MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- Titanium has long been a material used to make high-performance aircraft lighter and stronger, but the Marine Corps, in cooperation with the Army, is now using it to develop their towed howitzer of the future.The first XM-777 Lightweight Howitzer manufactured in the United States, was rolled out at Hattiesburg, Miss., July 18 marking a significant step forward in fielding this new weapon for the Corps."There are numerous new ideas incorporated into the gun that have never been tried before," said Col. John Garner, program manager. "Anyone who thinks this is just another new gun does not understand what we are doing."Initially, the main advantages to the new howitzer will be its increased mobility and decreased operational footprint."The LW155 will traverse more terrain, emplace faster and displace faster, all of which make it more combat effective," said James Sheilds, deputy program manager. "LW155 has a smaller footprint than the M198, which combined with the lighter weight make it more transportable. For example, two can fit on a C-130 vs. 1 M198 system.""A CH-53E could have flown them all the way from the ships to Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan," said Garner. "That would have given the Marines a tremendous standoff capability."Much of the reduction in weight comes from the use of high-strength titanium, said Shields, which helps the new weapon weight 7,000 fewer pounds than the old M198. The LW155 was able to traverse 30 percent more terrain than the older weapon. An independent suspension system also helps in the mobility increase. "The new howitzer will fire the same 155mm round that is being used now, but the Corps is working very closely with the developers of the future propellants, projectiles and fuses to ensure they too will be compatible," said Sheilds. "Particularly the new modular charges and GPS guided 155 rounds currently under development."Increases in mobility were not the only goal of the new weapon, noted Shields."We will also be incorporating a digital fire control system that will allow faster emplacement and aiming of the weapon to a much greater degree of accuracy," said Sheilds. "This digital fire control is about 2 years behind development of the gun so it will be integrated onto the USMC weapons during the third year of production and will be retrofitted onto the early weapons that will have already been fielded.""The new fire control will not require a site survey," said Garner. "There will be a direct link to the fire direction center that will tell the artillery crew where to aim the weapon. A battery can be ready to fire in less than three minutes after arriving in a position, even at night. They can leave a position in less than two minutes."This will give a tremendous advantage to the maneuver element," said Garner, "and will also increase the survivability of the artillery piece."Garner emphasized that the program remains on track for an October decision to begin initial low-rate production of 94 guns.