WASHINGTON — BAE Systems will build M777 lightweight howitzer structures for the U.S. Army, which could lead to the firm restarting the weapon’s production line, according to the U.K.-based business.
The deal is limited to $50 million and “allows BAE Systems to start delivering on the howitzer program, while finalizing the details of the contract and its total value with the customer,” the company said in a Jan. 4 statement. The contract “presents optimum conditions for a likely restart of the M777 production.”
The U.S., Canada and Australia have sent M777 towed howitzers to Ukraine to support its fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion, which began in February 2022. According to a Pentagon fact sheet issued last month, Ukraine has received nearly 200 155mm howitzers from the U.S. alone, which includes the M777.
BAE will reboot its supply chain in the U.K. and the U.S. to build the titanium structures — the basis of the gun — with plans to deliver the first in 2025.
The U.S. Army was BAE’s first M777 customer. Part of the production work took place in Barrow-in-Furness, England, with a final integration assembly and test facility in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which has been closed for roughly a decade.
Orders from the Army slowed down over the last decade, and the service ordered its final 18 guns in 2019. BAE delivered that howitzer to the service in February 2023, according to Lisa Hillary-Tee, a company spokeswoman.
BAE began closing its production line overall as it built the final guns, she told Defense News.
“BAE Systems has seen an increase in interest from across Europe, Asia, and the Americas in the M777 gun system,” the company said in its statement. The new contract “presents an opportunity to new and existing users to join a new M777 production initiative and take advantage of the benefits from a hot production line and economies of scale.”
She noted the company will likely build the first structures using some of its existing supply chain, plus internal capabilities.
It’s unlikely M777 production will return to Barrow-in-Furness because it is now almost entirely dedicated to the Dreadnought submarine program, she added, “but nothing has been finalized.”
BAE said there are more than 1,250 M777s in service with the U.S., Ukraine, Canada, Australia and India.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is working on a new artillery strategy to determine both capability and capacity of what exists, and what the Army may need, the head of Army Futures Command, Gen. James Rainey, told Defense News last year.
The strategy will also consider new technology to enhance conventional fires on the battlefield, such as advances in propellant that make it possible for midrange cannons to shoot as far as longer-range systems.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.