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2 Dec 02. The U.S. Marine Corps has awarded a US$135m contract to BAE SYSTEMS RO Defence in the UK for low rate initial production (LRIP) of the M777 lightweight 155mm howitzer. The U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., is the contracting activity (DAAE30-97-C-1032).

A joint U.S. Marine Corps-U.S. Army programme, the M777 features significant weight reduction – 7,000 pounds – over the M198 howitzer currently used by both Marine Corps and Army light units. The M777 will also provide major mobility improvements as it can be transported by Marine Corps MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.

Under the initial phase of the LRIP contract, BAE SYSTEMS RO Defence will manufacture 94 howitzers for the Marine Corps over the next two years. Initial deliveries will begin in February 2004, from the company’s Hattiesburg, Mississippi, facility. Approximately 70 percent of the M777 is manufactured in the U.S., as BAE SYSTEMS has assembled an industrial team that includes nine suppliers located in nine states.

Work will be performed in Cumbria, U.K. (39 percent), East Hartford, Conn. (11 percent), Chatsworth, Calif. (12 percent), Portland, Ore. (4 percent), Quebec (4 percent), Niles, Ohio (3 percent), Lynchburg, Va. (4 percent), St. Louis (3 percent), La Spezia, Italy (7 percent), Avon, U.K. (2.5 percent), Dorset, U.K. (2.5 percent), Hattiesburg, Miss. (2 percent), and Barrow-in-Furness, U.K. (6 percent), and is to be completed by Dec. 31, 2005. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This was a sole-source contract initiated on Oct. 4, 1996.

According to Colonel John Garner, U.S. Marine Corps Joint Program Manager, “The M777 lightweight howitzer is a true success story of co-operation between the services, industry and government including the U.S., Great Britain and Italy. The entire team should be proud of its accomplishment.”

Clive Richardson, Managing Director, BAE SYSTEMS RO Defence, reiterated Colonel Garner’s remarks, “This very important programme has been successful due to the close working relationship between ourselves and the Department of Defense customer. It has been an extremely rewarding experience for both partners.”

The LRIP decision follows an extensive five-year engineering and manufacturing development programme that saw nine howitzer prototypes subjected to rigorous testing in various environmental conditions; operational scenarios; maintenance evaluations; mobility testing; strength of design and accuracy firings; and reliability and transportability tests. The M777 design is the culmination of some 10,000 rounds fired in tests and more than 5,000 miles of mobility tests in harsh terrain conditions.

A multi-service operational test and evaluation (MOT&E) will be conducted with LRIP howitzers starting in August 2004. The MOT&E will be a key requirement for full-rate production beginning in 2005.

Comment: The securing of this order heralds the start of an exciting future for M777, with orders expected from the UK and Italian Governments to replace the ageing FH70 batteries and possible selection for the US Army’s Future Combat System gun requirement.

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