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New howitzers given thunderous welcome
By: Matt Goerzen Email Story Printer Friendly Version
CFB SHILO - Canadian military institutions have long been criticized for the use of aging and outdated equipment, mainly due to a lack of investment by the federal government.
But the purchase of a half-dozen new high-tech guns - four of which sounded off yesterday at CFB Shilo in front of local media and several hundred soldiers - may well signal a reversal of fortune.
"It's definitely part of the army's transformation process," said Lt. Col. Peter Williams, the commanding officer for the First Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (1 RCHA), during a ceremonial first fire mission for the M777 towed howitzer. The M777 is one of the most powerful guns currently available on the market and is also used by American and NATO forces around the world, which will allow for closer interaction with Canadian allies.
But Canada's army will be the first in the world to use these guns in real military operations when approximately 1,200 Canadian troops from CFB Shilo and bases in Alberta fly to Kandahar, Afghanistan for a six-month tour of duty, under Operation Archer. "Today is a great day for the army ... and 1 RCHA in particular. We are ensuring we remain relevant to future threats ..."
The M777 155 calibre howitzer, which was constructed by British Aerospace, is lighter and smaller and yet more powerful than any other gun of its kind. The M777 will enhance the army's operational capability to provide indirect firepower at any time of the day or night, and under severe weather conditions, according to the Department of National Defence.
It replaces the M109, which was recently retired by CFB Shilo soldiers when they directed the final firing of the older weapon last February.
"This is a new capability," said Brig. Gen. David Fraser who will be leading the troops in Afghanistan. "It signals that the Canadian forces are a credible force."
The Canadian troops will be part of a larger military force patrolling 225,000 square kilometres of the Middle Eastern country, though Canada will patrol and run operations from Kandahar.
Gunner Jason Johnston, who will man one of the new M777 in Afghanistan for his first tour of duty overseas, was quite excited about the new equipment.
"It's awesome," Johnston told the Sun. "You can really tell we're moving up in the world."
Johnston says training on the M777 was hard work, but well worth the effort. He says he now knows everything there is to know about the new gun's operation.
"There's nothing easy about it. But it's fun work."
The Canadian troops will leave for Afghanistan in February of 2006. Soldiers from A Battery, 1RCHA will be deploying with four M777 towed howitzers. The remaining two guns will follow in successive troop rotations.