by DAVID AXE
The U.S. Army was developing a new, semi-robotic, tracked howitzer, as part of the Future Combat Systems family of vehicles. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates killed FCS, in April. The howitzer — the so-called Non Line-of-Sight Cannon — was funded separately from FCS, so wasn’t subject to the FCS termination. But the Army ordered a work stoppage, anyways, while officials sort out whether to continue the program.
If the NLOS-C is fully canceled, it will mark the second time, in just eight years, that the Army has tried, and failed, to develop a new howitzer. The mammoth Crusader howitzer was canceled in 2002. Anticipating NLOS-C’s death, the Senate just voted to spend an extra $60 million, to keep the Army’s existing, M-109A6 Paladin howitzers, in service until 2050. That’s nearly 100 years after the first M-109 entered U.S. service, and 70 years after the A6 version reached the field.
The situation is not as dire, as you might think. The 10-year-old Paladins look similar to older M-109s, on the outside, but inside they’re brand-new vehicles, with new components and computers. Bits of the Crusader ended up in NLOS-C, and there’s no reason that bits of NLOS-C won’t end up in future Paladin upgrades. In that way, the canceled howitzers live on.
Though out-ranged by some nations’ guns, the Paladin still represents one of the best artillery systems in the world, especially when combined with the Army’s longer-range MLRS rocket launchers. Increasingly, ground combat systems take an evolutionary approach to modernization, frequently adding new electronics to the same, basic, proven body. No artillery body is more proven than the M-109. If any howitzer can last 100 years, it’s this one.