2019 Self-Propelled Artillery Revisit

Last time on Parvusimperator Picks a Self-Propelled Howitzer for Borgundy, I ended up going with the big, expensive Panzerhaubitze (PzH) 2000. I also eliminated wheeled vehicles out of the gate for concerns about capacity. Since it’s been a while since I’ve talked much about the Queen of Battle, I thought I’d revisit my procurement decision, because that’s loads of fun to write about and tend to be popular with you, dear reader. While available systems have not changed, let’s open the floor up. We will require protection for gunnery crews while firing, to simplify this a little1. So let’s dig in.

First, I’m going to relax my tracked-vs-wheeled constraint. This is artillery. It’s a support vehicle. With the range of modern systems, it’s not critical that the system be a perfect match for tanks and IFVs. Also, trucks should have no trouble getting to wherever a wheeled system is. What is important is 155mm caliber, an L52 gun, and a careful look at how we might plan to use the system. Wheeled systems have advantages in lower maintenance costs, better mobility via roads, and generally better strategic mobility if you care.

Somewhat-recent events in the Donbas reminded us that artillery is a very effective killer, and that a reasonably sophisticated opponent will endeavor to use counterbattery radars to locate and destroy one’s own artillery. So we’re thinking hard about shoot-and-scoot. Let’s get on to some plausible contenders.

As before, we have the German PzH 2000. It’s well protected, tracked, and has an excellent capacity of 60 projectiles plus charges. It has a five round MRSI capability. On the downside, it’s expensive and the heaviest at 56 tonnes. Once its empty, it has to be reloaded in the usual, manual way.

We also have the Korean K9 Thunder. It’s tracked, with a capacity of 48 projectiles plus charges. It has a three round MRSI capability. It also is the only one available with an armored resupply vehicle, the K10. The K9 weighs about 47 tonnes. In its favor are the fact that the South Koreans are buying tons of these, and they have a nice upgrade roadmap. The currently available K9A1 improves the electronics and navigation systems over the previous model, and is the current standard if one was buying today. Samsung Techwin is also working on an A2 version with fully automated shell and propellant handling and a reduced crew. It should also feature an increased rate of fire.

There’s also the Swedish Archer system, which has a low capacity of 21 rounds, but has a very high degree of automation. Like the ill-fated Crusader, it has entirely automated handling of artillery rounds, propellant charge modules, fuse-setting, and primers. As a result, it has a best-available six-round MRSI capability. Weight is somewhere in the middle at 33 tonnes. It was supposed to have a resupply vehicle, but that got axed.

Finally, we have the Boxer RCH, which takes much of the gun from the PzH 2000 and mounts it in a fully automated turret on the back of a Boxer MRAV. It has low manning, but not much is available about it, because no one has bought any. This is one of many mountings of the Artillery Gun Module on various chassis, and the same system has also been mounted on an ASCOD 2 chassis.

We also have Denel’s G6, which saw combat in the border with Angola, and has been kept up to date by the scions of Gerald Bull’s Space Research Corporation. It’s a somewhat large wheeled vehicle, and builds on South African experience in making mine-resistant platforms. Current versions have improved fire control and ammunition handling, and are equipped with an L52 gun that has a chamber with 23L (JBMOU-compliant2) or 25L capacity. These are the G6-52 and G6-52L versions, respectively.

We have contenders. Let’s look at some salient characteristics in a chart. Note reloading rates, instead of time to completely reload. MRSI are the maximum number of rounds possible according to the manufacturer. Bursts are 3 rounds, as fast as I could find the manufacturer claiming they could shoot them.

SystemWeight (tonnes)CapacityMRSIburst (sec)Reload Rate (shells/min)
PzH 20005760595
K9A1 Thunder474831512
FH08 Archer33216202.5
Boxer RCH38.53059?
G6-52(L)46475 (52) or 6 (52L)154.7

On to some commentary. Archer was supposed to be a joint Swedish-Norwegian project, but the Norwegians pulled out. Digging through old defense magazine articles, Norwegian concerns were the low capacity with lack of automated resupply system, issues with too large a dispersion, and too high ground pressure. Archer has seen no export success, and seems to be expensive.

Recently, K9 has been seeing quite a bit of export success in Europe due to its very reasonable cost and favorable licensing terms, which is notably less than that of Panzerhaubitze 2000. It also beat the Mista-S in an Indian tender. Other export users include Norway, Finland, Estonia, Poland, and Turkey.

Despite the higher cost, Panzerhaubitze 2000 has also seen plenty of export success with other NATO members as well as Qatar. It also has an armor kit designed to protect it against DPICM-type submunitions that you might find in a counterbattery rocket artillery salvo, especially if your opponent is Russia.

And the Boxer RCH hasn’t been bought by anyone yet. Rumor has it that it’s the favorite with UK MoD in their upcoming procurement contest. That said, it’s quite heavy for a Boxer variant, and it needs a different engine.

Denel has a long history of working on long range V-LAP rounds, and the G6 can take advantage of this. The G6-52L can use its non-JBMOU chamber to fire the M9703 base-bleed/rocket-assisted EFRB VLAP projectile a distance of 73 km in tests. Which is best in class by far. Otherwise it’s a pretty solid option with good but not great capacity for ammunition.

At this point, I’m strongly considering the G6-52L. At least until we consider some other things. First, Denel’s own (old) marketing materials basically dropped the 25-liter chamber version, focusing on the version that is JBMOU compliant with JBMOU compliant ammunition. The G6-52 itself hasn’t been exported anywhere: Denel’s last export order was the regular G6 to Oman in the late 90s.

Also, all of the present ammunition development work is being done to getting more range out of a JBMOU-compliant gun system. So the range limitation of the other guns isn’t likely to last, and we’re not likely to see more good testing on the -52L version. As a result, I can’t go with it. Regrettably.

We’ve now come back to the choice I had last time, and my answer is the same. I prefer the better fire rate and submunition protection of the PzH 2000. Things to keep an eye on would be an aggressive price move from Samsung, or the rumored K9A2, which is supposed to include fully automated ammunition handling and reduced crew. If that keeps the reasonable stock of ammo, we’d prefer it, especially since it might also improve the rate of fire.

Let’s also take a brief moment to talk about the usual 800 lbs. gorilla in the room: the US Army. Having had a few M109 replacement programs terminated, they’re being quite a bit more conservative this time with a two-stage approach. The first stage, which has just entered production is the M109A7 upgrade, which replaces the M109’s powertrain with that of the M2 Bradley, and upgrades the suspension to handle more weight. Gun upgrades, as well as an automated ammunition loading system, are coming as part of the second stage. The gun is supposed to have an L58 barrel, so it should be pretty fun. For now, there’s not much worth looking at, unless one uses or plans to full-fleet Bradleys. It’ll probably be interesting to look at in the future, however.

  1. So we’re going to ignore for now all of the nifty “towed howitzer replacements” like CAESAR. Those are super simple though, and ought to be mounted to a common truck. 
  2. Joint Ballistic Memorandum of Understanding, an agreement to standardize ammunition and propellant charges for the Next Generation of NATO artillery. 

1 thought on “2019 Self-Propelled Artillery Revisit

  1. Kilo Sierra

    If involved in a peer/near-peer conflict, do stowed rounds really matter (outside of a burst or two)?

    Emplace – fire burst 1
    scoot to – FP2
    emplace – fire burst 2
    scoot to ARSV
    etc – just wondering out-loud is ammo capacity really matters in the grand scheme of conflict


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