18th Airborne Corps covets fast-moving artillery guns.
Specifically, the 18th Airborne Corps wants the Army to purchase a battery of five Caesar artillery systems, for field testing and evaluation.
The Caesar is a 52-caliber 155 mm howitzer installed on a 7-ton Daimler-Benz 6x6 truck. It has a range of 42 km--compared to 30 km for the Army's current artillery guns-- and is C-130 transportable. Originally developed for the French Army, the Caesar caught the attention of U.S. Army artillery officers, who continue to operate Cold War-era weapons and are longing for a fast howitzer platform that can keep up with the combat maneuver force.
The 18th Airborne Corps Artillery signed off on an "operational needs statement for the Caesar field artillery system" on February 19. The operational needs document denotes the first step in the Army's protracted acquisition process. The needs statement now is being reviewed by the Army Forces Command and the Army deputy chief of staff for operations and plans. If both these organizations endorse the request, the document moves down to the Training and Doctrine Command, where Army weapon wish lists are turned into official "requirements" that can compete for funding in future budget cycles.
The 18th Airborne Corps Artillery, based in Fort Bragg, N.C., is a contingency force that employs towed howitzers as the primary means of cannon fire support. But towed howitzers, such as the M198 155 mm and its replacement, the M777 lightweight 155 mm, "are not able to match the tactical mobility of wheeled and tracked combat systems," said the operational needs document. "Future field artillery systems must be capable of keeping pace with the supported maneuver force."
The Army has a requirement for a medium-weight, highly deployable field artillery system "capable of providing direct and general support to any contingency or follow-on maneuver force," said the document. "The Caesar is one of a number of truck-mounted field artillery systems that can fill that need."
The operational needs statement said the Caesar can be employed individually in support of a special operation or as a battery. It can move from a hidden location to a firing position, launch six rounds and displace in less than three minutes. In Army parlance, it can "shoot and scoot."
Depending on the terrain, the Caesar vehicle can reach speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.
During the 2002 Senior Fire Support Conference last October, the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps Artillery, Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt, discussed the potential use of Caesar as an "interim solution" to the current lack of long-range, mobile artillery systems. The towed howitzers the Army now uses require a 5-ton truck as a prime mover and are too "manpower intensive," Kimmitt said at the conference.
The inability to get the 155 mm guns to the front lines fast enough gradually has diminished the clout and the value of field artillery in joint-service warfare, Kimmitt complained. Recent conflicts have seen the "ascendancy of air power," while guns largely have been silent.
"Direct, close-support artillery has not had a major role in recent conflicts against weak adversaries," Kimmitt said in a presentation to the conference. "Our close support focus has atrophied."
When equipped with fast-moving platforms, artillery forces become more relevant and more lethal, he noted. "Current and future operating environments will require close support in all types of terrain and conditions--only artillery can provide this, 24/7." The close fire support, he added, "must be done alongside, not in competition with the deep-battle responsibilities."
Kimmitt listed a series of "imperatives" for Army field artillery. At the top of the list is mobility. "We must keep up with the maneuver--heavy, medium and light." The second priority is to be "expeditionary." If weapon systems cant move easily via C-130 transport aircraft or UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, "we can't get them to the fight," said Kimmitt. The third imperative is to be "sustainable." Towed howitzers, for example, create too much "downtime," he said.
In the operational needs statement for the Caesar, Kim mitt recommended that the Army procure the vehicle now for "operational use with various types of Army forces in various scenarios."
An initial purchase would be a battery of five guns, in the French configuration. A U.S. firm reamed with Giat, the Caesar manufacturer, would produce enough weapons to field up to three six-gun battalions for the 18th Airborne Corps.
Giat officials told National Defense last month that they had yet to sign an agreement with a U.S. partner. American firms so far had been skittish about committing to a program that has no funding, these officials said. Candidate partners who have approached Giat include Stewart & Stevenson Tactical Vehicles Systems, Oshkosh Truck Corporation and Lockheed Martin. Giat representatives also have been seeking a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm to represent their company.
Giat was scheduled to deliver five guns in April to the French Army, for evaluation and tactical operational tests. Each system costs about $2 million.
The company hired a retired U.S. Marine in an effort to market Caesar to the Marine Corps. The commander of the Marine Corps Systems Command told Giat that he would not commit to buying Caesar until the Army made a decision.
Caesar systems can be produced at a rate of 5-10 per month. Deliveries could start 18 months after an order is placed, said Giat officials.
They are courting other international prospective customers, including Malaysia, Australia, Canada and various Middle Eastern nations.
One industry source said that the Caesar's biggest disadvantage is that it's French, making it a harder sell to "buy-U.S. only" members of Congress.
Playing to Caesar's advantage, however, is the fact that the incoming chief of staff of the Army, Gen. John Keane, was the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps before he became vice chief of the Army three years ago.