Early in the 1960s, the British Army submitted a requirement for a new light artillery piece to replace their existing 105mm pack howitzer. The Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) went to work on a design and had by 1963, had successfully tested several prototypes. Production of the new lightweight gun commenced in 1974 at the Royal Ordnance works in Nottingham, England.
This excellent combat record of the new gun during the Falklands War in 1982 would prompt the US Army into leasing six of the British guns for evaluation during 1984, and in 1985, a further 14 guns were leased for rigorous testing by the 9th Infantry Division based at Fort Lewis..
In 1986, the US Army purchased the first of a projected 542 of the new gun, which has been designated in US service as the M119 light gun. The entire evaluation and procurement process having taken just 19 months under the new Non-Developmental Item (NDI) procurement process, which allowed the military to buy “off-the-shelf” items as needed. Starting in 1989, the M119 began replacing the remaining M101A1s and M102 howitzers being used in direct-support artillery battalions in the Light Infantry, Airborne and Air-Mobile Divisions of the US Army.
Lightweight, at just 4,100 pounds, the M119 makes extensive use of high-strength aluminium alloys. The trail (the part of the gun carriage that rest on the ground when the piece is unlimbered) is made from high-strength, corrosion-resistant steel. Bow-shaped, the trail allows the breech-operator and loader to remain inside, thus ensuring maintaining a high rate of fire.
The platform upon which the gun rests is constructed of light-weight steel, providing a firm base. The operator sits in a saddle on the left trail, where he utilizes a direct-and indirect-sighting system. All sight reticules use tritium illumination for low-light level or night firing. The M119’s barrel is elevated by a handwheel; and the entire weapon can be towed with its barrel in the firing position or, for stowage along the trail, with the barrel turned through 180 degrees.
The M119 fires all US-standard 105mm ammunition and can be air-dropped from all existing US Air Force cargo aircraft; carried by the Blackhawk helicopter; or towed by the HMMWV high-utility vehicle.