Artillery: Lightweight 155mm Howitzers in Afghanistan

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May 15, 2006: Last year, Canada bought six M777 155mm towed artillery pieces in a hurry, when it discovered that the older 105mm guns would not be adequate to support Canadian troops being sent to join the NATO force in Afghanistan. The older 105mm howitzers lacked the accuracy and firepower needed. The 105mm shells weighed 33 pounds, versus the 90 pound 155mm ones. The M777s were needed in a hurry, so Canada got them from the U.S. Marine Corps, which is a major user of the weapon (since 2000). Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan earlier this year, and the four M777s they took with them performed as expected. Canada is also getting the new GPS guided 155mm Excalibur shell later this year. Excalibur makes 155mm shells as accurate as smart bombs, and is considered necessary when artillery is used in proximity to civilians. Excalibur also reduces the number of shells used. The Excalibur also doubles the M777 range, to 40 kilometers, without losing any accuracy.

The M777 is a British design and, at four tons, is the lightest 155mm towed howitzer ever fielded. A lightweight 105mm howitzer weighs about two tons. M777 Fire control is handled by computerized system that allows faster response time and more accurate shooting. The Canadians have not had to use their new guns (four were sent to Afghanistan) much, but have found them accurate and reliable. In addition to hitting enemy troops, the Canadians have also found the M777 an effective negotiating tool. When discussing relationships with local tribal leaders, Canadian commanders have sometimes had an M777 put a shell in a nearby field or hill side, on command, to demonstrate what the Canadians have at their disposal. Afghans understand that sort of thing.

U.S. Marines and British troops have also used the M777 in Afghanistan.

 


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