The Australian Government has authorised acquisition of two additional batteries of lightweight towed howitzers by the country's army to help enhance indirect fire support.
Australian defence minister Stephen Smith said the batteries included 19 M777A2 155mm howitzers and will be purchased through US foreign military sales (FMS) at a cost of $70m.
The new howitzers, which raise the army's number of M777 batteries to six, will be drawn from the current US production lot to eliminate potential additional costs required for restarting production.
Acquisition from a single howitzers fleet will result in significant efficiencies in sustainment and training support, the costs of which will be considered by the government in 2012-2013, according to Australian Government ministers.
Australia had originally planned to procure four batteries of 35 M777A2 155mm lightweight towed howitzers, along with a battle management system-fires (BMS-F) command and control (C2) system and course correcting fuses under Phase 1A of Project LAND 17 in October 2009.
However, the acquisition was called off by the government in May 2012, to make way for procurement of additional towed artillery systems.
A total of 35 guns were purchased by the army in 2008 to replace the M198 155mm medium gun and the L119 105mm light gun in the 1st and 4th Regiments of Royal Australian Artillery.
Manufactured by BAE Land Systems, the M777A2 is an advanced self-propelled artillery system, designed to deliver up to five rounds in one minute at ranges of 24.7km with unassisted rounds and 30km with rocket-assisted rounds.
The howitzers have been used by the US Army, Marine Corps and Nato forces to conduct operations in Afghanistan since February 2006.
Image: The US soldiers test fire a M777 lightweight towed howitzer. Photo: courtesy of Sgt Jose E Guillen.