The M102 howitzer firing
|Place of origin||United States|
|Used by|| USA
|Wars||Vietnam War, Invasion of Grenada, Gulf War, Iraq War|
|Manufacturer||Rock Island Arsenal|
|Weight||1,496 kg (3,298 lb)|
|Length||Travel: 5.18 m (20 ft)|
|Width||Travel: 1.96 m (6 ft 5 in)|
|Height||Travel: 1.59 m (5 ft 3 in)|
|Caliber||105 mm (4.1 in)|
|Elevation||−5° to +75°|
|Rate of fire||Maximum: 10 rpm
Normal: 3 rpm
|Effective firing range||11.5 km (7.1 miles)|
|Maximum firing range||15.1 km (9.4 miles) with rocket-assisted projectile|
An air-mobile howitzer for the Vietnam War
The M102 105 mm howitzer is used in air mobile (helicopter) and light infantry operations. The weapon carriage is lightweight welded aluminum, mounted on a variable recoil mechanism. The weapon is manually loaded and positioned, and can be towed by a 2 ton truck or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), can be transported by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, or can be dropped by parachute with airborne units. When emplaced, the howitzer's high volume of fire compensates in large measure for the lower explosive weight of the projectile compared to the Army's 155 mm and 8-inch howitzers. Since 1964, the Army has acquired 1,150 M102 towed howitzers. This weapon is being replaced by the M119-series 105 mm howitzer.
Resistance to change
Units were initially equipped with the M101A1 howitzer, virtually the same 105-mm howitzer that had been used to support U.S. forces since World War II. In 1966 a new 105-mm towed howitzer, the M102, was received in Vietnam. The first M102s were issued to the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery, in March 1966. Replacement of the old howitzers continued steadily over the next four years.
Many of the more seasoned artillerymen did not want the old cannon replaced. Over the years they had become familiar with its every detail and were confident that it would not disappoint them in the clutch. These experienced artillerymen could offer some seemingly convincing reasons why the M101 was still the superior weapon: its waist-high breech made it easier to load; it had higher ground clearance when in tow; but most important, it was considerably less expensive than the M102. Their arguments, however, were futile.
The new M102 was substantially lighter, it weighed little more than 1½ tons whereas the M101A1 weighed approximately 2½ tons;. As a result, more ammunition could be carried during heliborne operations, and a 3/4-ton truck rather than a 2½-ton truck was its prime mover for ground operations. Another major advantage of the M102 was that it could be traversed a full 6,400 mils. The M101A1 had a limited on-carriage traverse, which required its trails (stabilizing legs) to be shifted if further traverse was necessary. A low silhouette made the new weapon a more difficult target for the enemy, an advantage that far outweighed the disadvantage of being somewhat less convenient to load.
The 105-mm howitzer M102 is a lightweight towed weapon, which has a very low silhouette when in the firing position. The M102 howitzer fires a 33-pound projectile of semifixed ammunition and at charge 7 will fire 11,500 meters. It has a muzzle velocity of 494 meters per second. The maximum rate of fire is 10 rounds per minute for the first 3 minutes, with a sustained rate: 3 rounds per minute.
A roller tire attached to the trail assembly of the M102 permits the weapon to be rotated 6,400 mils around a firing platform, which provides the pivot for the weapon. The weapon can be elevated from −89 mils (−5 degrees) to a maximum of 1,333 mils (75 degrees). The panoramic telescope has a four power, fixed focus optical system, with 178 mils field of view. It contains dry nitrogen gas to retard fogging and condensation. The parallax shield used during boresighting protects the lens.
The trails are made of aluminum alloy. They are a single box trail in wishbone shape, and serve three purposes, which are: mobility, stability, and stowage of section equipment. The lunette is the towing pintle that allows the weapon to be connected to the vehicle. When towing, vehicle has a fixed or seized tow pintle; remove the lock plate located under the lunette. The drawbar has two positions. The drawbar is lowered for travel, and raised for firing.
There are two lifting brackets to connect slings to, when the howitzer is being lifted by helicopter. A third bracket is located on front yoke. The carriage handles are used by crew members to lifting and shifting the howitzer during loading, unloading, and emplacing the howitzer.
The firing platform attaches to the howitzer lower carriage by using a socket and a locking handle. The eight holes are for the stakes needed to stake the howitzer in position. Platform stakes are issued in three sizes. There are four 15-inch stakes issued. These are used for frozen or rocky terrain, and are normally issued only where needed, such as extremely cold areas. There are eight 24-inch stakes issued, and they are used for hard packed ground. Four 38-inch stakes are issued to be used for soft ground.
The first production versions were displayed with a muzzle brake, most likely to allow long range 105 mm rounds to be fired, but was discontinued before shipment to Vietnam.
While the M102 is no longer in active use by the United States Army, having been replaced by the M119, it is still in use by the National Guard. The M102 was last deployed to combat in 2004 by the 1st Battalion, 206th Field Artillery, Arkansas Army National Guard. Seventeen M102 howitzers were deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq. The 1-206th FA provided fire and conducted counter-fire missions in support of 39th BCT operations, an element of the 1st Cavalry Division. The 1-206th scavenged spare parts from nine M102 howitzers that were located in the Camp Taji Boneyard. These howitzers were allegedly captured by the Iraqi Army during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
The M102 is also used on the USAF's Lockheed AC-130 gunship. The M102 105 mm cannon was modified to be fired from the left rear side door of the AC-130 gunship aircraft. To accommodate this cannon, the rear side-firing 40 mm guns was replaced by the radome that formerly had been installed in the door cavity. That change provided enough space for the 105 mm gun to be mounted in the doorway in place of the radome. The gun was first used in the later stages of the Vietnam War and is still used in the AC-130U gunship. The latest AC-130J Ghostrider gunship was not originally planned to include the 105 mm, but designed with enough spare power and room to mount it at some later point. The Air Force decided to include it in January 2015, starting installation on the third aircraft, then having the first two be retrofitted when guns become available; M102s will be pulled off retiring AC-130Us and put into the AC-130Js.
The M102 is used in extremely limited roles by the United States Marine Corps, primarily for firing salutes.
The Malaysian Army used the M102 in the 2nd Emergency (1968–1988) to bombard CPM positions on the Malaysian Thai border. The guns were transported by helicopter to remote firing positions. Now the guns have been decommissioned and are only used for firing salute.
- Caliber: 105 mm (4.13 in)
- Length: 17.1 feet (5.2 m)
- Width: 6.4 feet (2 m)
- Height: 5.2 feet (1.6 m)
- Weight: 1.5 tons (1.4 t)
- Crew: 8
- Rate of fire: 10 rounds per minute maximum, 3 rounds per minute sustained
- Range: 11,500 m (7.1 miles), 15,100 m (9.4 miles) with rocket-assisted projectile
- Brazil 19
- El Salvador 24
- Jordan 50
- Malaysia 40
- Oman 36
- Philippines 24
- Saudi Arabia 140
- United States – AC-130 gunship
- Tunisia 50
- Uruguay 15
- M101 howitzer – previous American 105 mm towed howitzer
- M119 howitzer – next towed 105 mm howitzer in US Army service
- List of artillery
- List of crew served weapons of the US Armed Forces
- Global Security. Org, M102 105 mm Lightweight Towed Howitzerhttp://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/m102.htm
- TM 9-100-202-14, TM 9-1015-234-12, TM 9-1015-234-10, AND LO 9-1015-234-10
- "Howitzer Fires In All Directions." Popular Science, September 1966, p. 95, bottom of page.
- Ghostrider’s Big Gun: AC-130J Gets 105 ASAP; Laser Later - Breakingdefense.com, 27 January 2015
- "SIPRI arms transfer database". Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 17 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to M102 105 mm howitzer.|
- The Army Fact File
- The short film STAFF FILM REPORT 66-19A (1966) is available for free download at the Internet Archive