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PM Towed Artillery Systems

M777A2 entering sustainment phase of program

This past year has seen the final M777A2 production deliveries for the Marine Corps and Army completing a highly successful production run that started in 2005 for this joint program managed by Program Manager, Towed Artillery Systems (PM-TAS). But the mission is far from being concluded. While Marine Corps fielding is complete, the PM will be fielding the M777A2 to the Army’s Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs) through 2017. In addition, much of the PM focus has shifted to sustainment and completing pre-planned upgrades to the system as well as the “refresh” of electronic components based on late 1990s technology that are now facing supportability issues.

PM-TAS manages a portfolio that features the M777A2, a joint USMC/Army Lightweight 155 mm howitzer system also known as the LW155, as well as several Army programs. The M119A3, the Army’s 105 mm howitzer system, is going through a significant upgrade, adding a Digital Fire Control System (DFCS), giving the system self-locating, navigation, and pointing capabilities. PM-TAS is performing as the system integrator for this upgrade while sustaining a mixed M119A2/A3 fleet of 823 howitzers.

The D-30, a Soviet 122 mm howitzer, was added to the PM-TAS portfolio in 2010 at the direction of the Army MILDEP to support the fielding of the Afghan National Army (ANA). To date, PM-TAS has delivered 204 D-30 howitzers in support of this effort. These howitzers were secured through a variety of sources, with PM-TAS managing the overhaul and final inspection of the weapons prior to delivery to the ANA.

Even with its expanded portfolio, the M777A2 remains the cornerstone of the PM-TAS portfolio. The system cannot only deliver long-range artillery fire in support of ground troops, but its capabilities are further enhanced with an advanced DFCS to precisely and accurately locate and aim the weapon as well as provide the ability to fire the M982 “Excalibur” precision-guided munition.

PM-TAS also manages Target Acquisition Systems. The Improved Position and Azimuth Determining System (IPADS), in service with the USMC and Army, is going through an upgrade, adding GPS capability that results in the system being designated as the IPADS-G. The PM is looking forward, planning a replacement Computer Display Unit (CDU) for the IPADS-G to address obsolescence issues, ensuring the system’s supportability for years to come. The IPADS has several active Foreign Military Sales (FMS), which are managed by the program management office (PMO).

Even with its expanded portfolio, the M777A2 remains the cornerstone of the PM-TAS portfolio. The system cannot only deliver long-range artillery fire in support of ground troops, but its capabilities are further enhanced with an advanced DFCS 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).

M777

Deputy Program Executive Officer Land Systems Marine Corps Daniel Pierson, first in front row from left, joins Keith T. Gooding, program manager, Lightweight 155 (M777), Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., third in front row from right, and others in marking the delivery of the LW155 (M777) to the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Va., in September. U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command photo by Monique Randolph

As the world’s first artillery weapon to make widespread use of titanium and aluminum alloys, the lightweight M777A2 can be airlifted 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.

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, short of the Army’s AAO of 524. As a result of force structure changes, the Marine Corps just transferred 30 M777A2s to the Army, which reduces the USMC AAO to 481. More than 1,000 of the 1,071 howitzers have been delivered to date, with current schedules reflecting the delivery of the final guns in January 2014. PM-TAS does not foresee any additional production from the United States at this time.

In addition to the U.S. Marine Corps and Army, there are 54 M777A2 howitzers under FMS for Australia, with 35 of those already delivered, and 37 M777 howitzers – that’s in the basic “glass and iron sights” configuration – that have been delivered to Canada. Subsequent to the delivery of the M777s, the Canadians equipped the guns with their own DFCSs. Canada’s rapid embrace of the program was also evident in the fact that the Canadians were the first to fire the M777 in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Both services are “pure fleeted” with M777A2 guns (the “A2” can fire Excalibur), with the only difference between Army and Marine Corps configurations being that the Marine Corps howitzers do not have the run-flat tires used on Army guns. A key performance parameter (KPP) for the M777A2 is a maximum 10,000 pound weight, allowing external airlift by the Osprey. Eliminating the run-flats saved around 120 pounds, providing “a little cushion” that had been sought by Marine Corps planners.

PM-TAS was approved for a sustainment strategy that features a Performance Based Life Cycle Sustainment (PBLCS) approach that focuses on performance vice traditional transaction-based strategies. The LCS contract, competitively awarded in May 2013, provides end-to-end supply chain management of approximately 1,500 unique M777A2 parts and approximately 300 non-unique parts. This includes establishing Performance Based Agreements (PBAs) with the Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM)/Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Marine Corps Logistics Center to ensure that unique and common spare parts are available to meet the Not Mission Capable Supply (NMCS) resolution rate metric. As such, parts for dead-lined howitzers will be delivered to the unit four days after notification of the deadline or requisition date in 85 percent of all cases, and will not exceed 30 days for all others. This will also ensure that the operational availability rate of 90 percent is achieved. The LCS contract will provide engineering support to include configuration management for the unique parts and management of the technical manuals. This strategy will represent a significant improvement to the organic system utilized on similar programs. Prior to LCS, the program relied on an Interim Contractor Support (ICS) contract for unique spares. Several of the LCS tenets were implemented during ICS and have now been expanded since the March contract award. To date, this strategy has resulted in a greater than 95 percent operational availability for the M777A2.

Seeing this success, the Canadians and Australians have requested a project arrangement under the existing Memorandum of Understanding, signed by Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley, which will allow both countries to leverage the U.S. LCS contract and allow all three nations to continue to work cooperatively on sustainment issues.

Pre-planned improvements have been integrated with PM-TAS efforts to “refresh” its DFCS. The DFCS has provided leap-ahead technology for towed artillery and transformed how Marines and soldiers use artillery, having the embedded capability of the Excalibur precision round, which has been used very effectively in Afghanistan.

Seeing this success, the Canadians and Australians have requested a project arrangement under the existing Memorandum of Understanding, signed by Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley, which will allow both countries to leverage the U.S. LCS contract and allow all three nations to continue to work cooperatively on sustainment issues.

As part of the M777A2 pre-planned improvements, in 2014 fielding of an integrated Muzzle Velocity Sensor System (MVSS) along with a software upgrade that brings on-board ballistic computation capability to the system platform will commence. The MVSS will provide “real-time” muzzle velocity measurements that will feed ballistic calculations, further improving the system’s accuracy. The MVSS has also been qualified for use on the M119A3 howitzer. This is another benefit of having one program office manage all platforms. PM-TAS continuously looks for “commonality” opportunities across the portfolio while modernizing its platforms. This approach not only helps in reducing acquisition and sustainment costs, but also supports “cross-platform” training for soldiers in the Army’s IBCTs, where both the M777A2 and M119A3 system will be fielded.

Obsolescence issues combined with feedback from Marines and soldiers have resulted in several modernization efforts for the M777A2 DFCS. In 2014, an Improved Power Conditioning and Control Module (I-PCCM) will commence fielding and will replace the current PCCM, addressing power issues reported from Marines in Afghanistan. The I-PCCM will also be forward compatible with “smart” power technologies, like lithium ion batteries, currently being evaluated. These technologies have the potential to more than double the DFCS runtime while improving cold temperature performance and charging.

Improved gunners displays will also commence fielding in 2014. In addition to addressing obsolescence issues, the display utilizes LCD technology, providing greatly improved sunlight visibility and reliability, all at a reduced cost. These displays are a direct replacement for the current display, so fielding will be conducted via a maintenance instruction with displays shipped to units.

A new Mission System Computer (MSC) and Chief of Section Display (CSD) start qualification testing in 2014, with fielding planned for 2016. The new MSC will be smaller and lighter than the current MSC, providing faster processing while using less power. The CSD will utilize touchscreen LCD technology that provides superior sunlight visibility and less power demand. Just think of your circa 2000 computer compared to today’s models, which offer greater performance at a reduced cost.

Work on upgrades to the components in the M777A2 Communications Location Enclosure (CLE) has just commenced. Plans include the replacement of the current Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR) and Platform Integration Kit (PIK) with the I-PIK. The I-PIK will combine the functionality of the PIK and DAGR into a single, more reliable component. As part of this effort, PM-TAS is looking at radios that support newer waveforms while providing simultaneous voice and digital communications.

While production may be ending for the M777A2, the mission is far from accomplished, and PM-TAS is well positioned to support the M777A2 and all the platforms it manages well into the future.

This article first appeared in the Marine Corps Outlook 2013-2014 Edition.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...