“Quadrant four six seven point nine, breech load,” chanted howitzer cannon crew members from Chaos Battery, 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. “Fire! Breech open. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, hurry up fellas. Last round, last round, last round!”
Speed, and military precision are the best ways to describe Chaos Soldiers as they worked as a team to let loose massive ground pounding M777 howitzer rounds from four cannons, during a live-fire exercise as part of Saber Junction 19 (SJ19), at the 7th Army Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany on Sept. 11, 2019.
“Today we came out to PA 277 [live-fire range] to do a live-fire in preparation for Saber Junction 2019,” said Lt. Jonathon Hixson, executive officer for Chaos Btry., 4th Bn., 319th AFAR, 173rd Airborne Brig. “The goal of the live-fire is for the battery to get the sections the ability to train on the placement and also the ability to do some live-fire reps. In terms of supporting the brigade we’re out here to provide accurate indirect fires while our infantry brethren move thru the live-fire lanes.”
Live-fire exercises like SJ19 help the crews increase their efficiency and muscle memory and allows units within the brigade, like the infantry sections, to experience first-hand what kind of support and firepower the M777 howitzers bring to the table.
SJ19 is an exercise involving nearly 5,400 participants from 16 ally and partner nations at the U.S. Army’s Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels Training Areas, Sept. 3 to Sept. 30, 2019. SJ19 is designed to assess the readiness of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade to execute land operations in a joint, combined environment and to promote interoperability with participating allies and partner nations.
“Our location right now, we’re about 10k [kilometers] from the infantry units we’d be supporting,” explains Hixson. “The triple 7 can range up to 30k depending on what type of ammunition, shell, charge we’re using, so as a battery we’re focused more on the deep fight. We’re looking at, how can we help shape the battlefield at a further range than up close like our 119th brothers.”
The M777 matches the firepower of current generation 155mm towed systems at less than half the weight and able to deliver up to five rounds a minute under intense firing conditions and Hixson loves firing these projectiles off.
“I know a lot of people in the civilian world would probably pay big bucks to stand by this howitzer when it goes off and the round goes down range,” said Lt. Jonathon Hixson, feel the ground shake. You can watch the trees move as the projectile is moving past.”
The M777 howitzer is a lethal enemy neutralizer.
“The thing we’re looking to do is deter the enemy from coming into the impact area; we’re looking to reduce the size of the enemy,” said Capt. Charles Brewer, commander for Chaos Btry., 4th Bn., 319th AFAR, 173rd Airborne Brig. “So, if a company is coming in, we’re looking to reduce it to a platoon, we’ll engage it with further fires as they’re coming in. Therefore, when the infantry gets to it, they’re already fighting at about two to one or three to one odds.”
The Howitzer M777s are typically used to shape the deep fight, by countering fire systems such as enemy artillery, air defense and radar systems. Once those threats are eliminated, they are able to seamlessly shift to softer targets.
With the howitzer being digital we use the deflection they give us and this sight will tell me where to position, whether its left, right or up and down for elevation, explains U.S. Army Sgt. Johnny Bonilla, a gunner and cannon crewmember assigned to Chaos Btry., 4th Bn., 319th AFAR, 173rd Airborne Brig.
While these cannons are an imposing piece of machinery, they are also very detailed and technical. Each howitzer is operated by seven to nine highly skilled cannon crew members.
“It’s an amazing weapon system to be able to stand there and you can feel it from the ground as it goes up,” said Hixson. “What other job do you get to hang outside and watch things go boom.”