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Artillery: U.S. Replaces Old M-109 With New M-109
   Next Article → CHINA: Money And Power And Military Might
October 10, 2011: The U.S. is selling Chile twelve refurbished M109 155mm self-propelled howitzers. This effort will upgrade the older M-109A2s to the M-109A5 standard and return the M-109 to "like new" condition. The upgrade includes a new howitzer barrel, with 25 percent more range, new electronics and fire control systems. This will cost about $1.3 million per vehicle. Chile already has 12 of these refurbished M-109s, plus 24 that were upgraded by a Swiss firm earlier (to something roughly similar to the A5 standard).

Despite the popularity of the M-109, the U.S. (where the M-109 originated in the 1960s) has been seeking a replacement, without much luck. For example, two years ago, the U.S. Army cancelled its second attempt (the XM1203 NLOS-C) to develop a M-109 replacement. The third attempt will consist of the PIM (Paladin Integrated Management program). That means the army is going to rebuild many of its existing 900 M-109s, rather than trying to come up with another new design. But PIM will be a quite extensive upgrade. It will use the same chassis as the M-2 Bradley infantry vehicle, and a new engine control system. Added to that will be the cab and gun mounts from the Paladin. From the XM1203, the automatic rammer, but not the automatic loader, will be used. So troops will still have to manually load the propellant and 41 kg (90 pound) shell, but the semi-automatic rammer will then push the propellant and shell into the firing chamber and close the breech. Automating this part of the process improves accuracy somewhat, because when troops manually shoved (rammed) in the propellant and shell, they often applied too much, or too little, pressure and left the shell out of position by a tiny bit, just enough to hurt accuracy. PIM will get new electronics, and numerous small improvements, many based on user suggestions. This will make the M-109 PIM competitive with some new European self-propelled 155mm howitzers.

The NLOS-C was to have been the first of the eight MGV (Manned Ground Vehicle) systems to enter service two years ago as part of the FCS (Future Combat System) program. But the FCS lost its focus, budget discipline and Congressional support. It was cancelled in 2009.

Nine years ago, the prototype NLOS-C was cobbled together in six months, after the new (and very high tech and high priced) Crusader SP artillery system was cancelled. The 45 ton Crusader used an autoloader and an engine similar to the one used in the M-1 tank. It was deemed too heavy and too expensive. The NLOS-C used the Crusader autoloader and some of its electronic components.

Although the M-109 has been frequently updated, the NLOS-C incorporated many more new technologies. This included an auto-loader (from the Crusader) and a more modern 155mm gun and an APC chassis with a hybrid-electric engine (to reduce fuel consumption.) This all weighed 23 tons, about the same as the M-109. But the NLOS only had a two man crew, compared to five in the M-109.

The final version of the NLOS-C was to be heavier (about 27 tons), because more defensive systems were added, to reflect experience in Iraq. The NLOC-C also got a lot of new electronics. The vehicle carried 24 rounds of 155mm ammo. Congress originally demanded that NLOS-C be in service by 2008, but development needed a few more years. Field testing (operating as one would in combat), began four years ago with the six prototypes.

One problem the brass were concerned about was the ability of the two man crew to hold up during 24/7 operations. The M-109, with a five man crew, has enough people to take care of maintenance, standing guard and, basically, always having one or two people rested and alert. Not so easy when you only have two guys. One solution was to have two or more crews per vehicle, as combat aircraft (and some warships) have done for years. The off-duty crews would be back with the support troops. PIM will have a crew of four, compared to five in the Paladin M-109.

One of the things that helped kill the NLOS-C was the new GPS guided Excalibur shell. This smart shell entered service four years ago, and changed everything. Excalibur has worked very well in combat, and this is radically changing the way artillery operates. Excalibur means 80-90 percent less ammo has to be fired, meaning less wear and tear on SP artillery, less time needed for maintenance, and less time spent replenishing ammo supplies, and more time being ready for action.

In the current war on terror, even the M-109 has not been used much. The lighter, towed, M777 has proved more useful, especially when using the Excalibur shell. Currently, the army plans to keep PIM versions of the M-109 around until 2050. The M-109 was a solid design, which is pretty clear from how difficult it's been to come up with a replacement. So, in the end, the army replaced the M-109 with another M-109 upgrade.

The army plans to acquire at least 600 PIMs, reflecting the impact of the Excalibur shell, and the number of older M-109s that are still fit for service.

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davebarnes    Chile?   10/10/2011 7:04:45 PM
Why does Chile even need 155s?
Their next war with Bolivia?
Come on.
A war with Argentina? I can just picture those machines traversing the Andes.
 
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LB       10/10/2011 11:54:46 PM
Keeping the 155/39 M284 is really quite tragic.  The German 155/52 goes 30km, 40km assisted, and has fired assisted rounds out to 60km.  The 155/39 range is 24km and 30km assisted.  Someday we may actually fight a real army and till then shorter range guns require larger number of fire bases to support the same area.
 
Chile aside this just hurts export sales.  Some nations will not even consider the M109 in competition with the PzH2000, K9, etc.  Indeed the M109 is being replaced in various countries by these types.  The 155/52 is becoming more and more standard in nations around the world and we persist with the 39.
 
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WarNerd       10/11/2011 4:17:16 AM
Keeping the 155/39 M284 is really quite tragic.  The German 155/52 goes 30km, 40km assisted, and has fired assisted rounds out to 60km.  The 155/39 range is 24km and 30km assisted.  Someday we may actually fight a real army and till then shorter range guns require larger number of fire bases to support the same area.
 
Chile aside this just hurts export sales.  Some nations will not even consider the M109 in competition with the PzH2000, K9, etc.  Indeed the M109 is being replaced in various countries by these types.  The 155/52 is becoming more and more standard in nations around the world and we persist with the 39.
The M-109 is half the weight (27.5 tons vs. 49 to 55+ tons) and over 8’ shorter (30’ vs. 38’ 5” for the PzH2000) than SP guns using the 155/52. That means the M-109 can go a lot of places that the 155/52’s cannot, and is much easier to transport by air. Finding bridges that the gun can cross are also much less of a problem for the lighter vehicle, especially in 3rd world countries.
 
The 155/39 SPGs are more appropriate for an expeditionary army. 155/52 SPGs work well for defensive armies in countries with well developed infrastructure.
 
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LB       10/11/2011 4:51:45 PM

 
Moreover, in COIN operations one requires fewer fire bases to support a given area when operating with significantly longer ranged artillery.  In fact the lack of range in the 155/39 actually increases the number of artillery batteries and associated support and combat support troops required over a given area which significantly increases the amount of forces required far in excess of any weight savings in the actual platform.
 
The entire notion of heavy armored forces becoming medium weight forces, and enabling air deployment, was a fictional fantasy construct created by the US Army as a political response to the long deployment time required in the Balkans.  Heavy armored units (brigade level and above) are never going to be deployed or supported by air.  In any case it's the weight and support needs of the unit that matter not how much one piece of equipment happens to weigh.
 
The continuing trend is for armored units to become heavier.  The armored vehicles are getting larger and heavier and many of the supporting trucks are being armored and getting heavier as well.  FCS and the entire notion of medium weight armored forces was a ridiculous construct.  Witness how many nations are deploying much heavier infantry carriers along with the current US Army plans.
 
If the US needs to strategically deploy significant forces by air it has various light units that can be backed by medium weight forces and the one bit of kit the US Army has really required, an M551 replacement, was never enough of a priority to bother with.  For medium forces the US has the entire USMC and maybe one can make a case that a 155/39 is better for the Corps expeditionary nature but it's ridiculous in terms of the US Army's heavy maneuver brigades.
 
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LB    para cut off   10/11/2011 4:54:05 PM
It's a false construct.  The US has various expeditionary forces including the entire USMC, XVIII Corp, etc.  The heavy maneuver brigades, which the M109 supports, already operate various kit heavier than 30 tons and will only be adding more.  The utility of the 155/52 is more than worth the marginal weight increase in an armored brigade.
 
Moreover, in COIN operations one requires fewer fire bases to support a given area when operating with significantly longer ranged artillery.  In fact the lack of range in the 155/39 actually increases the number of artillery batteries and associated support and combat support troops required over a given area which significantly increases the amount of forces required far in excess of any weight savings in the actual platform.
 
The entire notion of heavy armored forces becoming medium weight forces, and enabling air deployment, was a fictional fantasy construct created by the US Army as a political response to the long deployment time required in the Balkans.  Heavy armored units (brigade level and above) are never going to be deployed or supported by air.  In any case it's the weight and support needs of the unit that matter not how much one piece of equipment happens to weigh.
 
The continuing trend is for armored units to become heavier.  The armored vehicles are getting larger and heavier and many of the supporting trucks are being armored and getting heavier as well.  FCS and the entire notion of medium weight armored forces was a ridiculous construct.  Witness how many nations are deploying much heavier infantry carriers along with the current US Army plans.
 
If the US needs to strategically deploy significant forces by air it has various light units that can be backed by medium weight forces and the one bit of kit the US Army has really required, an M551 replacement, was never enough of a priority to bother with.  For medium forces the US has the entire USMC and maybe one can make a case that a 155/39 is better for the Corps expeditionary nature but it's ridiculous in terms of the US Army's heavy maneuver brigades.
 
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Mrbinga       10/13/2011 12:16:55 PM
Why doesn't the US Army look into adopting M109L52 developed by RDM and Rheinmetall or at least some variation of it?  If memory serves me correct it replaces the old 39 caliber gun with the 52 caliber gun currently on the PzH 2000 and has improvements in the loading system that allow a significantly higher rate of fire.  Combine the best elements of the M109L52 and the M109 PIM and the US Army would probably have a SP howitzer that would be competitive with any current other SP howitzer fielded or planned.
 
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WarNerd       10/14/2011 4:11:11 AM
It's a false construct.  The US has various expeditionary forces including the entire USMC, XVIII Corp, etc.  The heavy maneuver brigades, which the M109 supports, already operate various kit heavier than 30 tons and will only be adding more.  The utility of the 155/52 is more than worth the marginal weight increase in an armored brigade.
By the same argument you demand that they get rid of all their M1114s and replace them with something like the Namer.
 
If range is so important, why not extend it farther by provide the units with additional HIMARS instead?
Moreover, in COIN operations one requires fewer fire bases to support a given area when operating with significantly longer ranged artillery.  In fact the lack of range in the 155/39 actually increases the number of artillery batteries and associated support and combat support troops required over a given area which significantly increases the amount of forces required far in excess of any weight savings in the actual platform.
Towed artillery is preferred for fire bases, not self-propelled.  Fire bases are often in difficult to access locations for defensive purposes, or contested territory, and the lower weight of a towed artillery piece means it can be brought in slung below a large helicopter.
 
Greater coverage also makes it more likely that the gun will be busy helping someone else when you need supporting fire.  There are trade-offs to be considered.  The real advantage of the 155/52’s longer range is in large scale conventional combat where it makes it possible to mass fires from more batteries, not in COIN.
The entire notion of heavy armored forces becoming medium weight forces, and enabling air deployment, was a fictional fantasy construct created by the US Army as a political response to the long deployment time required in the Balkans.  Heavy armored units (brigade level and above) are never going to be deployed or supported by air.  In any case it's the weight and support needs of the unit that matter not how much one piece of equipment happens to weigh.
And the US never sends anything smaller than a brigade?

Air deploying an armored unit directly into combat is a non-starter for a variety of reasons, no argument there.  But equipment (including tanks) can be flown to protected areas as part of a quick build-up, such as in Operation Desert Shield.  Much of the regular armor in Afghanistan has been flown in.

Not sure what you mean ‘heavy armored forces becoming medium weight forces’  If you are referring to the FCS, well 25 ton units seem more light than medium to me.  Sometimes I like to call the FCS “son of the MBT-70”, a lot of nice ideas that never really fit together, with a price tag that never stopped growing until both got cancelled.  But the MBT-70 supplied a lot of research and information that eventually resulted in the M-1 Abrams, and hopefully the FCS will do the same.  Of course, it will not be the ridiculously low 25 tons that the FCS was supposed to be, probably somewhere between 45 tons and 55 tons.
 
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WarNerd       10/14/2011 4:12:14 AM
The continuing trend is for armored units to become heavier.  The armored vehicles are getting larger and heavier and many of the supporting trucks are being armored and getting heavier as well.  FCS and the entire notion of medium weight armored forces was a ridiculous construct.  Witness how many nations are deploying much heavier infantry carriers along with the current US Army plans.
Yes, there is a natural tendency for units to get heavier, pushed by the obsession to protect the troops, but as with the body armor issue, there are physical limitations, such as ground pressure, that cannot be ignored.  Inevitably the weight reaches the point that the unit cannot carry out its function.  Or would you consider the German Maus to be a viable tank?  The M-1 is generally agreed to be pushing the limit, or slightly over it.
 
You cannot function as well with only heavy forces as you do with a mix of heavy, medium, and light forces.  Each has areas where they will excel, and areas that they should not attempt, and predicting the proper mix is more a matter of luck than skill.  The Army has been aware of the problem, which is one of the reasons they bought the Stryker.  The vehicle performance is very good in low to mid intensity combat, but it should never try go against tanks.  On the other hand, you probably would not want to use tanks as part of a stealthy pre-dawn raid on a Taliban safe house.
If the US needs to strategically deploy significant forces by air it has various light units that can be backed by medium weight forces and the one bit of kit the US Army has really required, an M551 replacement, was never enough of a priority to bother with.  For medium forces the US has the entire USMC and maybe one can make a case that a 155/39 is better for the Corps expeditionary nature but it's ridiculous in terms of the US Army's heavy maneuver brigades.
So when another Afghanistan occurs we mobilize the SOCOM, Airborne, Marines, Air Force, and Navy, but tell the rest of the Army to go back to sleep, we have no use for them?  They won’t be happy about that.  Worse yet, Congress will be asking why we are keeping all the useless dead wood around, and the fools will start cutting the heavy brigades.
 
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bacchi       10/14/2011 8:08:25 AM
Would it be possible to explain what is this "... new howitzer barrel with 25 percent more range ..."? 
 
As far as I know M109s have a 39 caliber ordnance.
 
Also I understand that the Swiss Army has 384 M109s with a 47 caliber ordnance, modified by RUAG.
 
Were some of those 384 sold to Chile? Or they are normal M109s?
 
Thanks
 
Reg
 
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