Soldiers use the M777 howitzer to fire high explosive munitions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008.

FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 15, 2011) -- Great guns wraps up its look at 100 years of field artillery with a look at the M777, a replacement to the M198 155 mm howitzer.

The new lightweight field artillery piece has only seen action since May 2007, when it began combat operations in Iraq; less than a year later Soldiers were firing the M777 in Afghanistan.

With the Army seeking increased strategic mobility, the M777 tipped the scales in favor of being the artillery piece to meet this requirement. Weighing in at slightly over 9,000 pounds, the new towed artillery piece was a dramatic improvement to its predecessor -- the 15,000-pound M198. Titanium alloys are the foundation of this lightweight howitzer and do not compromise its strength when compared to heavier artillery built with steel.

But, this isn't just a lighter weight weapon system, because technology changed too providing the new generation artillery piece with a greater ability to deliver rounds on target.

"When the Triple Seven was being developed collateral damage was kind of a minor issue, then over the last few years with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, collateral damage increased in importance," said Boyd Dastrup, field artillery historian. "The virtue of the M777 is it can fire a futuristic family of GPS guided munitions giving the artillery piece superior accuracy."

This accuracy comes in part from an advanced field artillery tactical data system. When combined with precision munitions, such as the GPS guided Excalibur, the system computes all data to deliver the munition on target from just about any direction, he added.

The M777 is also easy on the operating crew as it uses an automated firing system like the Paladin that doesn't require manual gunnery work. With the M198, cannon crew members initiated their firing by surveying the landscape to determine the exact spot they were firing from. This time-intensive work is no longer required as the M777 can determine its own location and deliver fires accurately.

"In many ways, the M777 is advanced technology here and now," said Dastrup. "Based on what it's been doing the last few years in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is the field artillery piece of the present and future."

Dastrup added military planners project a 10- to 15-year life span for the M777. Technology was driving change yet again as its intended replacement was projected to be the non-line-of-sight cannon. This weapon along with the nonline-of-sight launch system, which he referred to as "rockets in a box," were high-expense items and fell to congressional budget cutting measures.

Still, the Army will hardly be burdened with a short-lived weapon. The M777 was designed and produced with the most-current technology available and may be upgraded as improvements become reality.

Along with its technological advances, the M777 fits better with an Army which may see a reduction in manning. Unlike the M198, which took nine Soldiers to operate, the Triple 7 can function with only five.

"Years ago (Maj.) General (Fred) Marty, (Field Artillery Center and Fort Sill commanding general) said, 'Perfect is the enemy of good. We're always after perfect,' which means it takes so long to get something out with all the bugs ironed out," said Dastrup. With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq calling for updated U.S. firepower and munitions, the importance was to get the M777 and Excalibur to the field.

The Army chose to field the two, fully functional, but not to the high standard for which they were developed. Those standards will likely come with time and further testing.

"Based on video footage, it's an impressive weapon and has been rated as a very good artillery piece," said Dastrup. "The Army has a great artillery piece for its needs now as well as whatever the future may hold."

Page last updated Thu December 15th, 2011 at 12:03