The M777 howitzer might not look all that intimidating when placed alongside its much larger counterparts, but this small and lightweight artillery system packs quite a punch. Primarily used by branches of the US military, it’s since been adopted by a number of international armed forces, and has seen use in such conflicts as the War in Afghanistan and the 2022 Russo-Ukraine War.
Development of a lightweight artillery system
In the 1980s, the United Kingdom’s Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering’s Armaments Division began work on what would become the M777 howitzer. When the company was purchased by BAE Systems, a large portion of production was changed to use American-made parts, including the gun barrel, which is manufactured at the Watervliet Arsenal in New York.
Pfc. James Miller, an artilleryman with Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, pulls the lanyard of an M777A2 howitzer during Exercise Desert Scimitar at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, May 2014. (Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Ashton Buckingham / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
After undergoing testing at Yuma Proving Ground, the M777 was ready to be adopted by both US and international military forces. Over the years, a number of variants have been developed, including the M777A1, which saw the addition of satellite GPS, among other upgrades; the M777A2, which makes the unit compatible with the M982 Excalibur round; the M777ER; and the Canadian-used M777C1.
M777 howitzer specs
Most notable about the M777 howitzer is that it’s smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the M198 howitzer. At 4,200 kg, it’s 41 percent lighter than the M198 and 25 percent smaller, meaning it can be transported by helicopter (MV-22 Osprey, CH-53E Super Stallion, CH-47 Chinook), transporter aircraft (Lockheed C-130 Hercules) and by air-braked vehicles weighing more than 2.5 tons.
This makes it not only portable by land, sea and air, but highly deployable. What’s more, when towed by truck, it can be transported along with the equipment, tools and crew needed to fire and maintain it.
M777A2 howitzer being fired in Iraq, March 2009. (Photo Credit: Capt. Ed. Shank, Pennsylvania National Guard / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
The minimum crew needed to man the M777 is five, with the average numbering around eight. However, Army veteran Patrick Abrams told Coffee or Die that just three individuals can man the weapon if absolutely necessary, saying, “You need the chief, you need the gunner, and you need someone to load the rounds and fire it. You can fire it with very, very few people if you absolutely have to.”
The M777 howitzer uses a digital fire-control system, which allows it to be put into action quickly. It’s also capable of firing a number of 155 mm ammunition variants, including the M107, the M549 High-Explosive Rocket Assisted (HERA) round, the M712 Copperhead 155 mm caliber cannon-launched guided projectile (CLGP), the M795 and the M982 Excalibur, a GPS-guided projectile. The latter is effective at 40 km, and is able to strike within 10 meters of its target.
While effective on its own, the M777 is best used alongside counter-artillery radar systems, such as the Hughes AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder. These systems are able to track incoming enemy artillery and calculate where it was fired from, allowing the M777 team to launch a counter-attack at that position.
Soldiers assigned to Cobra Battery, Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment conduct fire drills on the M777 howitzer in the motor pool at the Artillery and Armaments Training Center, February 2018. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn, U.S Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
Speaking with Coffee or Die, an unnamed US Army officer gave a great overview of the M777 howitzer:
“It’s much more lightweight than just about any other howitzer in the world. That allows you to move it more quickly, to put it into more difficult terrain in some cases, so you can put it in places where the enemy wouldn’t expect it and wouldn’t be looking for it. And, critically, it allows those guns to shoot and then be quickly displaced somewhere else where they can hide or where they can shoot from a different location.”
The M777 howitzer is used by many countries
Today, the M777 howitzer is used by the ground forces of Australia, Canada, Columbia, India, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and the United States. The US Marine Corps officially adopted the M777 in 2005, with the Army replacing the M198 howitzer with it the next year.
Both the Brazilian Navy and the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces are currently looking into adopting the M777, with BAE Systems working on a development plan with Emirates Defense Technology (EDT) to make UAE use of the howitzer a reality.
US Marine Corps M777 howitzers on the flight line prior to being loaded onto a C-17 Globemaster III at March Air Reserve Base, California on April 22, 2022. Their intended destination is Ukraine. (Photo Credit: Marine Corps Cpl. Austin Fraley / U.S. Marine Corps / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
The M777 howitzer made its combat debut during the War in Afghanistan, and has since been used in a number of conflicts, including the Iraq War, the ongoing skirmishes between China and India, and the civil wars in Yemen and Syria. Between November 2018 and April 2019, a number of M777A2s were deployed to Iraq’s border with Syria, in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces during the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani.