With the expected increase in UK defense spending in the coming years, the Royal Artillery (RA) hopes to replace or refurbish its existing guns to enable targets to be engaged more quickly at longer ranges, with better accuracy and greater effect.
The Integrated Review (IR) and ensuing MoD Command Document put artillery modernization firmly on the agenda, and it has remained there thanks to the effectiveness of conventional tube artillery and artillery rocket systems in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war.
As the command document stated: “Investment in longer range artillery will mean the [British] The army is able to provide a more precise and lethal response and attack potential adversaries from greater depth, providing better protection.
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In recent years the RA has streamlined its indirect fire weapons, which now include the Lockheed Martin M270B1 227mm (12 round) tracked Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), BAE/RBSL 155mm/39cal AS90 tracked self-propelled guns, BAE L118 105mm light guns and some Rafael Exactor 2 missile systems.
In addition to artillery, the British Armed Forces have other assets that can provide indirect fire support, including aircraft, attack helicopters, UAVs and even RN surface ship fire or cruise missiles Tomahawk launched by submarines.
New ammo types and improvements in C2 and target acquisition are also planned.
The latter is of increasing importance as potential threat forces use shooting and scooting tactics to evade counter-battery fire.
The UK has supplied Ukraine with significant quantities of missiles and artillery and these will need to be replaced. Moreover, current ammunition stocks are considered too low for a prolonged conflict.
Whilst the UK is self-sufficient in most small arms ammunition (5.56mm and 7.62mm) it does not have the capacity to supply a full range of artillery ammunition and its associated loads .
The UK took delivery of four M270 MLRS from the US, with the rest being built on the European production line which also supplied France, Germany and Italy.
These fired the original 227mm unguided rocket to a maximum range of 31.6km with 644 submunitions, but the original M270 was phased out of service in the UK.
Some have already been upgraded to the M270B1 standard, which includes the latest US computerized fire control system (FCS) as equipped with upgraded US Army M270A1 systems.
The M270B1 fires the MLRS rocket guided with high explosive fragmentation warhead to a maximum range beyond 70 km.
M270B1 launchers are deployed by 26 Regiment RA to provide deep fire support at the divisional level.
Prior to the release of the IR, a decision had been made for Lockheed Martin to lead an upgrade of 44 additional M270B1 launchers and four MLRS repair and recovery vehicles.
In the short term, this would remove obsolescence with upgrades to FCS, protection, and mobility. Additionally, by adding a composite rubber track to the British systems, the upgrade would bring RA-operated M270s up to US M270A2 standard.
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The £250 million ($300 million) ten-year upgrade would leave the RA capable of firing GMLRS-ER rounds at ranges of up to 150 km and even the Precision Strike missile at 500 km.
The Defense Science and Technology Lab (Dstl) plays a leading role in upgrading and strengthening the UK’s indirect firepower capability.
An example of ongoing R&D is the Deep Fires Rocket System (DFRS), which, if fielded, will allow targets to be engaged at extended range with precision attack.
Another Dstl project is Land Precision Strike, which is said to be in the concept development stage. This would allow the British military to engage high-value, time-sensitive and ephemeral targets with little collateral effect, according to Dstl.
In the short term, the currently deployed Exactor 2 would be retained and possibly have improved mobility as it is currently cart-based.
The AS90 should have been upgraded over 20 years ago with 155mm/52 Extended Range Ordnance (ERO) caliber and a Modular Charging System (MCS).
This was reversed, leaving the UK as one of the few major powers in Europe not to have replaced its 155mm/39 cal systems with a longer range 155mm/52 cal weapon which is more resistant to counter-battery fire.
The UK has launched a ten-year £800million competition to replace the AS90 called Mobile Fires Platform (MFP), which will be deployed at brigade level. The eventual solution could be tracked or wheeled, but it will definitely be a 155mm/52 cal system with an upgraded ammunition suite and training package.
Potential suppliers of the MFP include Nexter with the Caesar 6×6 or 8×8 self-propelled howitzer; Krauss-Maffei Wegmann with his PzH 2000 or the 155 remote-controlled howitzer; Elbit Systems with its ATMOS or SIGMA system; Hanwha Defense with the K9A2 Thunder; and BAE Systems with the improved AS90.
The original intention was to procure enough systems in the MFP program to equip two Armored Infantry Brigades and the two Strike Brigades, but the latter have now been phased out and the former are now referred to as Armored Brigade Combat Teams .
However, in the future, the UK will have to source its artillery and tank guns from overseas, as the only UK-based factory for the manufacture of 155mm artillery guns – the former Royal Ordnance Factory in Nottingham – closed as early as 2001.
Dstl is working on the Light Fires Platform (LFP) as a potential replacement for the 105mm Light Gun and QinetiQ is undertaking a three-year pre-concept study for a non-bolted, electrically powered 127mm system.
Yet the UK has an unfortunate history of embarking on ambitious artillery programs that fall through.
In addition to the previously mentioned ERO/MCS, aborted programs in the UK included a later canceled order for the German SMArt 155mm top-attack munition; the gun and rocket of the light mobile artillery weapon system; and the MBDA-developed Fire Shadow loitering ammunition, which was also canceled after considerable investment.
Will MFP, LFP and DFRS meet the same fate?