Missouri National Guard's only field artillery unit moves into the 21st century with new howitzers

Artillerymen from the 129th Field Artillery complete a fire mission in June 2010 at Fort McCoy, Wis. Unbeknownst at the time, this would be one of the last rounds fired with the battalion's current M198 155 mm towed howitzer weapon systems. The 129th will soon retire the M198s and be fielded with 18 new M777A2 155 mm lightweight howitzers in March 2011. (Submitted Photo)

By Jennifer Archdekin

MARYVILLE, Mo. - The Missouri Army National Guard's 1-129th Field Artillery is preparing to retire the M198 155 mm towed howitzer they are currently using, and will gain 18 new M777A2 155 mm lightweight howitzers in March 2011.

Since 1984, the battalion has been firing the M198, and at that time it replaced the M114 155 mm howitzer. The M114, affectionately referred to as "the pig" due to its stubby profile and weight, originated in the 1940s.

"The new weapon systems do everything the old guns do, but it will all be digital now," said Capt. Ryan Jennings, administrative officer for 129th FA. "We're moving into a new age."

Jennings pointed out that one of the best things about the gun is that it is capable of shooting a GPS guided bullet called the Excalibur.

"The 198s would typically use a battery line of six guns to engage a target, requiring 10 Soldiers on each gun," said Jennings. "The new GPS guided systems are far more accurate and require only one round to neutralize a target."

Improvements to the M777A2, or triple seven, make it more mobile, rapidly deployable, more survivable and more accurate than the current heavy and aging M198.

"The M198 was a Cold War gun," said Jennings. "It was good during it's time."

Lt. Col. Terry Mast, battalion commander, also welcomes the new equipment.

"The triple seven is like going from the telegraph to computers," said Mast. "The triple sevens allow us to cut our emplacement time from 10 to13 minutes down to two minutes. It allows us to basically come into the 21st century."

There are many advantages to the new lightweight system. The M198 tips the scale at 16,000 pounds, where the triple seven comes in around 9,800 pounds.

"These guns are easier to haul and the biggest thing is that we can airlift two, instead of one, in an airplane," said Jennings.

The new howitzers also utilize a global positioning system that allows the artillerymen to more accurately shoot the GPS guided munitions, according to Mast.

"This takes us from being an area weapon to being a precision weapon," said Mast. "It allows us to be a precision instrument where the history of the artillery has always been about area fire. It will change the whole game for us. It allows us to get into position, provide fires more accurately and quicker for the units we're supporting out there."

Though the basics of firing the howitzers will not change too much, Soldiers will train to acclimate themselves to the new digital technology. The battalion will spend 10 days in March at Fort Sill, Okla., to familiarize the Soldiers. Jennings said that most of the concepts on the triple sevens are the same, but Soldiers will have to adjust to the nuances on the new guns.

In addition to the new weapons systems, the field artillery will also receive 18 new M1083 five-ton trucks to tow the guns. Each of the battalion's three batteries will be supplied with six new guns and trucks.

"Not only is it a gee whiz toy for us to do, but it actually benefits the Soldiers out on the ground," said Mast. "That's what our job is as artillerymen, to provide fire support for the infantry, armor, anybody that needs fires-to bring fires against people are who doing other Soldiers harm."

The 129th is headquartered in Maryville and maintains three batteries in Albany, Chillicothe and Independence. They are Missouri's only field artillery unit. The historical "Truman's Own," or Battery D in Independence, was commanded during World War I, by President Harry S. Truman, who later became the 33rd president of the United States.

For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit www.moguard.com.


For more information about this release, please contact Jennifer Archdekin at 816-262-2893 or e-mail at jarchdekin@gmail.com.

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