Staff Writer (Updated: 6/7/2016):
Initial M109 production vehicles were fitted with the T255E4 short-barreled main gun which proved effective but led to excessive wear-and-tear due to the propellant charges in use. This prompted a slight revision of the design which introduced a longer-barreled gun tube in the XM185. The existing M109 fleet was then converted to the new M109A1 standard beginning in 1972 with operational levels reached the following year. During 1974, more M109A1s were built to strengthen existing stocks, these by Bowen-McLaughlin-York, and designated M109A1B.
As completed, the M109 was a conventional SPA form by modern standards. It fitted its powerpack at front-right with the driver at front-left in the forward hull. The turret was placed over the rear section of the vehicle with the large main gun fitted into the forward panel. A cupola was afforded to the commander's position to which a 0.50 or 0.30 caliber machine gun could be installed for air/local defense. The vehicle sat atop a track-and-wheel arrangement which included seven double-tired road wheels to a hull side. The drive sprocket was at front with the track idler at rear while no track return rollers were used. A small door at the rear of the hull allowed for crew entry exit as did side panels, roof hatches and a hatch over the driver's compartment. Main guns featured massive muzzle brakes and were clamped to the hull when traveling. Despite the 155mm caliber, there proved little barrel overhang. The operating crew numbered six - driver, commander, two gunners and two loaders. Turret traversal was a full 360-degrees.
After a period of in-the-field use, more revisions were ordered which included a larger turret bustle which accepted more onboard ammunition storage. New gun mounting hardware was also installed and the floatation equipment seen in original production models was dropped. With these changes in place, the U.S. Army adopted the M109A2 standard and 823 x A2 models followed from 1976 into 1985. Existing M109A1 and M109A1B models were all modified to the A2-standard and these became M109A3.