777 is the world’s first 155mm howitzer weighing less than 10000lbs (4218kg) achieved through innovative design and the use of titanium and aluminium alloys. It is designed specifically to meet the growing requirement for flexible and accurate artillery fire support being capable of rapid re-deployment by battlefield helicopters and of being towed by lightweight limber or utility vehicles.
Over $US100m has been invested in the development of the M777, which has been monitored and audited by US authorities, passing each stage with full acceptance. It is the most reliable and risk-free howitzer available today.
Equipped with a fully integrated digital fire control system the howitzer can be brought into action in less than one minute, and moved to an alternative firing position in less than three minutes.
The speed of movement, deployability, rapid into and out of action times and overall manoeuvrability around the battlefield makes the howitzer 70% more effective than its predecessor in terms of rounds fired and target effect (before the Excalibur rounds are taken into account), and also offers enhanced survivability.
The M777 was designed and developed by BAE Systems, and is a joint program between the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to replace the M198 towed howitzer. An excllent article on the M777 can be found here.
New Transport Concept for M777
A new transport concept for the M777 155mm howitzer was recently showcased which could make it even moiré devastating.
Developed in response to a specific UK MoD requirement, the M777 Portee system combines the strengths of the 155mm howitzer with a purpose built vehicle developed by Supacat. The integrated system has been extensively evaluated by the UK MoD, during which both tactical and strategic mobility were assessed and over 350 rounds fired in test conditions.
The 8x6 Portee System is a new vehicle design utilising suspension technology developed for Supacat's highly successful High Mobility Truck (HMT) 'family’. These vehicles are now entering service in 2-axle and 3-axle form with both the UK and US armed forces. They offer a significant improvement in mobility over other wheeled military vehicles. The HMT suspension system makes the Portee ideally suited to operation over difficult and demanding terrain.
This ‘Portee’ vehicle has the capability to transport the howitzer onto C-130 aircraft, amphibious craft as well as move as a compact system for longer road or cross country journeys. On reaching the combat area the howitzer is quickly dismounted, allowing it to be towed rapidly into and out of action and up to 3 ammunition containers can be carried in its place allowing a total of over 70 readily available rounds.
The HMT has been selected as the universal platform for a number of roles in the British Army, including mobile communications Ground Station, EW Ground Station, UAV Ground Station, lightweight mobile artillery platform (rocket) and for other specialized applications.