India’s howitzers have New Jersey roots

Chris Ayoub
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COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Joint Program Manager for Towed Artillery Systems, Program Executive Office for Ammunition and Marine Corps Program Executive Office for Land Systems

TITLE: M777 India production lead, program management engineer

YEARS OF SERVICE IN THE WORKFORCE: 7

DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II in engineering; Level I in program management

EDUCATION: B.S. in mechanical engineering, Rutgers University


India’s howitzers have New Jersey roots

By Susan L. Follett

Two M777A2 howitzers arrived in India in May, marking an early milestone under a contract that eventually will provide that country with 145 M777A2s starting in late 2018. Christopher Ayoub is a key player in that effort, as program management engineer for the Program Manager for Towed Artillery Systems (PM TAS) within the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.

Being the M777 India production lead, Ayoub helped establish a letter of offer and acceptance between India and the United States in December 2016, and a contract with the prime contractor shortly thereafter. He assisted in answering inquiries from India and was the government’s lead technical evaluator in establishing the contract, coordinating various reviews by the team throughout the technical evaluation and negotiation process.

The howitzer components and subassemblies will be manufactured in the United States and United Kingdom, then shipped to India to be put together at the assembly, integration and test facility. Watervliet Arsenal in New York will manufacture the cannon assembly, to be provided as government-furnished equipment (GFE). In addition to supplying the howitzers, PEO Ammunition, along with BAE Systems, will provide technical manuals, training programs and engineering support to develop firing tables so that the Indian army can fire its own ammunition. PM TAS will begin training the Indian army on the howitzers next year.

Ayoub leads a team of government and contractor employees through the cost, schedule and performance aspects of the M777 production program. The team is responsible for the GFE contracts, the prime contract, material handover and warranty portions of the foreign military sales (FMS) case. With roughly 20 people, the team represents an array of skills, Ayoub said. “We have people with experience in design, production and program management, and people with experience in working with other government agencies and acquisition centers—it’s a true integrated product team.”

Ayoub and his team recently encountered a production issue at a manufacturing site for a key component. “The biggest challenge we face is to make sure we’re monitoring priorities at government facilities, and that we’re keeping an eye on production and delivery schedules,” he said. “Through communication and developing a contingency plan, we were able to mitigate the risk that the throughput problem might have caused.”

The India FMS case, which also covers five years of spare parts, “turns the production lines back on” for the howitzer, Ayoub noted. “As the M777 reaches the sustainment and active-refresh portion of its life cycle, being able to realize cost savings for spares due to economies of scale on an active production line has benefited all customers,” he said. In addition, “Ensuring that there is an institutional knowledge that’s being maintained and developed for the future by keeping production lines operational is vital to the artillery community over the long term.”

He has traveled to India a handful of times as part of the project, sitting in on meetings at the Ministry of Defense to discuss the FMS case with high-ranking members of the Indian army’s Directorate General for Artillery, and touring the facility where the joint receipt inspections and material handover for all deliverables will take place. As the contract progresses, someone from his team will be in India each month.

“The experience has been eye-opening,” he said. “The difference in the culture is very interesting to see, and from a professional development standpoint, I would never get to sit through meetings with members of the U.S. Army at those levels. It provides insight into what officers at that level are looking for when being briefed.”

An engineer by training, Ayoub got his start in acquisition in 2010. After college, he was looking for an employment opportunity “that was not ‘traditional.’ Having interviewed at Picatinny Arsenal, I knew it was a good fit for what I was looking for,” he said. “And seven years later, it is just what I thought it would be: Every day means a new challenge, and never is one day like the previous one.”

In 2013, Ayoub took a temporary position as the component acquisition lead for the 105 mm M119A3 Howitzer that ended up having a long-term impact on his career. “At the time, I had been managing my own acquisition efforts, but in the component acquisition role, I was forced to expand my knowledge of procurement contracts and the impacts that they had at a programmatic level,” he said. “I had the opportunity to sit in on higher-level meetings, and that helped expand my knowledge base for leading a program. That assignment was also the first time in my acquisition career that I managed a team.”

Also influential to Ayoub’s career was his decision to expand his skills by getting his Project Management Professional certification. “That certification gives me a toolset to evaluate the health of any program, as well as an understanding of the indicators for making that assessment,” he explained. “It’s invaluable for anyone looking to further a career in project or program management.”

Finding “a core group of leaders and peers” is also a big factor in long-term career success, he said. Officially part of the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and assigned to PM TAS, Ayoub had access to two different groups of potential mentors. “I had the chance to be mentored by various people in different stages of their careers who were able to provide insight on both technical and programmatic perspectives,” he said. “The guidance I have received from the branch chiefs, divisions chiefs, program managers, functional leads, project leads and peers has been instrumental in helping me get to where I am.”


This article will be published in the October – December 2017 Army AL&T magazine.

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