October 7, 2011: Saudi Arabia is expanding its towed artillery forces by purchasing 36 M777A2 155mm towed howitzers from the United States, along with 17,136 rounds of High Explosive (HE) ammunition and 2,304 rounds of longer range Rocket Assisted Projectiles (RAPs). Also being bought are 54 M119A2 105mm towed howitzers.
The Saudis are also buying 432 HMMWV (hummer) vehicles to tow the guns, haul ammo and carry the crews and their gear. For fire control, they are also buying six AN/TPQ-36V Fire Finder Radar Systems (for spotting the location of enemy artillery firing towards them.) Finally, the Saudis are buying 24 Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems (AFATDS), which are computer-based fire control systems that can co-ordinate air strikes, mortar fire and howitzer fire.
The M777 is a British design and, at four tons, is the lightest 155mm towed howitzer ever fielded. A crew of five fires regular rounds to 24 kilometers and RAP rounds to 40 kilometers. M777 Fire control is handled by computerized system that allows faster response time and more accurate shooting. Users have found the M777 accurate and reliable. The M119A2 is another British design. Each one weighs 2.1 tons, has a crew of five and a range 13.7 kilometers (19.5 kilometers with RAP shells).
Saudi Arabia already has some older towed 105mm howitzers, which the new ones will complement, and eventually replace. These howitzers are used in batteries of six guns.
Saudi Arabia is not buying any of the new GPS guided 155mm Excalibur shell. Excalibur makes 155mm shells as accurate as smart bombs, and is considered necessary when artillery is used in proximity to civilians. Excalibur also reduces the number of shells used. The Excalibur also doubles the M777 range, to 40 kilometers, without losing any accuracy.
While the Excalibur proved useful in Iraq, it didn't increase the workload of the few 155mm howitzers that were being used there. But Afghanistan was a different story, with the troops spread over a much larger area. This was the kind of situation that the new M777 towed 155mm howitzer was made for. So the army and marine artillery battalions attached to combat brigades are again training on their howitzers, and preparing to operate as artillerymen again, in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia is expected to be more like Afghanistan as far as the Saudis are concerned.