BAE Systems yesterday said the Defense Department ordered 70 BAE lightweight M777 howitzers to begin equipping the Army’s Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCT).

Valued at $134 million, the order takes the U.S.-U.K. production program out to October 2013 and a total of 1071 guns, the company said in a statement.

Mike Smith, managing director of BAE’s Global Combat Systems Weapons business, said: "Bringing M777 to the IBCTs will enhance their ability to carry out an ever-expanding range of missions. This latest order reinforces the system’s credentials while the focused development underlines our determination to keep M777 the howitzer of choice."

The order follows a $21 million contract in July to design, develop, qualify and manufacture an improved Power Conditioning Control Module (PCCM), the statement said. This is the battery charging system that provides stable power to the Digital Fire Control System. Over the next four years, 1,049 units will be produced for fitting to in-service guns.

The improved PCCM must be lighter but deliver better reliability and accommodate future accessories, such as electronic thermal management and laser ignition. It will also allow the use of lithium ion, as well as the current lead-acid, batteries.

Weighing in at less than 4,200 kilograms, the M777 is the world’s first artillery weapon to make widespread use of titanium and aluminum alloys, resulting in a howitzer that is half the weight of conventional towed 155mm systems. As a result, it can be deployed by medium-lift helicopter quickly and beyond the reach of roadside bombs to otherwise inaccessible areas, extending its reach over the theater of operations.

BAE’s facility at Hattiesburg, Miss., is responsible for final integration and test of the weapon system. The prime contract management of the M777 program and manufacture and assembly of the complex titanium structures and associated recoil components are done at Barrow-in-Furness in the United Kingdom.