The 105mm M119 was originally designed, developed, and built by the Royal Ordnance Factories of Nottingham, England, as the L118/L119 British Light Gun. The United States Army saw the advantages of the British-designed gun against the US Army's M102 howitzers then in service. In 1987, the United States purchased license rights to produce the L118/L119 series locally and assigned the designation of "M119" to the system. Differences between the two were subtle to the uninitiated and include Americanized digital fire control systems, an increase to low-temperature capability (-50 from -25 degrees F), improved maintenance and repair features and other simplifications/improvements based on US Army operating criteria.
At its core, the M119 is a light-weight howitzer, primarily towed into position by a HUMMWV multipurpose utility vehicle or by way of air mobility systems such as a transport helicopter. Additionally, the M119 is cleared as an air droppable system from certain military aircraft - this including the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, the Boeing CH-47 Chinook twin-rotor helicopter and the Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport plane - its fall retarded by way of parachute. To handle the set up and firing of the M119, a standard crew of seven personnel is the norm.
The M119 was assigned to and tested with the 7th Infantry Division out of Fort Ord in Monterey Bay, California in1989. It was then adopted for service that year and has since been used by infantry units like the 173rd brigade, 101st & 82nd Airborne divisions, the 10th Mountain and the 25th Infantry divisions in the fire support role. The howitzer is currently seeing action today across Afghanistan and was already used to good measure in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.
1998 saw the Light Artillery System Improvement Program (LASIP) Block I initiated and incorporate improvements throughout the M119 design. This generated the new designation of M119A1 to coincide with the upgrade. Block II followed and completed all its own updates by 2004, resulting in the new designation of M119A2 being assigned. These particular systems were given a rollbar to reduce potential damage in air drops as well as a revised elevation gearbox, monitoring hardware and buffer. Radioactive tritium was removed from the fire control system as a protective measure. The M119A2 also features an improved sighting package made up of the M90A3 telescope and the M137A2 telescope.
The howitzer can provide direct and indirect heavy fire power at the cost of minimum weight, allowing for additional ammunition to be carried into action. It also provides a small, squat profile silhouette and - not needing a recoil pit - it requires less setup time resulting in faster firing of projectiles by the crew. The M119 has all the elements needed to support infantry and bring plunging fire down upon the enemy and his positions with elevations in range of -100 to +1244 mils with a low angle-of-fire available for close targets.
With its increased range and a rapid rate-of-fire equal to six rounds-per-minute (three rounds per minute in the sustained fire role), the M119 is the reason the US Army chose to retire the old M102 howitzer series from front line units and replace them. The relative "light" weight of just 4,520 lbs (with BII) makes it easy to get her into the fight. The primary tow vehicle for the howitzer is a special HUMMWV (model M1097), itself having a range of 200mi (321.8km), or by helicopter, increasing the deployment range of the M119 to 450miles (724.2km).
Along with firing the reliable 105mm shell, additional ammunition types are available (including all NATO-standard types):
The M314 is an illuminating star shell while the M60 is the standard White Phosphorous smoke cartridge. The M760 represents the HE (High Explosive) round and sports an unassisted range up to 14.5km. The M913 HERA (High-Explosive Rocket Assisted) shell sees a range of 19.5km. Rocket-assisted shells are utilized to obtain a slight increase in the overall firing range and several other forms are currently being tested for use in the M119 family.
The M119A1 was expected to end of its service life around fiscal year 2008-09. However, due to the US Army's current war plan, the M119A1/M119A2 are still deployed as of this writing (2012). As a result, the production contract of the M119 has been extended until 2013. The weapon has been manufactured by the Joint US/RO partnership made up of Rock Island Arsenal, Watervliet Arsenal, Seller Instruments and Royal Ordnance, UK.