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Artillery: M109 Replacement Enters Production
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December 21, 2007:  The U.S. Army is buying 18 of the new (still in development) NLOS-C self-propelled howitzers, for $28 million each. Basically, the  army is buying prototypes. Congress has ordered that the NLOS-C be deployed by 2010.  These 18 vehicles will be used for training and testing, so that mass production of a much cheaper NLOS-C can begin in 2009.

As a replacement for the half century old M-109, the NLOS-C will be the first of the eight MGV (Manned Ground Vehicle) systems to enter service as part of the FCS (Future Combat System) program. The FCS brigades have fewer troops (2,500) than the current (and newly implanted) combat brigades (3,500 troops). The FCS brigades depend on automation and more electronics to make up for manpower. If that worked, many in the army believed that the NLOS-C would quickly replace the M-109, especially in the newly reorganized Brigade Combat Teams. But there is resistance to this vision of the future.

The prototype of the 155mm NLOS-C, fired several thousand rounds in three years of field tests. The system was cobbled together in six months, after the new Crusader SP artillery system was cancelled. The current self-propelled system, the M-109, is a fifty year old design. Although the M-109 has been frequently updated, the NLOS-C incorporates many new technologies. This includes an auto-loader (from the Crusader) and a more modern 155mm gun (the M-777, a towed, British designed system) and an APC chassis with a hybrid-electric engine (to reduce fuel consumption.) This all weighs 23 tons, about the same as the M-109. But the NLOS only has a two man crew, compared to five in the M-109.

The final version of the NLOS-C will be heavier (about 27 tons), because more defense systems have been added, to reflect experience in Iraq. be a ton or two lighter. The M777 howitzer will not be used in the NLOC-C, but an even lighter (by at least half a ton) 155mm gun. 

Congress originally demanded that NLOS-C be in service by 2008, but now 2010 or '11 seems more likely. Production of the final version was supposed to begin next year, but that appears to be delayed because of development problems. The manufacturer says otherwise, but not the troops who have actually used the NLOS-C.

Meanwhile, the new Excalibur GPS guided shell, which entered service in the past year, could change everything. Excalibur appears to work in combat, and this is radically changing the way artillery operates. Excalibur means 80-90 percent less ammo has to be fired, resulting in less wear and tear on NLOS-C (and less time needed for maintenance), and less time replenishing ammo supplies, and more time being ready for action. The NLOS-C uses GPS and networked computers to take care of navigation, fire control and communicating with its customers (the infantry and armored vehicles of the combat brigade it supports). Each battery (4-6 guns) has several support vehicles with ammo resupply, maintenance and such. Thus while each NLOS-C only has a crew of two, there are additional support personnel available to help with maintenance. This is another new development, a crew too small to do all its own maintenance, that will require a lot of testing.

But if the new self-propelled gun works out, the M-109s may disappear a lot more quickly. Currently, the army plans to keep M109s around until 2050, just in case. You never know, and it pays to be careful.



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Jeff_F_F       12/21/2007 12:20:09 PM
As a practical matter M109 crews are assisted by the crews of their cammo carriers.
Thats a big question in my mind, since I haven't seen an ammo carrier vehicle proposed. The current FASV could be used but that actually reduces commonality, because the FASV is designed for maximum comonality with the M109--it's basically an M109 with the turret replaced by a superstructure.
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doggtag       12/21/2007 1:23:58 PM
Something I've also hit on in other threads where we've discussed this: where exactly are the FCS manned RSVs (ReSupply Vehicles) to keep the NLOS-Cannon and NLOS-Mortar fed?
By that MTOE list posted up on one of those other threads, it seems the Army plans on using unarmored (or field-mod uparmored) HEMTT types to restock these vehicles (unless the integrated-armor Maneuver Sustainment Vehicle is anticipated to fully replace the unarmored HEMTTs).
Again, more and more I'm liking the upgraded M109A6 PIM even more.
Newer components (Bradley/MLRS suspension being a primary upgrade),
which certainly can be transfered into the M992 FAASV artillery resupply vehicles that accompany M109s.
Plus, other nations have demonstrated that the M109 can successfully utilize gun tubes greater than 39 calibers long (cannot recall which nations at the moment, but at least one was utilizing a 45-cal derived tube (39km range?), and 52-cal barrels have been trialled, but I don't know they've been adopted into service in M109s).
Is there then any reason the larger hulls of the M109 series can't themselves be upgraded with hybrid drives, and everything else incorporated into the NLOS-C & NLOS-M?
In time, if they ever get it field-worthy, even the pro-active armor technology should be equippable onto the M109's relatively slab sides, no more ballistically unfriendly than how the current FCS manned vehicles are designed.
Considering the 20-ton weight design requirement has been rescinded from the FCS program, I really don't see the point then in needing a completely new hull design, from the ground up, when the M109A6 PIM chassis should quite successfully be able to perform many of the manned vehicle requirements (mortar, artillery, APC, recovery, FAASV replacement, more internal space as a medevac vehicle or C³I platform, etc).
And with a proper, more favorable ballistic shape, would provide a more survivable Mounted Combat System (120mm-armed "light tank") than the current design.
The benefit in using this chassis, I believe, is its suspension has already been proven to support weight increases approaching 35 tons all up (M2/M3 series in latest A3/ODS iteration), allowing greater add-on armor packages to be fitted as needed.
It's the ideal candidate for a complete family of Medium Combat Vehicles, offering greater baseline and add-on protection than will be offered in the FCS family, but without the constraints of 50+ton AFVs.
Considering the NLOS-C preliminary batch will be about $28million a piece (do we dare even suggest the full-production vehicles will actually get cheaper?), the FCS series will most certainly be a US-only system: why would anyone else buy a single FCS platform when they can buy two or more other platforms for the same price, each offering greater offensive and defensive capability?
(PzH2000, CV90, etc).
So suggesting the US opt for something a little less complex but more tactically robust, that has a much more favorable export potential, might keep the price per vehicle within more ideal margins.
...but then again, for the price of an FCS vehicle, to equip even half a dozen FCS BCTs, it should come as no surprise that it's anticipated the M1 Abrams, M2/3 Bradley, and M109 Paladin will soldier on well appraching the 2040 timeframe: the Army won't have the money to afford anything else!
(and unless the current op tempos don't decrease considerably over the next several years, I wouldn't count on even one of the FCS BCTs achieving IOC anytime in the next decade, even 2. There just isn't the funding.)
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