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US Army: 160th Field Artillery live fire new 105mm M119A3 howitzer

For the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2018 has been a very good year. They have received two new artillery systems, which utilize one of the most advanced fire control systems in the world, and they are looking to add new soldiers to their team, as reported by Maj. Geogg Legler, Oklahoma National Guard..

US Army 160th Field Artillery live fire new 105mm M119A3 howitzer
Staff Sgt. Justin Hewett (left), Bravo Battery section chief, and Capt. Kayla Christopher (2nd from left), 160th Field Artillery personnel officer, review a fire mission on a digital messaging screen used with the M119A3 Howitzer. The A3 canons use GPS to determine their location making emplacement much quicker for the gun crews and reducing time between fire missions (Photo: US Army National Guard / Maj. Geoff Legler)

Members of the 160th FA, waited more than three years for the latest version of the M119 Howitzer. This new weapons system, known as the “A3,” is an upgraded version of the “A2” they have fired for years. The A3 has a number of improvements, to include an inertial navigation unit, guided-precision system technology and other features that give the weapon the ability to determine its precise geographical location. These components comprise the bulk of the A3’s Digital Fire Control System (DFCS).

Fire control system digitization involves the automation of functions previously performed by a gun crew, utilizing a digital/GPS system that determines exactly where the gun is located and allows the gun to be ready to fire in as little as three-minutes from emplacement.

A DFCS has numerous advantages over a manually sighted system. Among these are an increase in weapon accuracy and much greater battlefield survivability for the weapon and crew. “We come in on our azimuth of fire, emplace and we’re ready to fire,” said Cpl. Brady Barrow, gunner with Bravo Battery, 160th FA. With the A2, it took about six to seven minutes to find a distant aiming point, go to our aiming poles, place a collimator and bore sight, now that’s all obsolete.”

According to Spc. Ryan Fowler, cannon crewmember with Bravo Battery, 160th FA, the M119A3 is also designed to be more reliable, utilizing fewer parts in key areas, which increases durability and reduced maintenance time. “The A3 has 30 percent fewer parts in the breach than the A2 had. This means there are fewer parts that can wear out, which improves the reliability of the guns,” said Fowler.

In the heat of battle, human error can have devastating consequence if an artillery piece is not correctly set and sighted, but the A3 is a safer weapons system for the operators and Soldiers on the battlefield. The A3’s DFCS has eliminated much of the room for error. This includes the gun sight. “Instead of using a mechanical sight, it’s all digital,” said Sgt. Dominic Wicker, an assistant gunner with Bravo Battery, 160th FA.

Safety for the gun crews has also improved. With the DFCS, they no longer have to walk out in front of the gun line to set aiming points and place a collimator. This greatly reduces an artilleryman’s exposure to possible enemy snipers and accidental artillery discharges.

For many years, the 160th has operated with three firing batteries of M119A2s, but, along with the fielding of two batteries of M119A3, the 160th has also received a battery of M777A2s, which are 155mm artillery pieces. With the addition of the M777 to the 160th’s arsenal, the 45th IBCT’s Soldiers have increased flexibility when calling for artillery fire. “The M777 will allow us to fire further than the M119A3 and provide a variety of ammunitions to assist the infantry in their fight,” said 2nd Lt. Marissa Frazer, the fire direction officer for Charlie Battery, 160th FA.

The M777A2 has a current maximum effective range of nearly 20 miles and can fire a 92 rounds containing more than 12 pounds of explosive. While the M119A3s has a combat effective range of eight-miles when firing the M1 High Explosive round, which generally contains 4.6 pounds of explosive.

Due to its size, crewing an M777 is much more physically demanding than the M119A2 Howitzer’s that most artillerymen of Charlie Battery previously crewed. “Crewing the M777 is much more labor intensive than the M119A2,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Hargis, a gunnery sergeant with Battery C. “The M119 can be safely fired with a crew of five Soldiers, the M777 requires a minimum of seven Soldiers, but nine are preferred.”

The DFCS has also modernized the call for fire process. For more than a century, some sort of electronic voice communication has accomplished a call for fire, from the front lines. In the heat of battle, this system was often ineffective due to poor transmission signals and the noise of battle. The digital system has eliminated these issues.

“The new digital system provides the forward observers with the ability to call for fire through digital messaging rather than radio communication,” said Frazer. “Because the location of the target is digitally entered directly into the system, the possibility of miscommunication is nearly eliminated.”

The M119A3 and M777A2 DFCS share 90 percent of their software and both systems have the ability to integrate with any Army artillery platform using the new digital/GPS technology. This also allows for the simultaneous use of multiple weapons systems at the same time, with each system having separate targets in support of one objective.

When asked what benefits the M119A3 and M777A2 bring to the 45th IBCT, Lt. Col. Jason Henry, commander of the 160th said, “This is definitely a game changer for the Brigade. [The new systems will allow us] to provide a quicker response, faster ability to emplace, and with the triple-sevens, [we have} much more range and capability where we can reach out and hit the enemy further away.”

Individuals interested in a career in the field artillery are currently eligible to receive a $20,000 enlistment bonus when enlisting into a 13 series (field artillery) MOS with the Oklahoma Army National Guard. Current Soldiers are also eligible for up to a $20,000 re-enlistment bonus for a six-year re-enlistment in a 13 series MOS. For more information, please contact an Oklahoma Army National Guard recruiter.


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