PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. –- During their two-week annual training, members of the 3rd Battalion, 112th Field Artillery Regiment of the New Jersey National Guard received new digitized M119A3 and M777A2 howitzers, which allows crews to fire more precise rounds and evade return fire quicker.


Both of these howitzers provide suppressive and protective fires for infantry brigade combat teams during combat.


The battalion spent the past weeks training on the newly digitized howitzers. The howitzers have been upgraded to include a Digital Fire Control System, which tells the howitzer their precise geographical location and where the tube is pointed. That ability allows them to quickly aim more accurately and hit targets with more precision.


"This actually increases our combat capability and it ensures that they are more survivable in future battles, because the systems are so responsive and quick in-and--out-of-action compared to the predecessor systems," explained Jim Shields, the Program Executive Officer for Ammunition at Picatinny. The organization's Project Manager Towed Artillery Systems oversees the howitzers.


With the digital fire control upgrade, Soldiers can emplace the howitzer and fire the first round in two to three minutes, compared to the more than 10 minutes it could take them to ready the non-digitized M119A2 for firing.


"(The digital system) improves overall responsiveness, gets the weapon into and out of the firing position very quick which puts rounds downrange and metal on target faster," said Shields. "But just as important, it enables the system to quickly complete its mission and get out of the firing position so the crew is less likely to take counter-fire from the enemy. You can have this in the towed position, attached to the prime mover and be driving away in two minutes."


According to the New Jersey National Guard, in addition to the digital fire control, the unit has reorganized and added a battery and a company-sized element of more than 100 Soldiers.


The Soldiers in the new battery will fire the new M777A2 lightweight howitzer, a 155mm cannon. The battalion's two existing batteries will continue to fire the 105mm M119, although they have upgraded from the M119A2 to the digitized M119A3.


"It's a composite battalion, which means that it has twelve M119 howitzers and six M777A2s," Shields said. "And the reason that (the Army) formed these composite brigades is to give them the additional firepower and precision capability you get with the M777A2. It has the ability to program and fire both PGK equipped rounds and the Excalibur out to ranges of 40 kilometers with very, very good precision."


LEARNING THE EQUIPMENT


"We've been training the last several days on the M119A3 and M777A2," explained Lt. Col. Rob Hughes, battalion commander. The Soldiers have learned a ton from the NET (New Equipment Training) team. The capabilities that (the digital howitzers) gives us that we didn't have before we went to this NET fielding are immense. 


"The new capabilities--they're really excited about," Hughes said of his Soldiers. "You know all these kids coming up, they're real smart on digital platforms, so they've taken a great liking to this system. But again, it allows them to do their job more efficiently and effectively."