Soldiers are one step closer to receiving a digitized M119A2 howitzer that will make it possible for them to start firing rounds and evade return fire quicker.
The M119A2 is a lightweight 105mm howitzer that provides suppressive and protective fires for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.
PEO Ammunition employees, with help from the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), recently shipped four M119A2s to various installations for safety testing.
The upgraded M119A2 will be equipped with a digital fire control system that includes an inertial navigation unit, guided-precision system technology and other features that will give the weapon the ability to determine its precise geographical location on its own.
Safety testing ensures that the weapon system is still safe for Soldiers use after the assembly and integration of the fire control system onto the M119A2.
"One benefit of the digital fire control system is improved survivability because it reduces emplacement and displacement times", said Keith Gooding, Project Manager Towed Artillery Systems for PEO Ammunition.
"Howitzers are indirect fire weapons, which means you can't always see what you're shooting at. The M119A2 currently has glass and iron optical sites on the weapon that are used to survey and find the howitzer's location."
Using optical sites usually takes troops about 10 minutes to survey and assess their location, aim, and then fire the first round.
However, the digitized M119A2 includes a GPS-aided Inertial Navigation Unit (INU) that knows where the weapon is at all times, so optical sites are not needed to determine location. The INU allows the Soldier to ready the howitzer and fire the first round in two to three minutes.
Gooding compared the INU to a GPS navigation unit in a car, only more accurate.
"Your Garmin always knows where you are and where you're going -- the INU does the same thing. You drop the howitzer in and it knows where it is, so you can fire right away.
"Ten minutes may not seem that long, but when someone's shooting at you, 10 minutes is a big deal," he said of the infantrymen who rely on M119A2 protective fire during combat.
In addition to assisting infantry troops quickly, the digital fire-control system will help the M119A2 cannoneers avoid enemy fire, allowing them to "Shoot and Scoot."
"We have radar systems to detect incoming fire, and the enemy has radar systems as well to see where incoming fire is coming from," said Robert Nitzsche, a former lead on the M119 and a current PEO Ammunition G3/5/7 Program Management Engineer.
"In the past we had to continue pushing out rounds to support infantrymen because it would take too long to move the howitzer, re-survey, re-site and begin to fire."
"With the digitized fire control, artillerymen can quickly fire some rounds and then move to a new location and quickly begin firing rounds again," Nitzsche added. "Because they will be able to quickly relocate, this can help them avoid return fire.
"We've found with the M777A2 155mm Howitzer, having the digital control has changed artillery and how artillerymen support the fight," Gooding said.
"With the ability to aim more accurately, there's less human interaction and human interpretation because Soldiers use a computer to tell them where the cannon tube should be pointing."
The software development and integration of the digital fire control system onto the M119A2 was conducted in-house at ARDEC, thus eliminating the need for an outside prime contractor.
Ninety percent of the software used on the M119A2 was taken from the M777A2. This provides useful standardization between the Army's three howitzers, the M777A2, the Paladin self-propelled 155mm Howitzer and now the M119A2.
"The Paladin software was developed and is now maintained here at Picatinny, the same holds for the M777A2 Howitzer. Now, the software associated with the digitized M119A2 will also claim its roots at Picatinny. The same government lab will have responsibility for the software on all three Army artillery pieces, something that our User, TCM-BCT has been pushing for," Gooding said.
Maj. Jesse Taylor, the user representative for the M119A2 at Fort Sill, has been working with Picatinny to ensure that the upgrades meet user requirements.
"The M119A2 is the last howitzer to be digitalized, so what that tells me from a battalion commander's view is that I don't have to worry about a guy coming from a system that is not digitized. It's less time to train," Taylor said.
"If you're training on howitzers that share the same base code, the difference in training requirements across platforms is minimized and the flexibility of the artillerymen to move from platform to platform is simplified and increased," Gooding added.
Using similar software also made the upgrades less expensive because separate development efforts and teams were not needed.
"Since we reused 90 percent of the software associated with the M777A2, we saved about $7 million developing the code," Gooding noted.
Andy Mcfadzean was the ARDEC Systems Engineer who oversaw the integration of the digital fire control components onto the four M119 earmarked for Integration Testing.
His team was responsible for developing and validating the Modification Work Order (MWO) which documents a repeatable process for integrating the digital fire control onto the howitzer.
Facilities in Building 92 at Picatinny were converted into a maintenance type environment where the howitzers, the digital fire control equipment and the integration documentation were all housed for a three-week period.
During this time, the ARDEC engineering community transformed the M119A2 production howitzers into digitized weapons. The detailed, step by step sequence of events required to integrate the digital fire control onto the howitzers were proven out by the team at ARDEC and documented in the MWO.
The end result is howitzers ready for Integration Testing and a validated MWO which will be used as the baselining document to digitize all M119A2s once testing is completed.
"There was a lot of engineering rigor used to not only develop the hardware integration plan, but also to develop the repeatable production processes that are used to integrate the digital fire control onto the weapon," Gooding added.
The program is currently funded to retrofit 603 weapons with the digital fire-control system.
"We've still got a lot of work to do," said Joe Lipinski, Product Manager for the M119. "We have started safety tests in October, and that will allow us to go to operational tests next June. Then , we will go into Type Classification and Material Release this time next year, which would allow us to go into production and retrofit the weapons."
For safety testing, howitzers will be sent to:
Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., where engineers will oversee air-drop tests and firing tests.
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for towing and transportability testing.
White Sands Missile Range, N.M., for electromagnetic interference testing.
Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, for nuclear, biological and chemical testing to ensure that the weapon can be exposed to chemicals, cleaned off and still be safe to use.
After safety testing, operational testing begins. Soldiers will fire more than 9,000 rounds. PEO Ammunition is to begin fielding the digitized M119A2 in early 2013.
Article by Audra Calloway, Army.mil