USAM119A2 Howitzer upgrade provides quicker firepower

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — 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.

M119A2 How­itzer
Click to enlarge

The M119A2 is a light­weight 105mm how­itzer that pro­vides sup­pres­sive and pro­tec­tive fires for Infantry Brigade Com­bat Teams. 

Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office, or PEO, Ammu­ni­tion employ­ees, with help from the Arma­ment Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, known as 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 of 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, or 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,” Good­ing explained. “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 by 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,” Nitzsche said. “With the dig­i­tized fire con­trol, artillery­men can quick­ly fire some rounds and then move to a new loca­tion and quick­ly begin fir­ing rounds again. 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 (TRADOC Capa­bil­i­ty Man­ag­er for Brigade Com­bat Teams) 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, or 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. 

US Army 

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