Australian gunners showcase precision in close-range fire drill

Australian artillery teams recently demonstrated their precision in live-fire exercises at the Shoalwater Bay training area. Soldiers from the 1st Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery [1 RAA] honed their skills with close-range shooting. The Ministry of Defense of Australia shared this update via a press release. 

Australian gunners showcase precision in close-range fire drill
Photo by Alfred Stauder

This exercise in May was designed to boost the capabilities of the Royal Australian Artillery. Targets were set at extremely close distances, some as close as 360 meters—quite rare for artillery. Soldiers engaged in both direct and indirect fire, utilizing live ammunition. The 1 RAA described it as a “surreal experience for the soldiers,” highlighting the intensity of practicing with live rounds on such close targets. 

The training setup has reportedly had a positive impact, elevating the focus and attention to detail among the artillery batteries. “We’ve done similar training with blanks many times, but for most of our soldiers, this is their first experience with live fire,” said an artillery commanding officer. “We even experienced hazards close to us, enhancing our readiness and training efficiency.”

Australian gunners showcase precision in close-range fire drill - M777A2 howitzer
Photo by Alfred Stauder

Direct and indirect artillery fire

Direct artillery fire involves aiming and firing a weapon directly at a visible target. The gun crew can see the target, and the trajectory of the projectile is relatively flat. This method is often used for targets that are within the line of sight and at a shorter range. It requires precise aiming and quick adjustments based on the target’s movements or changes in the environment. 

Indirect artillery fire, on the other hand, involves firing at targets that are not visible to the gun crew. The projectiles are launched in a high arc to reach targets that are hidden by obstacles or located at a great distance. This method relies on calculations for range, angle, and other factors, often using spotters or advanced targeting systems to provide the necessary data. 

Australian gunners showcase precision in close-range fire drill
Photo by Alfred Stauder

Using live cartridges in training is crucial for realistic practice, as it allows artillery crews to experience the true effects of firing, including recoil, noise, and the impact on targets. Training with live cartridges on targets at a short distance requires strong concentration due to the increased risk of accidents and the need for precise control. The proximity of the targets means that any errors in aiming or firing can have immediate and potentially dangerous consequences. Additionally, the physical and psychological stress of handling live ammunition demands heightened awareness and discipline from the crew.

155mm artillery

The Royal Australian Artillery’s most notable artillery piece is the American-made M777A2 towed howitzer. Initially, thirty-five of these 155mm M777A2s were ordered during the first phase of the Land 17 project, intended to modernize the Army’s towed artillery. The first deliveries began in late 2010. 

See pictures of 40km range 155mm M777 howitzers traveling to Ukraine
Photo: Australian MoD

Later, an additional nineteen M777A2s were procured in late 2012 and delivered by early 2017, replacing the initially planned self-propelled guns. The artillery uses advanced ammunition types, including the SMArt 155 round and the M982 Excalibur guided round. In a significant move in 2022, Australia donated six M777 howitzers to Ukraine to support the country in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The M777A2

The M777A2 towed howitzer is a highly advanced artillery piece used by the United States military and other allied forces. It is a lightweight, 155mm howitzer that has been designed for rapid deployment and high mobility. The M777A2 is an upgraded version of the original M777, incorporating digital fire control systems and other enhancements to improve its accuracy and operational efficiency. 

Kyiv has received 'unfit' M777 howitzers from the US Army stock
Photo credit: Reuters/Stringer

In terms of dimensions, the M777A2 has a length of approximately 10.7 meters [35 feet] when in the firing position and 9.5 meters [31 feet] when in the towing position. It has a width of about 2.77 meters [9.1 feet] and a height of 2.26 meters [7.4 feet]. The howitzer weighs around 4,200 kilograms [9,300 pounds], making it significantly lighter than its predecessors, which allows for easier transport by helicopters or trucks. 

The M777A2 is characterized by its advanced digital fire control system, which includes GPS, inertial navigation, and a digital gunner’s display. This system allows for faster targeting and increased accuracy. The howitzer also features titanium and aluminum construction, which contribute to its reduced weight without compromising its durability and performance. The M777A2 can be operated by a crew of five to eight personnel.

Operational range

Kyiv has received 'unfit' M777 howitzers from the US Army stock
Photo by Gleb Garanich

The principle of operation for the M777A2 involves loading a 155mm artillery shell into the breech. Then it aiming the howitzer using the digital fire control system. After that firing the shell using a combination of mechanical and electronic triggers. The recoil mechanism absorbs the shock of the firing, allowing for rapid reloading and firing. The howitzer can be towed by a variety of vehicles or airlifted to different locations, providing flexibility in deployment. 

The M777A2 can fire a wide range of ammunition types, each designed for specific purposes. Standard high-explosive [HE] shells are used for general bombardment and can reach ranges of up to 24 kilometers [15 miles]. Extended-range guided munitions [ERGM] and rocket-assisted projectiles [RAP] can extend the range to approximately 30 to 40 kilometers [19 to 25 miles]. Additionally, the M777A2 can fire precision-guided munitions like the M982 Excalibur, which can hit targets with high accuracy at ranges up to 40 kilometers [25 miles].

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