It is one of the smallest and lightest weapons of its type ever constructed, due to a combination of a titanium alloy construction and a methodical elimination of as much mass as possible. Though presently produced in the US, the M is actually a development of a British design. The origins of the M date back to the early s, as a private venture by Vickers which later merged with BAe, the current manufacturer to develop an exceptionally lightweight mm howitzer for the export market. The primary market for this new weapon was the US Army, who has recently fielded the M howitzer, but found it wanting; the primary purpose of the M had been maximum mobility and air transportability, but at over 7 kg, it was still a rather hefty artillery piece.
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It is one of the smallest and lightest weapons of its type ever constructed, due to a combination of a titanium alloy construction and a methodical elimination of as much mass as possible. Though presently produced in the US, the M is actually a development of a British design.
The origins of the M date back to the early s, as a private venture by Vickers which later merged with BAe, the current manufacturer to develop an exceptionally lightweight mm howitzer for the export market. The primary market for this new weapon was the US Army, who has recently fielded the M howitzer, but found it wanting; the primary purpose of the M had been maximum mobility and air transportability, but at over 7 kg, it was still a rather hefty artillery piece.
Vickers was convinced that by simplifying the configuration of a mm howitzer and making expansive use of lightweight materials in its construction, they could make a weapon of equal firepower that was just over half the weight of the M The design was presented soon after to the US Army, who were intrigued by the possibility of fielding such a weapon, and they authorized the construction of 2 prototypes in September of As the federal law prohibits the US military from procuring weapons of foreign manufacture, Vickers teamed-up with Textron to build this weapon in the US.
There was also a competing design submitted by Royal Ordnance, whose development roughly paralleled the Vickers design. Two prototypes were constructed of the Vickers design, now dubbed the LW shorthand for mm Lightweight Howitzer , which were delivered to the Army for testing and evaluation late in The US Marine Corps had also taken an interest in the LW in this timeframe, seeing potential for such a weapon in their operations, where the weight of an artillery system was at a premium.
In the late s there was a formal competition in which the LW was pitted directly against the Royal Ordnance design by this time named the "Light Towed Howitzer" , with the former ultimately being declared the winner. However, despite passing developmental testing with considerable media fanfare, the XM quickly ran into trouble during its operational testing.
Under conditions more accurate to actual service use, serious problems with metal fatigue, instability while firing, and damage inflicted by recoil quickly became apparent. These problems became apparent by , and continued to plague the XM and later the M for many years.
Some have never been fully-resolved. By September of , BAe managed to sub-contract several smaller companies to produce the weapon instead, each of which was to produce a different subassembly of the M The carriage was to be produced by HydroMill Inc, the stabilizers, spades and stabilizers by Major Tool and Machining Inc, the loading tray by Rock Island Arsenal, the elevation mechanisms by Wegmann, the optical fire control system by Seiler Instruments and Mfg, the traverse track by Rotek Inc, and the titanium alloys needed to build the complete weapon were to be produced by RTI International Metals Inc.
The general appearance of the M is quite peculiar compared to most other towed howitzers, making quick recognition fairly easy. The rectangular muzzle brake is conspicuously hollow, with two enormous baffles.
The towing eye is mounted on the base of the muzzle brake, and has a spike-like shape. Unusually, the M has no trails. In its emplaced configuration, the M sits extremely low to the ground, with its stabilizers swung forward and its spades dropped to the ground behind it so low, that when the tube is in a level position, it is barely half a meter above the ground. Despite its low-slung proportions, the M still easily achieves high gun elevation, as the pivot point of the gun cradle is effectively behind both the saddle and carriage body.
It is also possible to depress the tube slightly, though this capability is seldom used. Seen from above, the spades and stabilizers of a fully-emplaced M take-on a crucifix shape, which is essential for stabilizing it due to its lack of conventional trails.
The appearance of the M is even stranger in its travelling configuration. Instead, the complete weapon is towed from the aforementioned spike-like towing eye on its muzzle brake.
In its travelling position is the two aft spades being folded upward and slightly forward, but not actually wrapping around the saddle. Most components of the M are made of titanium alloy, though some structural components are made of aluminum, and the gun tube is made of steel.
An interesting weight-saving measure is that many of the parts in the M serve multiple functions, rather than having a separate part for each. For example, the hydraulics in the suspension are also used as a hydraulic jack. A hydraulically-operated loading tray is mounted behind the breech on the right side, but no rammer is included. Standard Ms have an optical sight mounted on the left side, and provisions for an additional sight on the right side if required.
A crew of 8 is required to operate the M normally. It can also be operated by as few as 5 men in an emergency, but with a significantly-reduced rate of fire. Some publications have stated that the ability of the M to be fired by only 5 personnel is unprecedented for a mm howitzer, but the preceding M could also be operated as such. The M requires three minutes to emplace, and two to three minutes to displace. The maximum rate of fire for the M is 4 rounds per minute for up to 2 minutes; the sustained rate of fire is 2 rounds per minute.
Indirect fire for the MA1 and A2 is usually aimed using the digital fire control system. The original M lacked this fire control system, requiring the crew to use calculators and dials to compute their firing solutions. All Ms have a direct fire capability, and use day and night optical sights to aim the weapon. A wide array of ammunition is used in the M, a few examples of which are described below. The primary projectile for the M had initially been the M HE round, but this munition is gradually being expended in service and replaced by the M HE round.
This When fired from the M using an M or M propellant charge, the M has a range of up to The M is still used with the M as well, but stocks are slowly depleting. The M Excalibur is one of the most heavily-used projectiles for the M The programmable guidance system allows the weapon crew to set the Excalibur to land on a specific geographic location, allowing frontline troops calling-in fire missions to designate specific high-priority targets for destruction by single projectiles for example, a particularly problematic enemy pillbox.
This actually makes the Excalibur more expensive than the M itself. The MA1 weighs The payload consists of 24 M46 and 48 M42 grenades, which both have a shaped charge i. The M weighs 47 kg, and has an effective range of 30 km, thanks to the addition of a "base burner" rocket booster. The M also fires smoke, and a very wide range of mine-scattering projectiles as well.
The M Copperhead laser-guided artillery projectile can also be fired from the M, though with only 20 made and production terminated decades ago, the stockpile is rapidly dwindling. Any NATO-standard mm shells can also be fired from the M as well, which hugely expands the variety of ammunition it uses. Canada was the first nation to employ the M in combat during the Afghan War, in support of Operation Archer in early The M was reportedly quite effective in this campaign, causing a large percentage of the Taliban casualties inflicted by ISAF forces; most of the damage inflicted on the Taliban was reportedly caused by only two guns.
The deployment of Canadian Ms continued throughout The demand for fire support from these weapons was apparently quite substantial, but so was the consumption of ammunition as a result. It was reported in early that Canadian mm ammunition stocks in that theater were running low, forcing the Canadian Army to fire less rounds in each fire mission, and perform less fire missions overall.
As of mid, Ms continue to fire in anger in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite many in the media having dismissed US participation in the conflicts there being essentially over. Though the M is very light compared to nearly all other mm howitzers, it lacks the propulsion-capable APUs used in many other modern towed howitzers, such as the FH and G The elevation and traversal of the M are completely unpowered.
So the M has to be manhandled into position. There is also no rammer, so several crewman with a long, curved ramrod must physically drive each shell and powder charge into the breech with their own strength.
This is probably due to safety regulations, and the gradual increase in the weight of the M since its initial field tests. Reducing the weight of the weapon also has no effect on the weight or volume of its ammunition, nor the field supply trains required to carry it, which are a much more significant issue than transporting the weapon itself.
There are many problems with using titanium instead of steel, rooted in the fact that while it is similarly strong, titanium alloys are much less flexible making them more prone to metal fatigue , and significantly harder making them immensely expensive to machine.
The awkward proportions of the M also stem from the ruthless pursuit of weight reduction, and these present serious practical problems of their own. Also this artillery piece is too light for the powerful mm ammunition. The lighter a weapon is that fires a given projectile and propellant charge, the more violent its recoil is. This has resulted in the recoil-absorption mechanisms in the M wearing out dangerously fast in combat conditions. It is highly doubtful that these issues with the M can be fully-resolved.
Another major issue with the M is that its tube length is dated. In all of these conflicts, the side whose guns had a shorter reach ended up being devastated, because their artillery was constantly suppressed by longer-range enemy fire, while larger quantities of shorter-range enemy artillery operated without fear of being bombarded.
India has also recently placed an order for MA2s though India has proven a dangerous market for artillery producers; this sale follows in the wake of the Denel and Bofors scandals, both resulting in the cancellation of major arms deals due to alleged improprieties.
The only other nations so far committed to acquiring Ms are Saudi Arabia and Columbia. The UAE has expressed intent to acquire the ordnance of the M, which with to create a self-propelled version.
The M has sold in large numbers and production continues. Approximately 1 pieces already completed. However the M has an unusually narrow customer base for an artillery piece on the market for over 20 years, despite also having extremely heavy publicity. This is mainly due to its high price tag.
Variants LW Prototype for the M, built in the late s. It has also been referred to by some sources as the "LW". XM Further prototypes of the M, which incorporated additional improvements and fixes during the ongoing development of the M M Ordnance of the M, without the rest of the weapon system. The tube used in the M is the same M used in the MA6 Paladin , with a modified muzzle brake. M Basic production model, differing little from the LW MA1: Fitted with a digital fire control system instead of the optical sight.
This version quickly superseded in development the original M While in development it was designated the "ME1". Test firings were performed in It effectively made the MA1 the definitive production model during that timeframe. Some were converted from Ms. The Canadian Forces also placed an order for several Ms during this timeframe as well. Excaliburs by that time had already been fielded in Afghanistan. Though the range is hugely increased by the new barrel, the MER is 1.
Program status is unknown. M Tilt Bed Carrier: Early prototype for an M howitzer carrier, which would carry the weapon aboard while in transit, and then drop it to the ground during emplacement.
MA2 — Block 1A software upgrade. In June , the M in its A2 configuration was assigned to the U. Army unit to utilise the M in combat in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Two soldiers from FA were killed from a breech explosion and other members of their gun crew were injured while attempting to fire a M at an ISIL mortar position in northern Iraq.
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