November 23, 2016:
In 2015 China began offering for export the AH4 155mm towed howitzer. This weapon was basically a copy of the older British M777, but a little lighter and a lot cheaper. AH4 was designed to use all the same Western ammo the M777 does. China is increasingly eager to compete with the most popular Russian and Western weapons. China has already taken much of Russia’s traditional low-end market and is now moving on to the more complex, expensive and effective Western designs. China often uses stolen tech and the Russians never really had the clout to stop China from stealing tech. But the West is different and better able to strike back, at least in theory. The Chinese are putting that to the test.
BAE (a major British arms manufacturer) developed the M777 155mm towed howitzer, which entered service in 2005 and is now mainly manufactured in the United States because the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are major customers. The M777 is a lightweight (3.4 ton) howitzer that currently costs from three to six million dollars each. The light weight means the M-777 can be moved slung under a helicopter and thus quickly moved to inaccessible area. The M777 is the lightest 155mm towed howitzer ever fielded. M777 fire control is handled by computerized system that allows faster response time and more accurate shooting. The M777 can use all current 155mm ammunition, including the Swedish/American GPS guided Excalibur shell. The guided round cuts ammo use enormously.
The Americans began replacing their 1980s vintage M198s with M777s in 2007. Until recently the M198 was the standard towed 155mm howitzer for the United States and many NATO counties. M198s weigh eight tons and can fire conventional rounds as far as 22.4 kilometers. For rocket-assisted projectiles (RAP) the range is 30 kilometers. These unguided shells land anywhere within a 200 meter circle. That's at 25 kilometers range. Accuracy gets worse at longer ranges. It takes 12 minutes for the M198 to be ready to fire after the truck towing it stops. It can pack up and move again in about 4 minutes. Using GPS the M198 can be in position to fire in less than ten minutes and shift to another target in about 8 minutes.
So far the U.S. has ordered over a thousand M777s. The manufacturer has also received a contract to refurbish 33 M777s that returned from service in Afghanistan. This cost $91,000 per howitzer. The M777 is also used by Canada and Britain. The U.S. Army uses M777s in airborne and Stryker brigades. A five ton truck is used to tow the guns, but a special, 4.5 ton LWPM (Lightweight Prime Mover) is available to do that as well.
The five ton M777 is 40 percent lighter than the the M198 it replaces mainly because it makes extensive use of titanium, and new design techniques. It fires shells with a maximum range of 40 kilometers (using RAP, or rocket assisted projectile, ammo). A crew of five operates the gun, which can be ready to fire in under three minutes, and ready to move in under two minutes. The M777 is light enough to be moved (via a sling) by CH-53E and CH-47D helicopters. Its sustained rate of fire is two rounds a minute, with four rounds a minute for short periods.