Sill Soldiers test digital 105mm howitzer
October 11, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- A workhorse howitzer with a modern fire control system has been undergoing testing at Fort Sill.
Testing of the digitized M119A2 105mm howitzer continued with air mobility slingload operations Sept. 18. It was part of the final evaluation of the lightweight howitzer, which features a computerized fire control system. If accepted by the Army, the weapon system will be fielded to airborne and air assault units, as well as ground units.
The Army Operational Test Command Fires Test Directorate here worked with USAOTC's Airborne Special Operations Test Directorate from Fort Bragg, N.C., to conduct the slingload evaluation.
Just west of Forward Operating Base Mow-Way, Soldiers of B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery secured a digitized M119A2 to a hovering CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the Oklahoma Army National Guard based in Lexington, Oklahoma.
Several load configurations of the digital howitzer were tested including the howitzer alone; howitzer with ammunition; a tactical load (howitzer with a Humvee - its prime mover); and a tandem of howitzers. Once hooked up to the Chinook, the aircrew flew in various flight patterns involving certain banks and speeds.
"We're testing the full gamut of how we would operationally employ this weapons system," said Lt. Col. Jack Keaton, FTD Artillery Test Division chief.
Program managers will brief the results of all the testing to senior Army leaders, who will make the decision to field the piece or not, said Craig Mosier, FTD test officer. That decision may come this fall or winter.
Although the M119A2 has been in service for years, it is the Army's last field artillery gun that does not have a digital fire control system, Keaton said.
The digital fire control system takes the digital fire mission from the forward observer and processes it through its Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System computer. The AFATDS continually takes information from the howitzer, such as position location, propellant temperature and muzzle velocity, said Capt. Jared Cox, B/2-2nd FA commander, whose Soldiers have fired more than 12,000 rounds testing the new system.
In a non-digitized system, it would take a few minutes to do each one of these tasks, then the information would be manual entered into the fire control system.
"The digital fire control system makes things a lot smoother," Cox said.
The digitized howitzer began a series of tests in February. First was developmental testing for safety, or user risk reduction, said Maj. Robert Pratt, 2-2nd FA battalion operations officer.
It had to get through the safety gates first, then operational testing began, Keaton said.
Operational testing included program managers training field artillery Soldiers, as individuals and units, on how to use the digitized howitzer.
"Following that, we conduct a pilot test to ensure all the pieces and parts are in place," Keaton said.
Next comes the record phase test where a field artillery unit is given the computerized 105mm howitzer, and given tactical missions in operational conditions to test its performance, Keaton said.
B/2-2nd FA was selected to perform the user risk reduction and the record tests. The "Salute Battery" routinely trains on the 105mm howitzer and fires it in its many ceremonial duties, but its Soldiers still had to take a 40-hour course to get familiar with the digital fire control system.
Topics included emplacing the gun, ammunition management, inertial navigation system, muzzle velocity system and the gunner's display, Cox said.
Working with the digitized 105mm, field artillery Soldiers will be able to transfer their training to other digitized artillery weapon systems, according to Cox.
"It's going to help Soldiers as they go to digitized Triple 7s (M777 155mm howitzer) and Paladin (155mm howitzer tracked vehicle) units because some of the components are commonly found on all the systems," Cox said.
Field artillerymen will still have to learn the nuances of the 119 just like they do on the Triple 7 and Paladin, "but the nuts and bolts of shooting and shooting safely are going to be the same," he said.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Wallace, B/2-2nd FA section chief, said he fired between 5,000 and 6,000 rounds in the test system.
"The fire control system eliminates a lot of human error," he said. "Now, to me it's part of the gun."