BAE Systems to Build New M777 Howitzer Structures for US Army

Defence Industry

Washington: BAE Systems will build M777 lightweight howitzer structures for the US Army, which could lead to the firm restarting the weapon’s production line, according to the UK – based business.

The deal is limited to $50 million and “allows BAE Systems to start delivering on the howitzer program, while finalizing the details of the contract and its total value with the customer,” the company said in a January four  statement. The contract “presents optimum conditions for a likely restart of the M777 production.”

The US, Canada and Australia have sent M777 towed howitzers to Ukraine to support its fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion, which began in February 2022. According to a Pentagon fact sheet issued last month, Ukraine has received nearly 200 155mm howitzers from the US alone, which includes the M777. Howitzers of many varieties have played a critical role on the artillery-centric battlefield — and have reinvigorated the appetite for such weapons in the US and among its partners and allies.

BAE will reboot its supply chain in the UK and the US to build the titanium structures — the basis of the gun — with plans to deliver the first in 2025. The US Army was BAE’s first M777 customer. Part of the production work took place in Barrow-in-Furness, England, with a final integration assembly and test facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which has been closed for roughly a decade.

Orders from the Army slowed down over the last decade, and the service ordered its final 18 guns in 2019. BAE delivered that howitzer to the service in February 2023, according to Lisa Hillary-Tee, a company spokeswoman. BAE began closing its production line overall as it built the final guns, she said.

“BAE Systems has seen an increase in interest from across Europe, Asia, and the Americas in the M777 gun system,” the company said in its statement. The new contract “presents an opportunity to new and existing users to join a new M777 production initiative and take advantage of the benefits from a hot production line and economies of scale.”

She noted the company will likely build the first structures using some of its existing supply chain, plus internal capabilities. It’s unlikely M777 production will return to Barrow-in-Furness because it is now almost entirely dedicated to the Dreadnought submarine program, she added, “but nothing has been finalised.”

BAE said there are more than 1,250 M777s in service with the US, Ukraine, Canada, Australia and India.

Meanwhile, the US Army is working on a new artillery strategy to determine both capability and capacity of what exists, and what the Army may need, the head of Army Futures Command, Gen. James Rainey, said last year. The strategy will also consider new technology to enhance conventional fires on the battlefield, such as advances in propellant that make it possible for midrange cannons to shoot as far as longer-range systems.