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Nearly new: US approves $1.31 billion upgrades to existing Saudi howitzers

The U.S. State Department approved the $1.31 billion sale to Saudi Arabia of upgrades to existing M109 self-propelled howitzers, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a release.

Saudi Arabia requested the possible sale of 180 155mm M109A5/A6 Medium self-propelled Howitzer structures for conversion to 177 155mm M109A6 Paladin Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer systems and three Fire Support Combined Arms Tactical Trainers (FSCATT) static training devices, the Thursday, April 5 release said.

A U.S. State Department official confirmed to The Defense Post that the sale involves retrofitting existing Saudi howitzers. Saudi Arabia possesses M109A2, A3, and A5 variants, and 180 of these will be upgraded with the purchased “structures” to make 177 “new” A6 Paladins.‎

The sale also includes 180 M2 HB .50-caliber machine guns and eight Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems (AFATDS), as well as the necessary overhaul, conversion and refurbishment services along with spare and repair parts, communications equipment, training and other support.

“This sale will increase the Royal Saudi Land Force’s (RSLF) interoperability with U.S. forces and conveys U.S. commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security and armed forces modernization,” DSCA said, adding that the modernised howitzers will “enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to support its deployed forces and defend its borders. Saudi Arabia will have no difficulty absorbing these vehicles into its armed forces.”

The prime contractor is “unknown at this time,” DSCA said.

Saudi Arabia has agreed a huge number of military deals in recent months, including 6,600 anti-tank guided missiles48 Typhoon multirole fighter jets17 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters, glide bombs and Patriot missiles. It is also purchasing the Russian S-400 air defense missile system, and is in discussions with Russia for transfer of technology to allow Saudi Arabia to “localise the manufacturing and sustainment of parts of the S-400.”

However, governments agreeing military sales to Saudi Arabia have come under pressure from politicians and humanitarian groups over alarming rates of civilian casualties caused by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

M109A6 Paladin self-propelled Howitzer

The M109 is a 155 mm turreted self-propelled howitzer, first introduced in the early 1960s and upgraded several times since. The family is the most common western weapon of its type.

The M109A6 Paladin features improved armor along with a redesigned internal storage arrangement for ammunition and equipment. The engine and suspension are also upgraded from the previous variant, as are the M284 cannon and M182A1 mount.

The A6 variant’s most significant improvement is the integration of an inertial navigation system and sensors that allow a moving vehicle to halt a prepare to fire in as little as one minute, the so-called “shoot and scoot” capability that improves survivability.

BAE Systems is in the process of building more than 200 of the latest version – the M109A7 – for the U.S. Department of Defense.

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