Ah, chrome: Go-to bedazzlement of newly-rich rappers, poisoner of American children, preferred battle paint of the ghastly War Boys from Mad Max: Fury Road — and now, apparently, the latest secret ingredient in the U.S. Army’s beastly howitzers.
The Army announced on Aug. 30 that engineers at the Watervliet Arsenal in New York are working on incorporating chrome plating into the manufacture of the 155mm M777A2 howitzer developed with the Marine Corps. The first steel-barreled M777s were fielded in 2005 as a replacement for the aging M198, but the branch’s 100 new full-bore chrome tubes is expected to boost each howitzer’s lifespan by up to 50%.
OK, sure, a chromed-out howitzer bore is not the same conspicuous consumption as 30-inch rims or, uh, an entire can of Krylon:
But the Army believes that increasing the life of each barrel will minimize the frequency of maintenance and improve the readiness of artillery troops without abandoning the accuracy, stability and range (30 km, what what!) that made the M7777 such an appealing upgrade in the first place.
The Department of Defense has been eyeing chrome tubing for the M777 for more than a year, test-firing six pilot-production 155mm tubes at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California, in May 2016. At the time, the gun crews from the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment tasked with firing off 50 charges and inspecting the artillery found the chrome barrels “prevented [a] buildup of residue within the bore during controlled testing … [allowing] the gun to fire top-zone charges in succession without the need to fire a lower-zone charge to clean out the barrel.”
“It’s a lot easier to clean than the old steel tubes because they would cake up, while the chrome lining tends to shed off residue a lot easier,” Sgt. Brian Smart from the 3/11 said at the time. “In theory, we could be able to use these tubes almost indefinitely before they start to wear down.”
Thanks to new production efforts at the Watervliet Arsenal — the project “will exercise most of the arsenal’s critical manufacturing skills,” Watervliet’s director of operations told the Army — these new tricked-out howitzers could see action downrange as soon as 2019.
“Although chrome plating on weapon systems is not new, what is new is that full-bore chrome barrels for the M777 gun only began testing in 2013,” arsenal product manager George Roach said in a statement. “To date, we have only manufactured 15 full-bore chrome barrels and with these orders, we will now be able to go from prototype development and limited production into full-rate production.”
We now go live to Secretary of Defense James Mattis: