BAE Systems are setting up a hot production line for M777 howitzers, with an Undefined Contract Action to supply the US with the titanium structures that form the basis of the gun, the company announced on 4 January 2024. 

While the contracts is initially limited at $50m (£39m), the expectation exists of a larger run once contract details are finalised, and BAE believe conditions of the deal are optimum for a restart of M777 production in the UK. 

Artillery bombardment has been a central element of the conflict in Ukraine, highlighting shortfalls in stockpiles and supply chains for production of 155mm shells. Worldwide, nations have rallied to boost production of the ammunition type to achieve a higher state of preparedness.

The production initiative may open to wider array of customers, as it presents an opportunity for new and existing users to join the restart and benefit from economies of scale. 

The first major structures for the M777 howitzer are due to be delivered in 2025, coming at a critical time for the US Army, said John Borton, vice president and general manager of BAE Systems Weapons Systems UK, as US Army howitzers are deployed on the frontline of the war in Ukraine.

“The US, as well as Canada and Australia, has donated M777s to Ukraine. We understand that they are performing well and we are very proud of our role in supporting our allies.”

“The M777 will remain at the forefront of artillery technology well into the future through the use of technical insertions, long-range precision guided munition developments, and flexible mobility options,” continued Borton. 

The M777 was released in the US to replace the existing inventory of M198 155mm towed howitzers through a joint initiative by the US Army and Marine Corps in 1997. 

The M777 offers a distinct advantage over other 155mm towed Howitzers, being 3,175kg (7,000lb) lighter, equivalent to half the weight of the larger platform, adding to rapid reaction capabilities. In July 2004, the M777 howitzer completed a series of airlift tests with the US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The M777 was carried as an external load for a distance of 69 nautical miles during the tests.

A contract for full-rate production of 495 systems was awarded to BAE Systems in April 2005, and the following month the USMC began fielding the M777 with the 11th Marines unit at Twentynine Palms in California. Approximately 1,000 M777 155mm howitzers were in service with the US Army and US Marine Corps as of October 2018.

Despite the reduction in weight, the M777 offers firepower that matched the capabilities of the current generation of 155mm towed systems, being equipped with a 39-calibre barrel with a muzzle velocity at Charge 8 super of 827m/s. The maximum firing range is 24.7km with unassisted rounds and 30km with rocket-assisted rounds.