During the mid-1970s, the US Military determined that there was a need to update, replace or overhaul their existing and aging fleet of self-propelled guns (SPG). The focus was on the replacement of the M109 SPG and several options were available. The US Army could select a foreign vehicle such as the French GCT, or the Italian/UK/German SP-70 project, or a new project could be started. The military, unsurprisingly, selected a US-based program and had to consider whether to replace the whole fleet with a common chassis fulfilling roles of command, resupply, and repair or instead, just modernize/upgrade the existing fleet.
Amongst the replacement vehicles considered, the proposal made by Food Machinery Corporation (FMC) under the name DSWS New Start (DSWS – Division Support Weapon System) was rejected by 1983. The emphasis instead of replacement was going to be upgrade and modernization. FMC had invested a considerable amount of time and financial resources into their design and would try to reuse this development in an M109 rework. This was to be the M109 Maxi-PIP (Product Improvement Program)
The existing US SPG fleet was a mix of vehicles, calibers, and ages. There was no simple common Ammunition Resupply Vehicle (ARV) either, and a common vehicle platform for both an artillery system and its resupply vehicles would have obvious advantages for parts, supplies, logistics, and training. The work on FMC’s own platform for all of this had been discontinued already though.
The rate of fire for existing in-service SPG’s was also too slow, of the order of just 4 rounds per minute manually loaded. The US Army wanted to improve on this and an automatic loader would achieve this with up to 12 rounds per minute being possible. Another problem was that the crews of existing SPGs were too large, which lead to logistical problems such as training and maintaining these soldiers in the field. An automatic loader and automatic subsystems would help reduce this human burden.
In particular, the existing engine of the M109 was considered underpowered for its role. An improved power-to-weight ratio of 20 horsepower per ton was set for the upgrade project along with improved reliability. The M109 was a product of the 1950s and simply did not reflect the realities of modern warfare. It was vulnerable to counter-battery fire from Soviet artillery as it took too long to stop, fire, and then move on. Modernized fire control systems, gun elevation motors, and ground mapping would allow the improved vehicle to fire, move, and fire again to reduce successful enemy retaliation. Finally, the old M109 just did not have the range needed to counter fire the Soviets, which was a huge tactical weakness. These requirements formed the basic needs of the Howitzer Improvement Program (HIP).
Howitzer Improvement Program
The 155 mm gun caliber would remain, but the barrel had to be between 38 calibers (5.89m) and 50 calibers (7.75m) long. It had to be able to fire all current and future 155 mm rounds and have a range of 25 to 30 km when using High Explosive Rocket Assisted (HERA) ammunition. Either a fully or semi-automatic loading system was needed to increase the rate of fire and reduce the number of crewmen. New electronics were also needed to enable a 1-minute fire-move-and-fire-again cycle, along with a facility to fire a 3 round burst in 10 seconds. Increased ammunition capacity of at least 50 shells was also demanded.
FMC M109 Modification Proposal
When the original FMC DSWS project was canceled, FMC had luckily also submitted a proposal to update the existing M109 fleet. It was as an alternative to their own proposal for a completely new vehicle with the 155 mm L/45 gun. The upgrade/update idea though was to combine the old M109’s with some of the elements from the completely new vehicle proposal.
This would include the new suite of electronics which would improve accuracy from the same 155 mm L/45 gun but the most obvious and important change would be the switch to an automatic loading system. Fed from two large drums in the back of the turret, the 155 mm shells would be replenished by means of two circular hatches at the bottom of each door. Both doors could also be opened to allow for complete inspection or repair of the drums. The autoloader would also decrease the crew for the vehicle by eliminating the need for one of the loaders.
This upgraded M109 would be marketed under the name M109 Maxi-PIP (Product Improvement Program) and had the advantage of retaining the turret (albeit modified) of the M109. A wooden mockup was shown to the military and received sufficient interest to have a single test chassis produced based on an M109. This prototype weighed in at just over 29 tonnes.
The M109 Maxi-PIP was still under development in 1982 with an existing M109 chassis modified to simulate the new 29-ton (26.3 tonnes) vehicle weight. The engine fitted was a 500 hp Detroit-Diesel 8V71TA and was subjected to the NATO 400 hour engine test. Tests were still scheduled to take place with this engine into 1983. Various other types of engines were considered but 500hp in a 29-ton (26.3 tonnes) vehicle would only produce 17 hp/t which was not the required 20hp/t wanted, therefore this new vehicle was not able to provide the required mobility improvements.
The M109 PIP from FMC faded away and was completely canceled by 1984 with the decision being made at the time to simply modify the M109 fleet with new ammunition stowage and a longer range gun. Pacific Car and Foundry (PCF) had also made its own proposal to fulfill the requirements for the future artillery system under the name ‘Self Propelled Artillery Weapon’ (SPAW). The PCF proposal was also a fully automatically loaded gun system but was capable of firing unassisted shells to a range of 30km and to 40km with a rocket-assisted projectile. The SPAW would have had a crew between 2 and 4 and with an engine providing a power to weight ratio of between 20 to 25 hp/t and could move at up to 40km/h off-road. Neither project could meet the Army’s needs and, as a result of the failure to develop or accept a replacement, the existing M109’s soldiered on.
As with many of these multi-year huge contracts in the US, this one is an enormous project of overlapping requirements. The HIP program did not end with FMC or PCF concepts though and was still going on into 1991. This was the date by which the vehicles for the program were meant to have been entering service yet development hadn’t even finished and only 8 prototype improved vehicles for the entire program had even been made by 1989.
The project was simply too large and phenomenally expensive. In 1989 alone, for example, the HIP program cost nearly US$28.5 million and nearly US$10.5 million the following year. It didn’t matter anyway for FMC. Their initial proposal had been rejected, as was their M109 improvement. The project was somewhat of a failure, no new vehicle was produced and a huge amount of financial resources was spent. The opportunity for a new and more capable platform producing a new family of vehicles was lost. The PIP had not managed to meet the needs for a future artillery system and the US finished out the 1980’s behind the Soviets in terms of self-propelled artillery, unable to select or develop a suitable M109 replacement.
Illustration of the M109 Maxi-PIP produced by Pavel Alexe, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
|Armament||155 L45 main gun, one cupola mounted .50 cal heavy machine gun|
|Ammunition||50 rounds in two 25 round drums with fully automatic feed capable of firing unassisted projectiles to 23km|
GAO Report AD-A141 422 M109 to M109A5 Report, March 26th 1984
Janes Armour and Artillery 1984-5
US Army Tank Automotive Command Laboratory Posture Report FY 1982, US Army
Research Development and Evaluation Army Appropriation descriptive summaries, January 1990, US Army Congressional Report
Report ARLCD-CR-81053, Demonstration Prototype Automated Ammunition and Handling System for 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer Test Bed, December 1981, US Army ARRADCOM