By U.S. ArmyJune 24, 2019
In 1961 and 1962, Rock Island Arsenal's Research and Development Division designed and developed the XM37 recoil mechanism and the XM31 carriage for the XM102 howitzer. From 1963 to 1970, more than 12,000 M102 light howitzers were produced and used during the Vietnam War. The unusual box-girder construction and wishbone shape of the carriage provided greater stability and allowed the gun to rotate in a full circle. The recoil mechanism and gun carriage of the howitzer displayed at Memorial Field are both serial number 1.
The Prototype of the M102
The XM102 is the experimental version of the M102 105MM Howitzer. Entering service during an escalation of tension in Vietnam, the M102 served through Operation Iraqi Freedom. The system was designed to be utilized in a vast number of missions. The mount was designed to be modified or easily switched out. Because of the module design of the M102, it remains in service as one of the main armaments aboard various AC-130 gunship models, including the new J-Ghostrider variant.
The M102 was built to be light enough that it could either be moved into place by a truck, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee), or transported by the air by either helicopter or cargo aircraft. The unique carriage was designed and developed at Rock Island Arsenal. It uses a wishbone shaped box trail which increases the mobility and stability of the weapon. It also allowed for an increase in stowage.
The muddy jungles of Vietnam, where the weapon was first deployed, frequently caused problems for artillery systems. As a result, designers at Rock Island Arsenal created a special airmobile firing platform exclusively for the M102. This eliminated the risk of the howitzer getting stuck.
From the initial production of the M102 through today, it has served aboard airborne gunships and with ground artillery units. The system was replaced with the M119 howitzer in artillery battalions, but remains in service aboard U.S. gunships. Several other international operators still use the M102, including Brazil and Turkey.