By John B. Snyder, Watervliet ArsenalFebruary 14, 2018
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- The Watervliet Arsenal has started work on a $50 million foreign military sales contract to manufacture 145 howitzer cannon systems that will support the Indian army.
When this contract was announced in January 2017, it was the largest sales contract the Arsenal had signed in at least 30 years.
Under the contract, the Arsenal will manufacture M776 155-mm barrels and associated parts that will become an integral part of the M777A2 lightweight howitzer that BAE Systems will provide to India as part of a foreign military sales contract that it (BAE) had received from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Despite the great fanfare when the Indian order was announced, it took a year to line up outside vendors to provide the specialized materiels that would go into the production line, said George Roach, the Arsenal's program manager for this order.
Nevertheless, the year of additional planning and gathering of critical resources was factored into the contract and the Arsenal is on track to meeting tight production delivery schedules that will have the first cannon systems shipped out later this year, Roach said.
"To now seeing the first parts come off of the production line, especially after having worked on this contract for the last seven years, gives me a tremendous sense of pride," Roach said. "But having been in this line of work for many years, I know that this is just a start, as we will soon begin work on the larger and more difficult components of the order."
Arsenal Foreman Scott Huber said that although his team has waited a long time to have everything fall into place, he is excited to begin work on an order that will keep many of his machinists and machine tool operators fully employed for the next two years.
"Although there is no one here who has ever worked on an order of this size, we aren't intimidated by the magnitude of this order," Huber said. "At the end of the day, we know that this is great work because the order will have us exercise all critical manufacturing skills that we can then leverage for U.S. production requirements."
Huber said he does not see any significant problems meeting the tight delivery schedules for this order because many of the parts are the same parts that his team had worked on before or are currently in production for U.S. orders.
"Not only had we previously made this cannon system for U.S., Canadian, and Australian forces, we are now in production of similar parts for a self-propelled 155-mm system," Huber said. "Therefore, there are many here who have a history of machining the parts that will be required for the India order."
When this order was announced, many here believed that there might be some follow-on orders, if all went well. But the Army's program manager for this order says not so fast.
"The requirement has not grown since January 2017, because the joint team (program manager and Arsenal staff) did an outstanding job in identifying the program requirements that led to the largest flow of funding to the Arsenal in quite some time," said Chris Ayoub, an engineer with the Army's Program Manager for Towed Artillery Systems. "But having said that, in the coming months we expect a request to come in that will ask the Arsenal to provide quality assurance training."
Despite the great progress made with this order, many believe it is not yet time to do "high fives."
"There is definitely a sense of accomplishment as the M777 India case was in development for a long time, but the program entails a very aggressive delivery schedule," Ayoub said. "As a result, there is no time to rest on our laurels as the Army's Program Manager for Towed Artillery Systems is working closely with the Arsenal team to ensure not only the on-time delivery of cannon assemblies, but also that the team is able to meet or exceed all of the customer's expectations."
The Arsenal will begin shipping howitzer components this fiscal year and cannon barrels by fiscal year 2019. The fiscal year begins on October 1.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility located in Watervliet, New York. The Arsenal is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States, having begun operations during the War of 1812. The Arsenal is a subordinate command to the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command and the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
The U.S. State Department manages the foreign military sales program and works closely with the Department of Defense to resource the requirements. These proposed sales will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of the nation's allies.
According to BAE, the M777 howitzer is highly portable by land, sea and air, and the system features a minimal logistical footprint alongside maximum reliability. This means that it can be frequently moved and re-deployed, maximizing survivability, without encountering the IED risks that self-propelled systems face. The weapon can strike over extended distances, regardless of terrain and obstacles. It is compatible with all standard ammo types, as well as advanced rounds such as BONUS and EXCALIBUR. Its strengths have been proven in battle, particularly in Afghanistan where it has been in service since 2006. Over 40,000 rounds fired have proven its simple, dependable operation, even in harsh desert climates. The maximum range unassisted is 24.7 km and maximum assisted range is 30+ km.