BAE howitzer full-rate production expected in January

By Ashley Tressel / December 17, 2019 at 3:03 PM

The Army says BAE Systems is expected to get the green light to start full-rate production of M109A7 self-propelled howitzers in January, following a contract award last week to extend low-rate initial production intended to bridge the production gap.

Army spokesman Sam Tricomo told Inside Defense today BAE has met all requirements to enter into FRP and the January time frame "reflects availability of senior Army leaders" to make the final decision.

The service had held off on making an FRP decision until the completion of a final assessment involving the program executive officer for ground combat systems, the director of operational test and evaluation and Army Test and Evaluation Command, Army acquisition chief Bruce Jette said in September 2018.

Jette at that time visited BAE's plant in York, PA, along with then-Army Secretary Mark Esper for a quality inspection of the welding on the vehicle's chassis, which was the cause for the FRP delay. The company has since corrected the issue and installed a new robotic weld cell in the production line.

"While there was no material impact to the vehicles' performance, survivability or lethality, we modified aspects of our welding practices to continue on our path to deliver the vehicles in support of the U.S. Army’s fielding requirements," BAE said in August 2018.

The company's president and CEO after the senior leaders' visit said, "We had to make assessments in many different departments and functions . . . so we accelerated some of the things we were doing about people, with respect to infrastructure and capital."

Jette on Dec. 13, 2019, approved the extension of the LRIP contract worth $249 million, allowing for the procurement of remaining material and manufacturing of 60 vehicle sets, for a total quantity of 221 LRIP vehicle sets, according to Tricomo.

"BAE's delivery performance has improved, and we expect to see delivery of the required eight vehicles in December -- a month that contains less production days than the average month due to holiday schedules," he said.

BAE spokeswoman Alicia Gray said today, "We are now consistently delivering against the agreed upon schedule for the M109A7 and accompanying ammunition carrier. This platform brings tremendous capability to the battlefield and goes a long way toward addressing the Army's artillery modernization priority. We stand ready for the Army's green light on full-rate production."