Heavy Metal with the M777 155mm Howitzer
If you are a US Solider or Marine hunkered down in some remote forward base and the perimeter is crawling with what are politely called, 'unfriendly', the sweetest call that can be made is for a fire mission. Since 2005, this type of call has increasingly gone to a new, effective, and hard-hitting howitzer-- the Triple 7.
Why the need
During World War 1 (1914-1918), large caliber heavy artillery became the all-encompassing Mother Medusa of the modern battlefield. The United States entered that war behind the technological 8-ball and had to make due with French 155mm guns to provide punch for the dozens of new infantry divisions sent 'over there'. The French guns weighed 7300-pounds and could fire three 100-pound shells a minute out to 12,400 yards.
US troops had a blast with the old French GPF 155's. We liked them so much that we still have the best 155's in the world a hundred years later.
Following WWI, the US decided to design their own 155, the 13,000-pound M114 that could fire four shells a minute out to 16,000 yards. In the quest for bigger, faster, and better, the Army replaced this gun with the M198 in 1977. The M198, designed with input from fighting in Vietnam, could fire four rounds per minute out to an amazing 24640-yards. That's 14-miles. The problem was, the gun weighed just a hair under 8-tons. While it could be parachuted into tight spots, or carried by supercargo USMC CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, it was still a heavy beast.
Then came the M777 of today.
Trying to upstage the 1960s technology of the faithful but dated M198 howitzer, the M777 started as the Ultralightweight Field Howitzer (UFH) project. This project took a step back and looked at every ounce, every pound, and redesigned it from the ground up. Through this process and the use of space age titanium alloys to preserve strength but melt away weight, the gun came in at just 7,500-pounds.
From reading about the evolution of the 155mm howitzer above, you can see this is about half the weight of the M198, or for that matter the WWII-era M114, and almost as light as the original French 155 of 100 years ago. However, the M777 fires farther (range of 15 miles with the standard M107 round, 25 miles out with the Excalibur round), somewhat faster (at 5-rounds per minute), and has a smaller crew of just 8 men-- although 5 can crew it in a pinch. This smaller weight allows the gun to be carried easier, by more aircraft and vehicles than older systems, while providing more firepower.
An 8-man crew of a Canadian Army M777 firing 9 rounds on a fire mission in Afghanistan in 1 minute 25 seconds flat. Official rate of fire is five rounds per minute..or about 12 seconds per shot...This crew would seem to shave a bit off that.
Although a British design, the gun is built with 70% US-made parts including barrels from the world famous Watervliet Arsenal. Final assembly is at the BAE factory in Hattiesburg Mississippi. Hattiesburg, for those who don't know, is home Camp Shelby JTC, great BBQ, and the USM Golden Eagles (where Brett Favre cut his teeth). Does it get any more 'Merica than that?
The M107 round, standard fodder for the 155mm howitzer in US service. Nearly 32-inches long and weighing in at 95-pounds, it is propelled by a 'white-bag' charge and when explodes into 1950 thumbnail sized fragments of shrapnel. Something you want on your side for sure. This round has been supplemented and will be replaced in service by the even better 103-pound M795 and Excalibur rounds-- all of which the M777 can fire. (2010 USMC photo)
After slinging around hundred pound shells all day, and having to work to emplace 7500-pound howitzers, the upper body strength of a cannon cocker must be amazing. Never pick a fight with a man who slings a sledge one handed, or has access to a gun that can pick you and your terrorist buddies off at 40-miles. Speaking of which, the crew-member to the far right is hugging a M4A2 whitebag propellent charge like his first girlfriend. You would too once you knew it contains approximately 13 lbs. of multi-perforated propellent capable of vaporizing you if it went off.
Adopted first by the US Marine Corps in 2005, the Devil Dogs have become the most ardent user of the M777. With 580 planned units to be delivered, this 155mm gun is already serving with the fleet down at the MAU/battalion level. Another 421 have been ordered for the US Army and National Guard, where some have already had to drop it like it was hot in Afghanistan. An additional 200 of the guns are in use or on order by our allies India, Australia, Canada, and Thailand.
They know a good thing when they see it.