The Soltam M-71 155mm heavy field howitzer was born from the experience garnered in the design, development and manufacture of the preceding M-68 gun series (detailed elsewhere on this site). The weapon was given a longer gun tube and an air-driver loading rammer while retaining much of the form and function of the original. The result was a much more effective heavy artillery piece and one that has more than proven its worth to the Israeli Army. Additional operators have been seen in the army services of Burma, Chile, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and Slovenia. The South African Army designates its guns as the G-4 and Slovenia knows it as the M839.
Design work on the M-71 began in 1974 and production followed in 1975.
In its finalized form, the gun features a weight of 20,300lb with a barrel measuring 19.9 feet. A crew of eight personnel must be committed to the weapon for maximum efficiency. The system fires conventional and specialized 155mm projectiles with loading handled by way of a horizontal breech block. The carriage is made up of four road wheels attached to a split-trail carriage assembly which serves as both the transport mounting and gunnery mounting. The hardware allows an elevation span of -5 to +75 degrees to be accessed and traversal reaches +/- 20 degrees from centerline. Each outgoing shell is delivered at a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second with engagement ranges (using conventional shells of 96lb) out to 14.6 miles.
Compared to the earlier M-68, the M-71 has a faster reloading function, is slightly lighter and has greater engagement ranges.
The "L-39" was a proposed M4 Sherman Medium Tank development arranged as a Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) system featuring the M-71 howitzer. A hull superstructure was added to the existing Sherman chassis. Despite the viability of the vehicle, it was not adopted for service. The M-72 was another SPG development that came to naught, this involving the British Centurion Main Battle Tank (MBT) chassis.
Chile became one of the largest users of the M-71 outside of Israel with some thirty-six total examples taken on. They were followed by South Africa and Thailand.