(NSI News Source Info) Hattiesburg, MS – May 29, 2009: The U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Canadian Forces have ordered additional BAE Systems M777 155mm lightweight howitzers, taking the company's order book for the type to 800 guns, BAE announced May 28. The three orders' total value is about $118 million, and the program is now worth in excess of $1.6 billion to the company. The United States is buying 38 more weapons, while Canada is ordering another 25 to add to the 12 already in service. U.S. and Canadian forces both operate the type in Afghanistan, where its ability to be transported by tactical helicopter makes it particularly useful in the difficult terrain faced by coalition forces. M777s are manufactured in BAE's Global Combat Systems plant at Barrow-in-Furness, United Kingdom, and final integration and testing takes place at the company's Hattiesburg, Miss., facility. The weapon can fire the M982 Excalibur smart munition, jointly developed by Raytheon Missile Systems and BAE, to a range of up to 40 kilometers with a high degree of accuracy. The circular error probability requirement is for less than 10 meters, and "the system has consistently demonstrated an ability to meet and exceed that requirement," said James Shields, program manager for the weapon at Picatinny Arsenal, speaking on the occasion of the delivery of the 500th M777 to U.S. forces in April. Even firing conventional ammunition, however, the M777's accuracy has met and exceeded expectations. Feedback from U.S. forces employing the weapon during operations in Afghanistan has revealed "shifts of only 50-60 meters after the first round - and that's just awesome," according to Col. James Matthies, TRADOC capabilities manager at Fort Sill, Okla. Ease of use and the efficacy of the digitization package were areas cited, Matthies said. The M777 is the first such weapon to make extensive use of titanium and aluminum alloys, resulting in an air-transportable weapon that, at 4,200 kilograms, weighs about half that of conventional 155mm systems. The total of 63 howitzers in the new orders comes shortly after the company forecast up to 150 additional orders by the end of 2009. Among potential purchasers are Australia, which is asking for 35 systems but could eventually procure up to 57, Denmark, India, Oman and Thailand. An order from Australia is anticipated before the end of the year, according to the company. In addition to the new order, BAE Global Combat Systems has received a contract for $3 million to reset 33 howitzers returning from deployment in Afghanistan with U.S. forces. This work will be carried out at the Hattiesburg facility.
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