Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) Close to Fielding

David Axe reports that the Army is soon to get a long-awaited replacement from the 1960s-era M-109 howitzer, which had been on hold since Don Rumsfeld rightly killed the way-too-heavy-way-too-expensive Crusader five years ago.

Non-Line-of-Site Cannon Photo Enter BAE Systems’ Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, or NLOS-C, a snazzy model of which was on display at the Association of the U.S. Army trade show in Florida this week. According to program manager Mark Signorelli, NLOS-C mines all the best parts of Crusader: digital fire controls, superior comms and an autoloader that reduces the crew to just two from the M-109’s five. But it weighs around half as much. “It’s got Crusader DNA,” Signorelli says of the new gun, contradicting previous generations of artillery officials who have tried to distance NLOS-C from its ill-fated predecessor.

NLOS-C is part of the Future Combat Systems family of vehicles, meaning it shares the same basic electric-hybrid chassis and the troubled netcentric Joint Tactical Radio System. But owing to the desperate need to replace the M-109, NLOS-C funding has, by Congressional decree, been “fenced off” from the rest of the FCS budget, which has been plundered in recent years to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Four of FCS’ original 18 vehicles have been deferred indefinitely and others might fall too, but that will probably never happen to NLOS-C. By now it has momentum.

Thanks to this preferred status, the new howitzer is moving smoothly through development, even if the comms network it’s supposed to plug into is late and over-budget. A protoype NLOS-C gun is at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona firing off thousands of test rounds; the first full vehicle will arrive at Yuma for further tests next year. Having one major piece FCS that’s advancing faster than the rest is prudent, Signorelli says. “We’re blazing a trail.”

Image via DefenseTech

FCS has had several hiccups along the way, as with most major systems, and justifying the spending of this kind of money in the middle of a war is especially difficult. Still, Paladin is twice as old as the average crewman and Axe is right: “We need a replacement, stat, if the Army is serious about preserving organic fires for mechanized forces.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.