Artillery vehicle

Mobile howitzers take center stage at Eurosatory as artillery fighting intensifies in Ukraine

PARIS – Producers of 155mm mobile howitzers are seeing renewed interest from European nations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the most recent Eurosatory biennial defense exhibition taking a centered approach on artillery.

The show, held last week in Paris, featured companies from around the world displaying 155mm howitzers in operation or in the design phase.

In recent years, Eurosatory has focused on robotics, artificial intelligence and other burgeoning high-tech capabilities, but this year the focus has been on heavy artillery, armour, firepower and unmanned aircraft capable of targeting and providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – capabilities of the Ukrainian military. needs right now.

Commands and Locations

Several governments and industry members signed 155mm howitzer contracts during the show. BAE Systems, for example, sold more Archer 155mm mobile howitzer systems to its first product customer, Sweden.

The country had committed to buying more Archers by signing a letter of intent at Eurosatory, which took place in front of an Archer system on display at the manufacturer’s outdoor exhibition. The letter marks the first step to establish an additional artillery battalion in line with Sweden’s current defense strategy, which extends to 2025.

The British defense company recently completed the delivery of the first 48 Archer vehicles to the Swedish army. The system has been in service for five years.

Meanwhile, the Archer was selected as one of two contenders in a competition for a new mobile howitzer in Switzerland last week. The other competitor has not been made public. The country is looking to replace its aging howitzer, based on the M109 platform.

BAE Systems Vice President of Platforms and Services Mark Signorelli told Defense News on the show that since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the company has seen an increase in requests. information about the Archer system.

French company Nexter is also seeing increased interest in its Caesar 155mm mobile howitzer. The system is available in eight-wheel-drive and six-wheel-drive versions. France, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Thailand currently own and operate the weapon. Belgium, Denmark and Morocco have also pledged to buy the system. The Czech Republic plans to purchase Caesar installed on the locally manufactured Tatra 815-7T3RC1 eight-wheel drive vehicle.

Along with the American-made M777 howitzers and the British FH70 howitzers, Ukraine is also set to receive the César from France.

At Eurosatory, Nexter has signed on another country, Lithuania. The country’s defense minister announced he was traveling to Paris to sign a letter of intent with his French counterpart to purchase the system.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “the trend we’re noticing is that some prospects initially wanted a certain number of guns, and now they’re asking – in most cases, not all cases – in most cases, they increased the number,” Olivier Fort, director of Nexter’s systems and programs business unit, told Defense News at the show.

The fighting in Ukraine amplifies the need for howitzers to be highly mobile, Fort said, because Russian forces are able to determine the location of artillery systems once the Ukrainians have fired them.

Reports show that the Ukrainians are camouflaging older, less mobile systems currently in stock. But a highly mobile howitzer, for example, could move before the Russians could detect its position. Caesar and other similar systems can fire out of the area in minutes.

Artillery is also an attractive capability, Fort noted, because it costs less to replace than tanks.

Fort said several European governments are allowing additional funds to purchase more defense equipment, including artillery systems.

Right in front of Nexter’s Caesar was a demonstration vehicle developed by the German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann for future indirect fire. Nexter and KMW entered into a joint venture called KNDS in 2015.

The company says the vehicle – a Boxer chassis with a 155mm gun that fires 52-caliber rounds – can fire on the move and engage moving targets. The vehicle also comes with an automated gun loading system. The gun can fire eight rounds per minute with a crew of two.

Another German company, Rheinmetall, presented a truck-based 155mm howitzer demonstrator using the same chassis that it plans to submit to the US Army’s Common Tactical Truck competition. The service plans to launch it after issuing a request for proposals by the end of the month.

The 10WD HX3 chassis supports a 155mm gun with 360 degree capability. The vehicle, according to a system information card at the show, is highly mobile, especially when it comes to off-road performance.

Tucked against a wall in a more remote area of ​​the large exhibition space was a new product: a mobile 155mm howitzer developed by Czechoslovakian group subsidiary Excalibur Army. Dubbed Morana, the weapon features a chassis from the Czech company Tatra, allowing the vehicle to traverse terrain usually reserved for tracked vehicles, according to information posted next to the platform.

The system is designed to fire 52 caliber ammunition with a range of 41.5 kilometers (25.8 miles). The crew can carry 45 rounds and the vehicle is equipped with fully automated gun loading, allowing crews to fire six rounds in one minute. The vehicle can travel 90 km/h (56 mph) and can accommodate three crew members.

South Korean company Hanwha has shown a small model of its K9 Thunder, a 155mm self-propelled howitzer whose European customers include Finland, Norway and Estonia.

Poland last month donated 18 Krab howitzer systems – which are domestically built K9s – to Ukraine, then signed on to ramp up K9 production. Earlier this month, Poland agreed to sell Ukraine an additional 54 units.

A team led by Hanwha is also taking part in a UK program to replace the country’s AS90 with a mobile fire platform by the end of 2023. This team, dubbed Team Thunder, includes Leonardo UK, Pearson Engineering, Horstman Defense Systems, Soucy Defense and Lockheed Martin UK. .

Several of the systems on display at Eurosatory were evaluated by the US military last year at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, including the Caesar and the Archer. Elbit Systems of America, a subsidiary of Israeli company Elbit Systems, was selected to bring its Iron Saber autonomous truck-mounted munitions system to the evaluation. Florida-based company Global Military Products also brought in Serbian partner Yugoimport’s NORA B-52 155mm wheeled howitzer for the barrage.

But following the evaluation, the army did not choose a system.

The service is studying what its gunnery formations will look like, but it hasn’t made a decision yet on that force structure, or where and what capabilities will be in it. Several participants noted that the barrage will provide data to help the military find a way forward.

When pressed, senior Army officials, including the Chief of Staff, said there was a need for artillery systems, but the service was prioritizing the development of other capabilities, including its extended range cannon artillery system.

“I think we have to make the artillery even better, and we will,” Army Chief of Staff General James McConville said at an Association of Artillery breakfast. the U.S. Army near Fort Belvoir, Va., in March. When you watch large-scale combat operations, “you have to be able to massage the artillery.”

Speed ​​and range “become so critical,” he added. “So within the force we are developing artillery, we are developing air and missile defense.”

The military prioritized long-range fire, including hypersonic weapons, the Precision Strike missile, and the long-range cannon artillery system. But McConville noted that “we don’t have a lot of resources.”

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering ground warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in Journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.