Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR November 2010 Contents 42 | Asia Pacific Defence Reporter
echanised self-propelled howitzer (SPH) systems were
initially fielded by the British Army almost a century ago
towards the end of the First World War. The advantages
of this technology were exploited by many armies during
the next worldwide conflict, none more so than Germany
and quickly followed by Russia, the United States and other combatants.
Today SPHs are found in almost every modern Army, with the curious
exception of Australia, which last fielded such systems in the 1950s. Since
then the Army has preferred to revert to the use of towed guns alone – a
technology not far removed from the horse-drawn canon of the Middle
Ages, though with far greater range and accuracy.
This seems about to change with the 155mm SPH part of LAND 17 –
following on from an earlier purchase of towed artillery - moving towards
a decision early in 2011 after a lengthy and at times puzzling process.
The desirability of such equipment is described in the Defence Capability
The modernised offensive support system will be characterised by
responsiveness, high tactical mobility, greater autonomy and survivability.
The final point is particularly applicable to SPH systems because the
two bids under consideration – the PzH 2000 and the K9/AS9 - have a high
level of crew protection, in that they are armoured, tracked vehicles. One
of the fundamental problems with towed systems is that the gun crew
stand around in the open when conducting operations, making them
extremely vulnerable to incoming fire.
A related vulnerability of towed systems is the speed – or lack thereof
– with which they can be moved. Given the prevalence and low cost of
artillery-locating radars, even a relatively unsophisticated enemy can
localize the source of fire by tracking the course of a shell and rapidly
shoot back at the exact spot from whence it came. This realization has
led to modern armies developing a doctrine of “shoot-and-scoot”, where
the SPH fires a number of rounds in less than a minute and then moves
to a different location to avoid being hit in return – something that is a
physical impossibility for towed guns because of the far greater time it
takes to move them after they have been firing.
To many observers the advantages of SPHs are so overwhelming that it
seems strange that Army has apparently given priority to replacing their
old towed 105mm and 155mm guns with a single 155mm in the form of
the lighter and more accurate M777, manufactured by BAE Systems. The
first of 35 guns on order has arrived in Australia at a total cost – according
to FMS pricing – of a not to exceed figure of around $500 million. These
guns will be used to form four batteries of six guns apiece, with the
remaining 11 being used for training.
The main advantage of these guns over the previous generation is
that they are light enough to be carried by sling underneath a CH-47
Chinook, though with an unclear margin of safety depending on the exact
configuration of helicopter. When linked to a digital fire control system
as well as GPS-fuzed ammunition, these guns have an impressive level of
accuracy and have been deployed to great effect in Afghanistan by US and
The original requirement for the SPH part of LAND 17 allowed for the
possibility of wheeled systems, with the Swedish Bofors ‘Archer’ system an
early favourite. However following operational experience – particularly
in Afghanistan – the requirements for crew protection were significantly
increased. This eliminated all but the two tracked contenders.
After a lengthy evaluation, a further stage in the process called an
Offer Definition and Refinement Phase (ODRP) was mandated, with the
justification that both bids were considered to be high risk. However,
the manufacturer of the PzH 2000 Krauss-Maffei Wegmann declined to
participate in the ODRP because of perfectly legitimate concerns about
the intellectual property clauses in the contract. So the K9/AS9 team of
Raytheon Australia and South Korea’s Samsung Techwin were the sole
remaining participant in the process, which finished in March this year.
Defence has confirmed that the PzH 2000 bid has not been eliminated,
despite non-participation in the ODRP. Indeed the German gun seems
to be the sentimental favorite of some in Defence because they have
seen it in operation with Dutch forces in Afghanistan, and additionally
it is built by Teutons. The South Korean gun is a comparable product
in mass production and is lighter – and therefore more maneuverable
– better protected and almost certainly far less expensive. As a result of
participating fully in the ODRP it is also logically low risk – or at least
lower risk – than the KMW bid, the status of which presumably remains
unchanged from the original rather worrying assessment.
Because of the amount of time taken to reach a decision and the
somewhat opaque process with both bidders believing they have been
banned from speaking about their products – denied by Defence – rumors
have circulated that the project will be cancelled and then re-tendered at
some distant future point. Such an event would be completely at odds
with the imperative of providing Army with an advanced protected
artillery system that could be deployed to Afghanistan or elsewhere, if
Dutch PzH2000 in Afghanistan
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