Reminiscent of how recent program growth has brought strength and synergies to the PEO Land Systems structure, the former lightweight 155 mm element has been expanded to provide the synergies that come from a broader portfolio of towed artillery systems.
“That’s much more on the Army side than on the Marine Corps side, because we are a joint program office,” acknowledged Program Manager, Towed Artillery Systems (PM TAS), Keith Gooding. “However, I think there is a tremendous benefit for the Marine Corps in the fact that we are now ‘plugged in’ to a bigger Army artillery profile – including dealing with their 105 mm howitzers and dealing with target acquisition systems.
“In terms of other howitzers, for example, we have the M119 ‘legacy’ systems that we deal with on the Army side and we even have a Russian D-30 howitzer program, where we are refurbishing howitzers to support the Afghan National Army,” he said.
A cornerstone of the PM TAS structure remains the “Triple Seven,” the M777A2 Lightweight 155 mm Howitzer that the Marine Corps is using to replace its old M198 155 mm weapons.
The system can not only deliver long-range artillery fire in support of ground troops, but its capabilities are further enhanced with an advanced digital fire control system to precisely and accurately locate and aim the weapon as well as provide the ability to fire the M982 “Excalibur” precision-guided munition.
The M777A2 is capable of firing standard (unassisted) projectiles to a range of 15 miles (24 kilometers), assisted projectiles to 19 miles (30.5 kilometers), and the Excalibur munition to ranges in excess of 25 miles (40 kilometers).
As the world’s first artillery weapon to make widespread use of titanium and aluminum alloys, the lightweight M777A2 can be air-lifted into remote high-altitude locations inaccessible by ground transportation and is capable of being transported by the Marine Corps’ V-22 Osprey and medium-lift and heavy-lift helicopters.
“M777 Lightweight 155 is still a joint program – Army and Marine Corps – with the Marine Corps still the lead service,” Gooding explained. “Mr. [Sean J.] Stackley, the ASN RDA [assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition] is still the milestone decision authority and Mr. [William] Taylor is still our PEO. We are currently in production and our prime contract is with BAE Systems in the United Kingdom.”
As of this writing, there are 1,071 M777 howitzers on contract. That figure includes 511 for the Marine Corps, which reaches the Marine Corps Authorized Acquisition Objective (AAO), and 488 for the Army, which is a little short of the Army’s AAO of 524.
Both services are “pure fleeted” with M777A2 guns (the “A2” can fire Excalibur) with the only difference between Army and Marine Corps models being that the howitzers coming off the production line for the Marine Corps do not have the run-flat tires used on Army guns.