ELGIN, Okla. -- BAE Systems of Elgin, Okla., delivered the first low-rate initial production (LRIP) M109A7 Self-Propelled Howitzer April 9 bringing the Army one step closer to gaining a more lethal and responsive weapon system in its arsenal.

The new howitzer and its associated M992A3 Carrier, Ammunition, Tracked vehicle enhance their combat-proven successors' the M109A6 Paladin and M99A212 Field Artillery Ammunition Support Vehicles' reliability, maintainability, performance, responsiveness and lethality.

BAE held a ceremony with military, political and industry partners to celebrate the delivery.

"We're excited about today and excited for the milestone it represents and the start of what we hope to be a long and continuous production of the M109A7 and, more importantly, the fielding of this capability to our Soldiers," said Adam Zarfoss , BAE Systems Artillery and Recovery Programs director. "This isn't about building systems. It's about providing combat power to our nation's Army, and this team has taken that challenge."

The M109A7's "shoot and scoot" capability was demonstrated as BAE personnel drove the system rapidly across the concrete and then spun the hull 360 degrees.

"A little over 50 years ago my father was commissioned into the field artillery corps in 1963. Interestingly enough 1963 is the same year the M109 howitzer was introduced into the force," said Brig. Gen. David Bassett, the Army's program executive officer for ground combat systems. "It's only right and fitting that today we're here to upgrade that vehicle and put a new tremendously capable vehicle into the hands of our Soldiers."

The M109A7, or Paladin Integrated Management program (PIM), is assembled with upgrades at Aniston Army Depot in Alabama and BAE Systems York, Pa. facility and transferred to the Elgin warehouse for final assembly and testing.

Maj. Gen. John Rossi, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, said the new weapon system is a home run for the Army.

Improvements include a higher profile than that of the current Paladin and a redesign to accept components such as the engine, transmission and tracks from the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Rossi likened the conversion to giving someone with bad knees and a bad back a new body.

RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
In a time when fiscal security is high, BAE representatives said using a number of common components saves the Army money in production costs, parts inventory and in training maintenance personnel.

"The whole top part of the structure is reused. A lot of the gun components are carry-overs, as well as a number of parts in the vehicle. We try to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and the materials that we can reuse, we do," said Dan Meckley, BAE Systems LRIP manager.

The new cab has more space with an all-electric system to replace the hydraulic system of its predecessor. The PIM also uses a 600-volt system from the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, which will provide enough power for future technologies.

It also has more armor to protect Soldiers inside as well as added technology that will alleviate the need to expose crew members operating crew served weapons from open hatches.

TEAM EFFORT
As Fort Sill gears up for the Fires Seminar, Rossi said PIM is the "epitome of collaboration."

"It's collaboration with the local community here in Elgin, but also the collaboration with industry. We're never successful in the Army unless we have great collaboration with the industry."

BAE is delivering 66 vehicle sets for testing and in two years time is expected to be in full rate production.

Soldiers in the 428th Field Artillery Brigade were one of the first to live fire the PIM last year. Although Sill won't be receiving any for the next phase of testing, Craig Newman, deputy field artillery commandant said "We'll always have Soldiers in the training ability and instructors from now until delivery come out and provide their input."

"As fire supporters we owe it to our maneuver brothers to have timely and accurate fires and that's what this weapon system is going to do for us. It's just a tremendous weapon system."

He said it cannot be matched and looks forward to integrating it into the training on post.

"This howitzer is a promise we're keeping to our field artillery Soldiers and it's a promise made over a number of decades going back to the system that the congressmen talked about with Crusader and NLOS Cannon and, in fact, it includes a lot of technology that the Army invested in in those systems. It's a promise kept by an amazing team of professionals," said Bassett.

He went on to quote Col. William Sheehy, Armored Brigade Combat Team project manager, who said, "You don't' send a howitzer out when you want to put up a road or build a school. You don't bring this vehicle out to pass out bags of rice.

"This vehicle is about forcing our enemies ... bringing them to the point of defeat. It's not about influence, or coercion when you bring this howitzer to the field. And when we have to send our most capable brigade formations, to fight our most dangerous missions, they're going to bring this vehicle that's sitting right behind me."