CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Australia's Defense Department has approved a $455 million artillery replacement project to include four batteries of 35 M777A2 155mm lightweight towed Howitzer field guns.
Defense Minister Sen. John Faulkner said in a written statement that purchase of the Howitzers, made by the Land Systems division of BAE Systems in the United States, is the first phase of project Land 17 to provide a next-generation artillery system for the Australian army.
"The lightweight towed Howitzer is the most advanced towed artillery system available in the world. It is air-portable under CH-47 Chinook helicopters and can provide a weight of fire not previously available to rapidly deployed forces," Faulkner said.
The M777A2 is an upgraded version and uses a digital fire-control system to provide navigation, pointing and self-location.
Faulkner also said that the government will be looking to buy a digital terminal control system for the tactical control of artillery, naval and close air support fires by forward observers and joint terminal attack controllers. But procurement of the system is not likely until the second half of 2010, he said.
The M777 Howitzer was originally developed by British Vickers group, and the upgraded A2 version is the ongoing replacement for the M198 howitzer, also 155mm, for the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army.
The M777A2 is also being used by Canadian Forces, notably in Afghanistan -- in early 2006 the first combat outing anywhere for the gun, analysts said. Canada purchased six M777A2 units, with shells and control systems, for $66 million as part of major $190 million "emergency buy" in December 2005 for their Operation Archer.
The gun weighs in at 8,250 pounds, a saving of 7,000 pounds because of extensive use of titanium and titanium castings. The U.S. Marine Corps is to transport the gun using MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft or airdrop it with C-130 aircraft. It will perform fire support for U.S. Marine Air Ground Task Forces and U.S. Army Stryker Brigade Combat Teams.
BAE Systems said that the A2 version uses a software update enabling it to fire the M982 Excalibur GPS-guided shell, which was used by Canada in Operation Archer. The upgrade boosts the gun's maximum range from 18 miles to 24 miles, with accuracy on target to within 30 feet, according to BAE Systems.
BAE is in the process of supplying the A2 version of the Howitzer to all U.S. Army and USMC units. Previously-equipped M777A1 Howitzer units are receiving a software upgrade to bring their systems to A2 standard.