U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Australia team up to improve range and accuracy of the M777A2 howitzer.
by Capt. Luis Gaitan-Tovar and Katherine Bound
Team effort by Army, Marine Corps and Australia improves range and accuracy of the M777A2 howitzer.
The Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A) has partnered with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command – Armaments Center, the U.S. Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office and the U.S. Marine Corps to increase the range and accuracy of the M777A2 howitzer, a potential move toward the enhancement of joint multidomain operations. This collaborative effort is termed the Long Range Cannon project.
Modernizing long-range precision fires capability is a top Army priority, and JPEO A&A and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command – Armaments Center, both located at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, are responsible for research, development, production, procurement and delivery of lethal armaments and ammunition for the joint warfighter. The organizations seized an opportunity to expand the boundaries of their partnership by taking advantage of international agreements that facilitated collaboration with U.S. allies, including the Australian Defense Force (ADF).
LEVERAGING EXISTING TECHNOLOGIES
The genesis of the Long Range Cannon project was the M777 Extended Range (ER) Howitzer project, a 2014 prototyping initiative to significantly extend the range of the currently fielded M777A2 variant. That effort involved the incorporation of a longer cannon tube for extended range firing; a more efficient muzzle brake to minimize blast-over-pressure on the gun crew; a reinforced recoil yoke for higher firing loads; longer road arms to compensate for the increased tube length; an upgraded recoil system for extended range charges; and upgrades to the balancer system. In all, no structural changes are needed, as all of these are bolt-on assemblies. Dubbed the ER Kit, the prototype components can quickly be retrofitted onto existing howitzers.
In 2018, Army leadership prioritized the M777ER for acceleration and expanded the scope of the effort by adding the condition of improved accuracy at extended ranges. That, in turn, called for a new name—the Long Range Cannon. To achieve the dual goals of expanded range and improved accuracy as expeditiously and cost-effectively as possible, the Long Range Cannon team hopes to maximize use of existing resources and leverage several technologies already in development.
Through a system-of-systems approach, the Long Range Cannon program integrates the M777ER with several high-potential, extended range and GPS-degraded or -denied artillery technologies, including the Location and Azimuth Determining System for more secure and accurate survey control and target acquisition; a projectile tracking system for improving impact accuracy; and a high-explosive, rocket-assisted projectile along with a supercharged propellant to achieve the desired maximum ranges.
The team plans to use the extended range armament to modernize the current weapon-ammunition interface, in an effort to further increase the maximum effective range that the M777ER can achieve. The information resulting from the interface modernization will also provide early data points for the Army’s emerging Mobile Howitzer program.
CREATING NEW OPPORTUNITIES
Many of the improvements to the M777A2 howitzer have resulted from multinational agreements put in place several years ago, and new synergies resulting from those agreements are beginning to carry into the Long Range Cannon effort.
The synergies take the form of information sharing. Engineering, program management and logistics representatives from each of the participating nations meet biannually to exchange lessons learned, provide program updates and plan improvement projects for the M777. Participants include personnel from the ADF’s Combat Support Systems Program Office, Land Maneuvers Systems Branch and Land Systems Division as well as U.S. Marine Corps and Army staff assigned to the Program Manager for Towed Artillery Systems within JPEO A&A. Those meetings have yielded bilateral and multilateral agreements for M777-related research, development, testing and evaluation production, repairs and sustainment.
In September 2016, the defense departments of the U.S. and Australia endorsed a project arrangement for M777 improvement and sustainment activities that ultimately increased the reliability, availability and effectiveness of the howitzer. In a nutshell, the arrangement enabled interoperability and configuration commonality—key focus areas of multidomain operations.
“The Australian Army’s introduction into service of the M777A2 howitzer has successfully digitized and increased the responsiveness of the land component of ADF joint fires,” said Brig. R.A. Vagg, ADF director general for systems and integration. “The Australian Army has a strong desire to maintain interoperability with the U.S., inclusive of common weapon configuration.”
EXPANDING U.S.-AUSTRALIA PARTNERSHIP
Discussions during this year’s cooperation meeting led to the formation of an integrated product team focused on long-range artillery efforts. Two major outputs resulted from the first team engagement.
The first output defined Australia’s collaboration in mobility and transportability trials to support the Long Range Cannon project. The major objectives here are to determine overlapping requirements and to maximize the benefit of data obtained.
Along with collaborating in those trials, the ADF is contributing to the production of operator and maintainer white papers for M777 logisticians and operators from Australia and the U.S., which are critical in supplementing M777 logistics products. ADF also expressed interest in contributing to additional testing activities for the Long Range Cannon effort, the extent of which will be determined through a follow-on team meeting.
The second output of the initial team meeting was a determination of in-country support of the Long Range Cannon project. Through the project arrangement, Australia acquired ER Kits that will be used for demonstrating the capabilities of the system in different terrain and climates. U.S. engineers will provide technical assistance as needed.
An inaugural meet-and-greet involving stakeholders from both nations was held in August in the United States. Part of the engagement included a demonstration of the Long Range Cannon capability.
As the operational landscape continues to evolve, U.S. forces strive to demonstrate commitment for free and open societies—a critical effort that spans the continuum of armed conflict, multidomain operations and natural disaster relief. In leveraging existing modernization efforts to increase long-range precision fires capability and existing international collaboration vehicles to expand partnerships with U.S. allies, Team Picatinny remains on path with the Army’s strategic vision for 2028.
CAPT. LUIS GAITAN-TOVAR serves as the Long Range Cannon project lead for the Program Manager for Towed Artillery Systems (PM TAS) within JPEO A&A. He holds an M.S. in management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a B.S. in business administration from the University of Louisville. He is Level I certified in program management.
KATHERINE BOUND is the international acquisition operations officer for PM TAS. She holds an M.S. in management from the American Military University and a B.S. in engineering from the Cooper Union. She is Level II certified in engineering.
This article is published in the Fall 2019 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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