Howitzer digital upgrades allow Soldiers to fire more quickly, evade return fire faster
The Army has completed digitizing M119 howitzers to make it possible for Soldiers to start firing rounds and evade return fire more quickly in combat than before.
The M119 is a lightweight, 105 mm howitzer that provides suppressive and protective fires for infantry brigade combat teams. The M119A3—an updated M119A2—has been equipped with a digital fire control system, which includes an inertial navigation unit, guided-precision system technology and other features that allows the weapon the ability to determine on its own its precise geographical location.
More than 480 upgraded, digitized howitzers have been fielded to 48 different units throughout the Active Army and National Guard.
“The digitized M119A3 gives Soldiers more responsive fires, and they’re more lethal because the digital fire control gives them more accurate effects on target,” explained Erin Vergano, M119A3 project lead, and composite fielding project officer at the Program Manager Towed Artillery Systems (PM TAS).
Vergano’s organization is part of the Joint Program Executive Office Armaments and Ammunition, which is based at Picatinny Arsenal.
The digital fire control system essentially calculates the mission for the crew and directs the crew where to aim the weapon. It does this through the Inertial Navigation Unit that provides the howitzer information on its location and orientation. The Fire Direction Center can communication with the fire control system through a mission computer that can either take fire orders, or compute the mission on board and direct the crew where to aim the weapon.
Vergano said that Soldiers are able to emplace, fire and displace their howitzer more than twice as quickly as they could with the previous, non-digitized howitzers.
“It’s faster to emplace so that they can get their locations established quicker, into action quicker, first round down range quicker, and get out of action quicker as well,” she said.
The upgraded digital system is similar to the digital fire control system that was previously added to the M777A2.
“The IBTCs now have M777 and M119s, so as much commonality as possible for the Soldiers is really a benefit for everybody,” Vergano said. “We tried to utilize as many commonalities as possible.”
In addition to the new digital fire control system, the M119A3s have also been upgraded with a fixed recoil and suspension lock out system, making the gun more stable and durable and allowing for more high-angle, high-velocity fires.
“The fixed recoil allows the howitzer to fire high-angle, high-charge, which the former howitzer was only allowed to do in combat emergencies,” explained Gene Conner, Digital Fire Control Lead for PM TAS.
The reason is that continuous firing of high-charges at high-angle with the previous generation howitzer could damage the system, eventually making it unusable.
“You can now fire the gun at high-angle and high-charge, which allows the system to operate effectively in mountainous terrain and in scenarios where high angle fire is required to engage targets,” he said.
The howitzer upgrades were conducted by the Joint Program Executive Office Armaments and Ammunition, and the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, also at Picatinny Arsenal. The M119A2s were shipped to Picatinny and upgraded on the installation.
The program was able to save around $30 million and upgrade the howitzer more efficiently since all the work was completed in-house. All the design work for the software development, hardware components, and the actual integration production, was completed at Picatinny.
“Because the upgrades happened here, Soldiers got a better product. We had one set-up and one integration line to get them done and had the same people doing it all the time in a very consistent manner,” explained Joe Lipinski, previous M119A3 project lead.
The engineers were able to upgrade one gun per week, which included evaluation of legacy components, installation of Fixed Recoil and Suspension Lock-Out System, application of Digital Fire Control (DFC) modification work order, and verification of DFC system through navigational simulation.
Conducting the upgrades in-house at Picatinny also provided more flexibility and agility, due to changing U.S. Army requirements, as far as which units should be fielded and in what sequence.
“More units kept coming on-line to be upgraded, and if we were traveling to complete the upgrades we wouldn’t have been able to accommodate those numbers or had the personnel to travel,” Lipinski explained.
“Even with the changing force structure, we never missed a fielding,” Vergano said.
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