MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- While artillerymen Corps-wide have been expecting the M-777 Lightweight Howitzer to be fielded, for 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, it was history in the making during the new cannon’s debut in the Combat Center desert last week.
Fortunately for Guns Platoon, Battery K, 3/11, the Marines had the opportunity to fire the lightweight howitzer during its weeklong firing exercise.
“The battalion firing exercise was the first time the M-777 has been shot as a fielded howitzer,” said Lt. Col. Douglas H. Fairfield, 3/11 commanding officer. “3/11 is the first battalion in the Marine Corps, as well as the Army, to receive the new howitzer.”
Prior to 3/11 receiving their three new lightweight howitzers a month ago, it was put through extensive operational testing before the M-777 began full-rate production and distribution, according to Fairfield.
Considering the lightweight 155-millimeter gun stands up to its name weighing approximately 6,500 pounds less than the aging M-198 howitzer (16,000 pounds), Master Gunnery Sgt. Hector Herrera said the new gun would speed things up on the battlefield.
“This new weapon will definitely speed up our shoot, move and communicate because it’s lighter and more technologically advanced,” said Herrera, the field artillery chief for 11th Marines. “The most significant is the mobility because we’ll be able to position the howitzer in extensively less time and still be able to transport the gun with breaking it on rough terrain.”
As opposed to the M-198 howitzer currently in use, the lightweight howitzer has its very own suspension system, which provides for a smoother ride that will prevent bouncing and buckling.
Because of the M-777 weighs noticeably less than its predecessor, artillerymen can expect a less physically demanding labor when maneuvering the lightweight.
“There really isn’t much difference in running a gun, but it’s a whole lot less lifting, which is better, and more pushing down,” said Sgt. Eric R. Lowinski, a battery section chief responsible for one of three newly fielded howitzers. “Because of that, it speeds up the emplacing and displacing the howitzer.”
The M-777 has been designed with cannoneer ergonomics in mind such as a primer feeding mechanism and a hydraulic-assisted projectile loading system, said Fairfield.
Because of a digital fire control system, that is scheduled to be built into the M-777 howitzer in fiscal year 2006, positioning a howitzer will decrease the time it would take to shoot artillery shells into the distance.
The digital system will allow the howitzer to determine its own location and send that information to the Fire Direction Center, said Capt. Joshua B. Chartier, battery commander of Kilo Battery.
The Fire Direction Center is a hub that computes and configures information, and quickly translates and relays that information to individual gun sections chosen for fire missions.
“The hydra-pneumatics of the new gun just makes it a lot easier to [position] the gun, load and shoot the gun,” added Chartier.
“We’re scheduled to receive the digital upgrade next year,” said Fairfield. “The upgrade
will include an integrated and an inertial navigation system that will enable each howitzer to independently emplace and get safely laid in position. The bottom line is better artillery support to the maneuver commander.”
While last week’s firing exercise is scheduled to extend until early July, said Herrera, his concern right now is not being able to shoot extremely fast, but to ensure his artillerymen become aware of the ins and outs of the M-777.
“My main focus as the regimental artillery chief is to make sure we become as proficient and smart as we are with the M-198,” said Herrera. “We need as much experience as we can get because this new weapon could find itself in a combat zone within a year.”
Pfc. Sean C. Bradford with Gun 3, is getting all the experience needed while on-the-job training with the M-777, only after recently graduating from military occupational specialty school at Fort Sill, Okla.
“I had to learn about a whole new gun when I got to my new unit,” said Bradford, the number one man Gun 3, who has been a Marine for six months. “I’m very excited to learn and train with the new howitzer that no one else in the Corps has. I’m ready to deploy with the new lightweight.”
Bradford is responsible for pulling the lanyard, which triggers off a loaded artillery shell, and is responsible for checking pressure gauges after a round has been shot.
While Battery K can expect themselves in and out of the field in the coming weeks resonating the air with artillery booms with their new gun, Fairfield said his men are doing a great job adapting to the new weapons system that will soon be fielded to all artillery regiments.
“The Marines did an outstanding job shooting the howitzer this past week,” said Fairfield. “They quickly grasped their cannoneer duties and safely put more than 1150 artillery rounds down range.”