BARROW, UK: BAE Systems workers today celebrated delivery of the 500th M777 howitzer to the US military.
Weighing in at less than 4200kg, the revolutionary M777 is the world’s first artillery weapon to make widespread use of titanium and aluminum alloys, resulting in a howitzer which is half the weight of conventional 155mm systems.
BAE Systems Global Combat Systems’ facility at Barrow-in- Furness is responsible for the prime contract management of the M777 programme, including direct customer liaison and acceptance of the weapon system in the US, control of the UK and US supply chain, engineering design authority and manufacturing and assembly of the complex titanium structures and associated recoil components. Final integration and test of the weapon system is undertaken at its Hattiesburg plant in Mississippi.
US Army officer Colonel James Matties congratulated workers on building a “superb” gun and told them it was doing a “magnificent job” in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The total number of orders for the gun currently stands at 737 in a programme worth over £1bn since it began in the mid-90s.
“This is a landmark day for a transatlantic programme which has hit every milestone along the way,” said BAE Systems’ Artillery Programmes Director Ian McMillan. “M777 follows two other Anglo-U.S. weapon success stories – the 105mm Light Gun and the 81mm mortar are both British BAE Systems designs which have been adopted by the U.S.”
Canada has a potential requirement for an additional 25 howitzers. Australia has also registered official interest in a purchase and other nations are assessing the weapon system.
Most of the 500 M777s have been delivered to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps. Canada also has 12 M777 howitzers in service with the Royal Horse Artillery. Both nations’ services operate M777s in Afghanistan, providing fire support to coalition forces. The gun is known by local insurgents as the ‘Desert Dragon’.
Its ability to be airlifted to remote positions by helicopter gives the system enormous operational flexibility and makes it ideal for a challenging environment like Afghanistan.
BAE Systems also provides support, training, maintenance and spares for the guns currently in service. The M777 effort is managed by the Light Weight 155mm Joint Program office at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.
Some M777 facts:
The M777 can fire the “smart” Excalibur round, co-developed by Global Combat Systems up to 40 km (25m) accurately enough to target individual rooms within a building, reducing the chance of innocent casualties and allowing supporting fire to be brought down much closer to friendly troops.
It can hurl a standard 43.5 kg shell almost 30 km (21 miles) at 2.5 times the speed of sound. The projectile takes just over a minute to fly this distance and reaches a maximum height of 12km. The shell reaches its maximum speed of 2900 kph (1800mph) by the time it exits the muzzle of the gun.
The energy released firing at maximum range is 40 MJ which is the equivalent of accelerating 55 family cars to 45mph in just 12 thousandths of a second.
The internal cannon peak pressure during firing reach 60,000 pounds per square inch.
The wind speed, metereological conditions and even the earth’s rotation all have to be taken into account for accurate targeting.
The gun remains stable when firing, despite its light weight, by being “out of balance” – the barrel is mounted low and forward to prevent the gun overturning when it is fired.
BAE Systems is the premier global defence, security and aerospace company delivering a full range of products and services for air, land and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, security, information technology solutions and customer support services. With approximately 105,000 employees worldwide, BAE Systems’ sales exceeded £18.5 billion (US $34.4 billion) in 2008.