13 April 2011

Breaking Out The Big Gun : Gunners Put M777A2 Howitzer to the Test at Puckapunyal

13 April 2011

M777A2 new 155mm field howitzer for Royal Australian Army (all photos : Australian DoD)

The bombardier's sharp commands precede a deafending boom, shattering a crisp Puckapunyal morning and signalling a new age for the Royal Australian Artillery.

The inaugural firing of the M777A2 155mm Lightweight Towed Howitzer on April 1 was a first for Australian gunners, bringing the ADF a complete joint fires capability.OC New Equipment Training Team Maj.

Pete Wiles said the M777A2 matched the firepower of current generation 155mm towed systems at about half the weight or the M198 it was designed to replace. replace.

"The lighweight design allows the gun to be deployed by fixed wing or rotary aircraft," Maj Wiles said.

"The on-board GPS, inertial navigation system and digital fire-control system allow it to be brought into action more quickly than other towed howitzers.

"The digital tranmission of fire orders and gun data can greatly reduce the possibillity of human error."

The firing was the culmination of the pilot M777A2 operator's course, concluded by the School of Arty's Gininery Training Team (GTT). The three-man team spent six weeks with the US Army training on the gun.

Senior SM Instructor Gunnery WO2 Darrin Free said the US instructors were very experienced, each with more than 20 years in artillery.

The instruction was thorough," W02 Free said.

"It was used as a base for us to develop drills required of an Australian detachment, deploying and using artillery the Australian way,"GTT instructor Bdr Mathew Nunn said it was an eye-opener to work with the US gunners and that exposure was handy for introducing the gun into Australian service."As soon as we got back from the States we went straight into it, writing doctrine and converting US drills into Australian and thinking about how we are going to introduce the gun," Bdr Nunn said.

"It’s been hard work right up to the first course and it’s rewarding to finally get through it and fire the gun.”Bdr Nunn made history as the first qualified Australian artillerymen to fire the M777A2.
"I've only been in the Army four years and to have the rank of bombardier and to be the number one of a now piece of kit, it's quite a privilege," he said.

The decision to replace the current indirect fire support fleet was taken in the 2005 Defence White Paper and confirmed by subsequent white papers. The M777A2 was identified as the ideal solution in 2008.

In 2009 the government decided to further enhance the indirect combat power available to the Army's combined-arms teams with the acquisition of new 155mm artillery system able to fireprecision munitions at very long ranges with high rates of fire.

Combined Arms Training Centre Commandant Col Sean Ryan said the Army had moved into the 21st century in terms of combat power.

He said a person on the forward edge of the battle could give data to the gun almost instantly, gaining the protection of indirect fire sooner.Col Ryan mid when combined with other state-of-the-art technology such as the Excalibur round and the computer-based Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), the M777A2 provided Australia with a capability that would lead it into the future.

He said with the AFATDS "capacity to link, into Air Force and Navy systems, we're now truly got a joint-fires capability for the ADF."Some trainees from the first Course on the gun will work with the GTT as required to develop and deliver training to other instructors from the School of Arty and the regiment s of the RAA.

WO2 Free said the qualified soldiers would also help the GTT train other soldiers from 53 Btyand instruct initial employment training courses within Joint Fires Wing.

“Overall we have achieved the aim of the course, but there is a little bit of room for improvement," he said."It's very early days for the gun so we're still learning as we go, getting better every day.”


THE M777A2 is capable of firing four rounds per minute for two minutes, then two rounds per minute sustained.

At 4500kg, the M777A2 is about half the weight and is smaller than the M198 it is designed to replace, without sacrificing the range, stability, accuracy or durability.

The M777A2 is currently in service with the Australian Army, US Marine Corps, US Army and Canadian Forces.

Effective range is 24km with standard 155mm ammunition, 30km with Rocket Assisted Projectiles and up to 40km with Excalibur precision guided projectiles.

The Excalibur precision guided projectile is a precise GPS-guided munition capable of being used in close support situations with friendy units.

(The Australian Army Magazine)

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