The Ultra-Lightweight Field Howitzer (UFH), designated XM777 (LW155) in the USA, was selected in 1997 by a joint US Army/Marine Corps initiative to replace the existing inventory of M198 155mm towed howitzers. The first of six test systems was delivered in June 2000. The US Marine Corps is expected to procure 413 systems with production scheduled to begin in 2002, and the US Army production of 273 systems will begin in 2003. The British Army is expected to order 65 systems and the Italian Army 70 systems.
The basic idea of the LW155 (right) is to field a 155mm howitzer which is half the weight of the current M198 155mm howitzer, so it is easier to handle, tow, and can be flown by medium lift helicopters. More details are available at the LW155 contractor website.
Unfortunately, the LW155 program has failed because the requirements are technically impossible. The program has reached an ethical low point in U.S. military procurement history as both the Army and Marine Corps have announced a "preplanned product improvement program". Apparently, all the desired features have not been developed (or maybe they are too costly) so the LW155 will be "produced", and then sent through an upgrade program a couple of years later. This will prove extremely costly and is completely unnecessary since and there is no urgent need to replace the M198.
Development of the LW155 stalled because of a requirement that it match the range of the M198 (24.7 km and 30 km for rocket assisted). No one explained why this range was essential, or what remarkable technology had been discovered to allow half the weight to be shaved from the M198 design, or how it could remain stable after firing a round at max range. It appears all these conflicting goals were established by incompetent officers, or by contractors who falsely claimed that such a howitzer could be built in order to win contracts.
Apparently, contractors and gun designers were eager grab R&D money and have some fun with artillery design, rather than tell the truth. They should have told the military that they can cut a couple thousand pounds off the M198 design, or build a smaller 155mm howitzer with half the range of the M198. They kept quiet, so the current LW155 design is too expensive due to use of titanium, doesn't meet range requirements, and is too fragile. If this gun is produced, this same contractor will be paid to fix these guns after soldiers in the field verify these faults. This confirms Canadian gun genius, Dr. Gerald Bull's statement: "The U.S. Army doesn't design guns to fight wars, it designs guns to make money."
The M198 (above) was fully tested by the U.S. military before hundreds were purchased and fielded. Within a couple of years, several components began to crack from stress, so all the guns were sent to repair depots for upgrades. Since there have been no major breakthroughs in metallurgy, how does anyone think a half weight LW155 can bear the strain of thousands of "Charge 8" explosions needed to fire rounds 24kms? Another insurmountable problem is the recoil of the gun firing at long ranges moves the 8240lbs (3745kg) gun, so it cannot provide accurate sustained fires.
As a result, the LW155 test guns have quietly failed testing, but funds for development continue as the program is "stretched out". Textron, which built test prototypes, dropped out of the program, but a varied group of subcontractors have been lined up to produce this impossible design. They have already secured several million dollars in "long lead production" money to "save" the government money. I suspect they will admit that problems remain, but they will argue for full production to meet timelines, and will claim they can fix problems later during the "pre-planned product improvement program."
The U.S. military must acknowledge that the requirements for the LW155 are impossible, and accept a gun with much less range. However, cancellation is a better option. Towed artillery guns are not revolutionary weapons, even Napoleon would recognize them. Cheap 155mm mortars can to provide extremely mobile fire support, while MLRS and helicopters can deal with the counterbattery range issue. Meanwhile, the LW155mm contractors will milk the Pentagon and reap profits until senior military officers admit to this blunder. Otherwise, contractors may offer "jobs" (e.g. kickbacks) to military officers overseeing testing so they will okay the production of this flawed product.
The current LW155 design exists only on paper, and the latest prime contractor, British Aerospace, is having great difficulty getting eight pre-production guns built. Read last year's GAO report for details. (requires Adobe, loads slowly)
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com
G2mil tip: Heavy towed guns like the M198 often get stuck when one wheel hits soft ground and sinks. Crank the barrel over toward the wheel on hard ground to shift the weight, and the truck can pull the gun right out.
December 2001 Update- LW155 fails testing, again
Last March G2mil published this article arguing that the proposed lightweight 155mm howitzer (LW155) was an impossible design and should be cancelled. The first six prototypes had failed testing so badly that Textron wasn't even interested in trying again. British Aerospace eagerly accepted millions more in development funds to put together a team of subcontractors to build six "better" prototypes, which were tested this year.
Evidently, that testing has failed because on December 6th the Senate Appropriations Committee cut $10 million dollars from the $18.2 million requested for FY2002 to begin low-rate manufacture stating the guns "have been determined to be not suitable for operational testing". Hopefully, the article in G2mil LW155, which was widely distributed by G2mil readers helped decision makers understand this gun was doomed to fail. Now let's hope they will not be suckered into providing more money to "fix" the problems. Far better options are the current M120 120mm mortar in Army service, the G2mil proposed 155mm Mortar, or a small 155mm "pack" howitzer with half the range of the M198, and made of steel and not ultra-expensive titanium.
August 2002 Update
New GAO report issued. Elsewhere I read a big problem are the large spades which must hold the lightweight howitzer in place. They've can't dig in on hard rocky soil, and can't hold in sandy soil.
LW155 howitzer design is impossible
I think they are trying to put 5 kilos into a 2 kilo
bag with the LW 155. Unless there is a way to DRAMATICALLY (like 70% or better) reduce
recoil forces, it won't work. The physics doesn't allow it. If you
much longer path of recoil, plus a half-barrel length of additional muzzle
brakes, it might be feasible. But the recoil path length is limited to
the first muzzle brake flange starts. And to add weight in the recoil
or the barrel means more stress on the frame, which is what I think cracked
on the test gun.
Note: The magic numbers on
LW155 howitzer range are to match the Soviet
guns which can reach that far. Guns reach further than howitzers of the
bore diameter, due to longer barrels. The Soviets outranged NATO by
kilometers per light, medium or heavy gun caliber, which would have made the
counterfire fight rather dicey.
Using Titanium has failed before
Reading the article and letter about the light-weight 155 howitzer was like old home week. It seems that the bureaucracy lives on in spades. I was reminded of the development of a lightweight baseplate for the 81 mortar I got into. The Office of the Chief of Ordnance used titanium to cut the weight of the base plate from 48 pounds to 25 pounds. The cost was staggering. Later, I designed one of inexpensive 4340 steel which would cost possibly 15% as much and also weighed 25 pounds. Its tests were successful. But the establishment even tried to tear my base plate up by firing it on rocks; it survived. So, you guessed it, they rejected my base plate.
On the lightweight 155 howitzer, I'm inclined to agree with Larry Altersitz. And, perhaps it is worth thinking about to do a 155 rifled bore mortar similar in concept to the 4.2 inch Chemical Mortar. When you fire a mortar at usually 60 degrees, you employ the cheapest and lightest recoil mechanism ever invented, the earth. The earth both restricts the recoil distance so that less energy is transmitted and you very economically turn the recoil energy into heat within the earth. I think there might be a possibility of developing a 155 rifled bore mortar for 20 kilometers or so range. If so it would offer the possibility of both light weight and economy. I picture the 155 smooth bore mortar as offering the possibility of a valuable close support weapon for up to 5 or 6 kilometers. The advantages of such a weapon are: it would be very light in weight, it would have the accuracy which comes with the non-rifled shell with no precession problems, it would also have the 360 degree "daisy cutter fragmentation pattern of smooth bore mortars and beautiful digging ability.
Lloyd B. Smith Lbarte@aol.com