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M777 Lightweight 155mm howitzer (LW155)

The Lightweight 155 (LW 155), formerly known as the Advanced Towed Cannon System (ATCAS), LW 155 will replace all US Marine Corps (USMC) cannon systems and be used as a direct support weapon. The US Army (Army) will use the system as a general support weapon in the light forces and as a direct support weapon for the Light Cavalry Regiment replacing all of the M198 155mm towed howitzers.

The lightweight 155mm howitzer (XM777) will be a great improvement over the M198 in terms of capability, due in large part to its Automated Fire Control System. The XM777's biggest drawback remains the fact that it is a towed system with the same large logistical footprint as the M198. The two largest detractors of towed artillery are the amount of lift necessary for ship to shore movement of the battery, and the difficulties of employment in an urban environment (turning radius, crew survivability, greater time and space needed to employ the gun).

The Marine Corps has a valid, approved, high priority requirement for an advanced towed lightweight 155mm howitzer that meets increased operational thresholds for mobility, survivability, deployability, and sustainability in an expeditionary environment. The Army shares this fire support requirement in the interest of its light forces. The Marine Corps (ACMC) approved a Joint Operational Requirements Document (JORD) in June 1995, and the Army approved it in September 1995. This system combines both Army and Marine Corps efforts to replace the M198 with the more responsive LW155.

The LW 155 will provide close and deep fire support and interdiction fires. It will be lightweight without sacrificing range, stability, accuracy or durability. The system is designed as a howitzer, prime mover and associated equipment. The system shall be deployable to any region and shall operate in most climatic conditions. The US Marine Corps will use the weapon as a direct support weapon, replacing all existing cannon systems. The US Army will use the LW 155 as a general support weapon in the light forces and as a direct support weapon for the Light Cavalry Regiment, replacing the M198 155mm towed howitzer.


Weight: 10,500 lbs or less
Range: 30-40 km (assisted), 22.5-30 km (unassisted)
Range Precision PE: .35% (assisted), .30% (unassisted) of range
Deflection Precision PE: 1 mil (low angle), 2 mils (high angle)
Accuracy: 200-50 meters CEP, at 25 km w/ 20 km Met separation.
Minimum Range: 3.7-2.7 km high angle
Maximum Rate of Fire: 5-8 rds/min for NLT 2 minutes
Min Elevation: 0 mils or less (300 mils for charge M119A2/M203A1)
Maximum Elevation: At least 1275 mils
Sustained Rate Of Fire: At least 2 rds/min
Emplacement Time: 3-2 minutes w/ 5 crewmen (ready to fire)
Displacement Time: 2-1 minute w/ 5 crewmen
Out Of Sector: 3200 mils left/right in 3-2 minutes w/ 5 crewmen
Chamber Temp: Sensor for misfire proc. and ROF limitations
External Lift: CH-53E & CH-47D @ high/hot (4000 ft/95oF); MV-22 & CH-53D @ low/cool (Sea Level/60oF)
Strategic Lift: 2 in C-130; LW155 w/ PM C-141B, and larger
Heavy Drop: Yes (LVAD) from C-130 and larger
Ground Mobility: NTE towing capabilities of PM; equiv. fording
Prime Mover: USMC - MTVR, Army - FMTV 5 ton
Direct Fire PH: 30-80% @ 1500 meters
Moving Target Capability: Required w/ lead/night/poor visibility enhancement

The LW 155 indirect fire maximum range shall be at least 30 (threshold) to 40 (objective) kilometers with rocket-assisted US munitions (i.e., M549A1) and 22.5 (threshold) to 30 (objective) kilometers with unassisted US munitions (i.e., M795, M825A1 or XM898) with the M203A1 propelling charge. The LW 155 high angle indirect fire minimum range firing the M107 projectile and current propelling charges shall not be greater than 3,700 (threshold) to 2,700 (objective) meters.

Bias errors cause the offset between the fall-of-shot mean point of impact (MPI) and the target. The goal of artillery is to center the MPI on the target. The LW 155 shall have a bias circular error probable (CEP) not exceeding 200 meters (threshold) to 50 meters (objective) at 25 kilometers. This is based upon a two hour MET with 20 kilometer spatial separation from the MET station to the midpoint of the trajectory, firing the M864 projectile at low angle with the maximum charge, and a target location accuracy of 10 meters.

Precision errors cause the fall-of-shot pattern. They are related to the interaction of component tolerances, such as cannon, fire control, projectile, and propellant. The LW 155 range precision probable error for low angle indirect fire shall not be greater than 0.0030 (.3 percent) of range for unassisted projectiles and 0.0035 (.35 percent) of range for assisted projectiles. Deflection probable error shall not exceed one mil at any range in low angle fire and two mils in high angle fire for both assisted and unassisted projectiles.

The maximum rate of fire for the LW 155 shall be at least five (threshold) to eight (objective) rounds per minute firing all allowable shell/charge combinations (Copperhead excluded) for not less than two minutes in low angle fire (800 mils or less).

The sustained rate of fire shall be at least two rounds per minute firing all allowable shell/charge combinations (Copperhead excluded) in low angle fire (800 mils or less) for as long as ammunition is available. As a minimum, this quantity should equal the gun section's basic combat load.

The LW 155 (a single weapon) shall be emplaced and ready to fire (weapon is laid, at least one reference point has been established, one round of ammunition is ready to be loaded, and communications with the Fire Direction Center (FDC) are established) by no more than five crewmen including the gunner and four other cannoneers in three (threshold) to two (objective) minutes or less, after the prime mover has stopped in position. Once emplaced, the LW155 (howitzer, crew, prime mover, and associated equipment) shall be loaded and prepared to immediately depart the current location, by no more than five crewmen in two (threshold) to one (objective) minute.

The LW155 is a joint acquisition program. The Marine Corps Acquisition Objective (AO) is 377 howitzers, with an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) scheduled for 2QFY02, and Full Operational Capability (FOC) during FY06. The Army's AO is 273 howitzers with an IOC planned for FY06. To ensure that the LW155 meets the needs of both Services, enhanced technologies and design features not available at Marine Corps IOC will be later incorporated through a preplanned product improvement program.

The LW155 threshold weight is 10,500 pounds. The objective weight is as light as practical without sacrificing other performance characteristics included in this document, such as range, accuracy, survivability, and reliability/durability. The system weight includes the basic weapon, optical fire control and section equipment needed to fire the weapon. Non-critical section equipment, M93/94, and radios are not included.

The LW155 Mean Rounds Between System Abort (MRBSA) shall be no less than 800 rounds (threshold) to 900 rounds (objective), to be demonstrated with an 80% confidence, when employed IAW with the LW155 Design Reference Mission Profile.

The Marine Corps Joint Program Manager and PEO-FAS, as the Army Executive Agent, has structured a program to accomplish the Joint Development and Production of the LW155. The Program Manager planned a combined Milestone I/II (MS I/II) decision for January 1996. The program structure included an initial Shoot-off phase to evaluate existing lightweight howitzers. The Shoot-off phase determined the most promising candidate for meeting the technical requirements in order to down select to the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase; and subsequently into the release for production, via the use of ceiling price production options as part of the EMD contract. The program required a $10M FY99 Long Lead production option in order to assure the required Marine Corps IOC date (and to avoid an otherwise much higher production cost caused by an idle production line).

EMD testing was done at Yuma Proving Ground. The first two XM776 cannon tubes were delivered andbegan pre-fatigue testing, using the Shoot-off prototype LW155 as the test platform. The first full-bore chrome lined tube was delivered in mid-September 97 to begin cannon wear testing. Firing tables testing began in early 1998. The first complete EMD prototype LW155 was delivered in September 98.

The EMD cooperative agreement between US and UK is progressing. A draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is being staffed. Under the MOU, UK is to provide financial and other support to the US LW155 EMD program, in return for having a UK engineer resident in the JPM office, access to test data and EMD tests, and attendance at various meetings. The UK has recently completed its light artillery study, which has identified the UFH as the towed weapon of choice. Pending approval of the study and requirements development, the UK could procure up to 92 LW155s beginning in FY03/04.

The US Army has committed to fully fund Research, Development, Tests & Evaluation (RDT&E;) for the third generation of the LW155 Pre-planned Product Improvements (P3I) in FY00-03. The P3I consists of several improvements that will provide technical gunnery solution on the weapon, position location, directional control, inertial navigation, digital communication, muzzle velocity variation management, and on-board power supply. The Army has also committed to fund long-lead production requirements in FY03, setting the stage for procurement of 273 howitzers with full P3I beginning in FY04. Formal Army support of this Joint program is welcome news in the Marine Corps, which is fully funding RDT&E; of the weapon itself. The USMC is currently in the POM process for procurement of the P3I suite as a field retrofit to their LW155s after FY03.

Kara Aerospace, optical fire control sub-contractor to Textron Marine and Land Systems, was in the progress of concept design for the LW155 fire control, in preparation for a 3 September 1997 concept design review. Seiler Instruments has made an unsolicited proposal to Textron to provide a modified M198 type sight for LW155. Various light source possibilities exist for this modified sight, including Tritium, battery powered LED, or an electric sight. Each has trade-offs among weight, size, durability, reliability, logistic support, and maturity. The lighting issue will be a major topic of discussion at the design review at Kara.

The LW155 contract currently calls for delivery ofInteractive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETMs) on Compact Disk. This is intended to replace all manuals, with the operators manual and lubrication order to also be provided in printed copy. The IETM has a print capability to provide hard copy of all the data contained in the IETM. The information will be printed in a user friendly form; however, it will not be in the MIL-STD format. Options are being pursued to ensure computer hardware is procured and available to read the IETMs. As an interim measure until readers become available, paper printouts of all IETMs will be provided to the fleet. The position presented from Ft Sill and the Joint Program Management Office stipulates there must be a "user friendly" printed procedure for preventive and corrective maintenance at the first and second echelon levels.

BAE Systems, a British company, was selected as the main contractor for the project. BAE has subcontracted 70 percent of the howitzer's production to US companies. Kara Aerospace and Textron Marine and Land Systems are no longer involved in the project.

Program cost estimates increased by $156.2 million from February 2001 to April 2002. The project now stands to cost a total of $1,365.2 million for the development and production of the howitzer. These costs include development of the towed artillery digitization (TAD). TAD is an onboard, precision, self-location and electronic aiming system.

As of April 2002, testing was still ongoing. Several issues with the LW155 persisted, mostly related to durability of parts such as the optical fire control. The first pilot production guns were to be competed in July of 2002.

The weapon underwent a successful joint service operational test during October 2004 at Twentynine Palms, CA. During this four week test, nearly 12,000 artillery rounds were fired by four M777A1's. The system demonstrated excellent reliability, met or exceeded all of its operational requirements and a team of independent evaluators determined that the M777A1 was both operationally suitable and effective.

In April 2005 a joint-service program office at Picatinny completed development and is managing the purchase of 495 new lightweight 155mm howitzers for the Marine Corps and the Army. An $843 million four-year contract was awarded to BAE Systems, Barrow-in-Furness, UK, to manufacture the weapons and 94 digital fire control retrofit kits.

BAE Systems was manufacturing 94 howitzers under a low-rate initial production contract. The first 94 weapon systems will be equipped with an optical fire control system that will be upgraded to incorporate digital fire control under the full production contract. All 495 full-production units will be manufactured with digital fire control systems also known as towed artillery digitization or TAD. The 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment located at Twentynine Palms, Calif. will be the first unit fully equipped with the weapon.

The M777A1 will replace all of the Corps' current M198 towed howitzers, and will be the artillery system for the Army's Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. The first ground combat system to make extensive use of titanium in its major structures to trim weight, the M777A1 is 7,000 pounds lighter than the weapon it replaces. The weight reduction improves transportability and mobility without impacting range or accuracy, and the system is compatible with the entire family of 155mm ammunition, Shields said. The new howitzer is transportable by the Marine Corps' MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and two can fit on the C-130.

BAE Systems facility in Hattiesburg, Miss. is assembling the howitzer. Approximately eighty percent of the howitzer's components are built in the US. BAE utilizes a supply chain that spreads across ten states, the UK, Canada and Italy. The Army's Watervliet Arsenal, Watervliet, NY manufactures the cannon assembly.

The M777A1 will be capable of firing the Army's Excalibur precision-guided projectile that is also under development here at Picatinny. Excalibur will be fired out to a range of 40 kilometers from the M777E1 and because of its GPS and inertial navigation guidance, will deliver precision strike capability ( < 10 meters CEP) at all ranges. Excalibur is scheduled to be fielded in late 2006 when the Army starts taking delivery of their first M777A1's.

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