Canada to send more high-tech guns to Afghanistan in new year Murray Brewster, Canadian Press
Published: Sunday, December 24, 2006 Article tools

The Defence Department has agreed to buy six more 155-mm howitzers from British-based BAE Systems Inc. Most of the new guns will shipped overseas and are expected to join a battery from the 2nd battalion, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery from Petawawa, Ont., now deployed in the Kandahar region.

"After a few months in operation, the task force in Afghanistan identified an additional requirement for M-777s to allow a better flexibility and to support adequately the current operations," said Elizabeth Hodges, a Defence Department spokeswoman.

Defence industry sources said the agreement also gives Canada the option of purchasing another 12 guns in the future.

The Canadian army currently has four of the highly accurate, digitally sighted M-777 howitzers deployed in Afghanistan.

A year ago, the Canadian army turned to the U.S. Marine Corps to buy six of the lightweight, powerful artillery pieces after its existing stock of 105mm howitzers was found to lack the range and accuracy needed for fighting in Afghanistan.

At the time, the biggest fear of military planners was that the old weapons were so outdated they might cause unacceptable civilian casualties.

The new pieces have the ability to hit targets up to 20 kilometres away using conventional shells.

The purchase price for the latest batch of guns was not disclosed, but the initial order of six howitzers and ammunition cost roughly $42 million.

The army has also purchased advanced munitions to use with the M-777s. The GPS-guided Excalibur shells are able to hit within a 10-metre circle around a target at up to 40 kilometres.

This fall, the Defence Department purchased a handful of the experimental shells at $150,000 each. In the next round of production, the cost is expected to fall to $30,000 a shell.

Army planners defend the expense, saying one super-accurate, GPS-guided shell can do the job of five or six conventional rounds.

For operational security reasons, Hodges would not disclose how many of the new weapons will be deployed to support troops battling Taliban insurgents, but indicated some will be based in Canada.

"Adding to the inventory of M-777s will allow the army to support operations, as well as necessary training for troops here in Canada," she said.

Army spokesman Maj. Daryl W. Morrell refused to say how many extra troops would be deployed with the gun, citing security concerns. He did say the reinforcements were expected to arrive in the spring.

The army is in the process of taking delivery of the guns, which rolled off the BAE production line in November.

Last fall, the Conservative government approved a series of reinforcements, including 15 Leopard tanks and an extra company of infantry, after a summer of battles and stiff resistance from militant fighters.

Hodges said the army is impressed with the performance of the new guns, which have seen continuous combat throughout the spring, summer and fall.

The artillery has been called upon to fire on Taliban strongholds and conduct what are called show of force exercises, where they fire into empty fields in order to demonstrate their capabilities and intimidate insurgents who might be tempted to attack certain bases or strategic areas.