The L118 "Light Gun" is the 105mm howitzer of choice for the British Army and has served its Parachute and Commando Field Artillery Regiments since the mid-1970s. The weapon system was designed as a modern replacement for various outgoing types and intended to provide British Army units with a capable, lightweight and hard-hitting field gun that could be towed by vehicle or airlifted by transport aircraft (fixed-wing and rotary types) while also being light enough to be moved into position by its crew. The weapon has since seen extensive action in the Western Sahara War, the Falklands War, the Yugoslav Wars, the Sierra Leone Civil War and - most recently - the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In 1965, a new British Army requirement laid down the groundwork for an equally new light field artillery piece in the 105mm caliber with transport capability by truck tow, transport aircraft or transport helicopter. Design work ensued to which several prototype guns emerged and extensive evaluations were undertaken in 1968. The Army returned with some requested revisions before the weapon was finalized as the "L118" or, more formally, the "Gun, 105mm, Field, L118". The weapon was adopted in 1975 to which production followed by the Royal Ordnance Factory of ROF Nottingham. The first British artillery units received their new guns in 1976 and, within time, the weapon came to be known simply as the "Light Gun".
The L118 makes use of various 105mm projectiles which are inserted into the vertical sliding breech. The firing system is electrically actuated while the weapon relies on a hydropneumatic recoil mechanism to counter the inherently violent forces when firing the 105mm shell. At its core, the weapon is of a conventional design and layout, consisting of the main gun barrel with attached breech facility, sighting equipment and carriage unit. The carriage is of a "box trail" configuration and allows the gun to be fired with the wheels upright in the traditional sense or folded down. The gun barrel features an elevation limitation from -5 degrees to +70 degrees giving the gunnery crew an excellent tactical "reach". Traversal is a full 360 degrees due to the design of the provided carriage platform. A skilled gunnery crew can fire off between 6 and 8 rounds-per-minute and each projectile exits the barrel at approximately 2,300 feet per second with a range out to 18,800 yards. Using "base bleed", a crew can hit targets out to 22,500 yards. Sighting can be accomplished by way of an optical dial assembly while the Automatic Pointing System (APS) allows the gunnery crew to make the gun ready for firing from a towed position within 30 seconds, assisted by a touch screen interface. A gunnery crew is typically made up of six personnel though a minimum crew of four is acceptable to manage the firing function. One specialist handles the firing action proper while another operates the breech mechanism. Two persons manage the projectile and charge loading/reloading process while a further two personnel can assist as needed or guard the perimeter against potential incoming enemies.
The L118 is cleared to fire a plethora of 105mm projectiles: The L31 is the general High Explosive (HE) shell while the L45 is a standard smoke shell utilized to screen allied battlefield actions or restrict enemy vision. The L43 is a special illuminating shell that features an integrated parachute used in retarding the fall of an airborne flare for short spurts of daylight at low-light hours. The practice shell is the L41 while the L42 series is a High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) anti-fortification round. The L50 High Explosive (HE) is a newer offensive-minded projectile type while the L52 is another smoke round of red phosphorous. The L54 is another illumination shell though intended to work in conjunction with night vision equipment. The L83 is a standard drill projectile.
While the L118 series of light field guns serves the British Army, it also exists in an "Americanized" guise as the "L119A1" of the US Army. The base (original) L119 designation was reserved for a British Army version of the gun designed to fire existing stocks of the American M1 ammunition (otherwise known as UK 105mm HOW to the British Army). These were primarily utilized in training new British artillery crews until the ammunition stocks expired. The L119 was then removed from training ranks. The official US Army gun is therefore known formally as the "M119A1" and is slightly modified to suit American military requirements with production handled in US factories.
Since its inception, the L118 family of guns has been modernized in several ways that have included an integrated power supply, muzzle measuring device, and optics upgrade in 2002, lightening of the carriage in 2007 and new sights in 2010. Some changes were brought about through ongoing British Army actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The L118 has also seen adoption into frontline service with the armies of Australia and New Zealand to which the Aussies know it as the "Hamel Gun" and produce the type under license. For the British, production of the L118 has moved from the Royal Ordnance Factory label to BAe Systems Land and Armaments, a subsidiary of defense powerhouse BAe Systems, Incorporated.