A general survey of recent artillery developments; refurbishment is the order of the day.
Throughout history gunners and artillery designers have constantly striven to improve the performance of guns and ammunition. Thus, despite all the many artillery innovations that have been introduced over the last few decades, serving gunners and military planners are still clamouring for something better. It has been the task of the ordnance manufacturers to provide them with that "something better".
New weapons - it is a well-known fact - cost a lot of money. Artillery is no exception, although it does have the cost-effective advantage that it can continue to deliver its offensive projectiles with a steady degree of accuracy over prolonged periods of time under a wide range of weather and other conditions. Nevertheless, new artillery systems are expensive, and as a result existing in-service equipments usually have to be either completely obsolete or worn out before any consideration is given to their replacement.
For many armies this cost factor means that they have to retain artillery equipments that have fallen well behind many of the technical developments achieved by the more well-off nations. Thus, even today, old World War II weapons such as the American 105 mm M101 and 155 mm M114 towed howitzers or the 105 mm M108 self-propelled howitzer have to remain in gun parks simply because there is no prospect of their being replaced due to a lack of funds.
This factor is apparent even in NATO. Some nations have so many old 155 mm M114 towed howitzers that there is no prospect of their being replaced while they are still around. This means that there are some NATO guns that cannot reach the accepted standard maximum range of 24 000 metres firing normal projectiles. The old M114 can at best manage 14 600 metres. In any future conflict these M114 batteries would be exposed to an overwhelming weight of counter-battery fire and would soon be removed from the action.
So many M114s are still around that several ordnance manufacturers offer re-barrelling kits to enable old M114s to achieve a performance similar to more modern gun systems. These kits differ in detail but usually offer a new barrel 39 calibres long (i.e. L/39 or 39X155 mm = approx. 6 metres) with a chamber capable of accepting NATO standard ammunition, new equilibrators to balance the weight of the longer barrel, recoil system modifications and other changes. The result is a weapon with a maximum range of 18 100 metres or so with their normal projectiles or the required 24 000 metres using Extended Range Full Bore (ERFB) rounds.
The most successful producer of these 155 mm M114 upgrade kits has been RDM of Holland. They even produce new M114s with L/39 barrels. To date they have rebarrelled (or are in the process of) re-barrelling M114s for Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway (the new barrels are manufactured by AB Bofors of Sweden). Canada has accepted two conversions for trials but no orders have yet been forthcoming.
Other companies that have produced M114 upgrading kits include SRC of Belgium, OTO-Melara of Italy, GIAT of France (using the barrel of their TR towed gun), Soltam of Israel and NORICUM of Austria. A plan to convert the US Army's old M114s to a new M114A2 standard using 155 mm M198-type barrels was not pursued with. As for the South Korean KH179 howitzer, it is a virtual rebuild of the old M114.
The upgrading process has not stopped with the M114. There are still numerous Soviet-supplied 130 mm M-46 guns in service all around the world, and it is now possible to upgrade these to accept 155 mm L/39 barrels. This was started by SRC, who then appear to have passed on their know-how to the Chinese and to the Yugoslavs for these are also offering to mount 155 mm barrels on old M-46 carriages. All these conversions are known as the M46/84 or GM-85.
It is understood that RDM are also producing a 130 to 155 mm M-46 conversion, but their development owes nothing to other programmes.
The Chinese have also produced one further example of upgrading existing artillery pieces. They have produced a longer-barreled version of their 152 mm Type 66 gun-howitzer (a copy of the Soviet 152 mm D-20) known as the Type 83. Many components of the Type 66 have been carried over to the Type 83, but the longer barrel can now produce a maximum range of 30 370 metres as opposed to the 17 230 metres of the Type 66. The Yugoslavs have also carried out a re-work of the D-20 but their end-product is known as the M84.
The most important development of the last two decades in the towed artillery field has been the arrival of the many and various L/45 155 mm guns. By the mid-1970s there had been a gradual trend towards 155 mm gun-howitzers with barrels up to 39 calibres long (L/39), of which the West German/British/Italian FH-70 gun remains a prime example. Weapons such as the FH-70 are able to fire a standard shell to a range of around 24 000 metres with ease (with maximum charge), although it is often overlooked that when firing the NATO standard projectile, the M107 high explosive, the maximum range is less than that.
The advent of the L/45 guns created a new yardstick. For them the normal maximum range is 30 000 metres (using ERFB ammunition), and this has now become the accepted norm for future artillery designs. The first L/45 gun to arrive on the scene was a product of the old Space Research Corporation of Quebec, namely the GC 45. Such was the impact of this weapon that it was forgotten that the GC 45 was little more than a ballistic laboratory tool to test-fire the then-novel ERFB ammunition. The GC 45 was far from being a viable field weapon, but that did not prevent it from being purchased by the Royal Thai Marines or from being widely copied. The GC 45, in a revised form, is now being produced in Austria by NORICUM, as the GH N-45. It saw extensive use in the recent Iran/Iraq war.
From the GC 45 came several other L/45 guns. The Chinese WA 021 is a virtual clone of the Austrian GH N-45, while the South African G5 started life as a GC 45 derivative but has been refined to the point where it may be regarded as a virtually new design.
Other L/45 guns include the Israeli Soltam Model 845P and the ODE FH-88 from Singapore. Another L/45 design, but of a new generation, is the SRC FGH-155, which at present exists only in prototype form. SRC is the latest configuration of the old Space Research Corporation of Quebec and at present has its main office in Belgium, although much of the actual hardware development is being carried out in Spain and elsewhere.
The FGH-155 may be regarded as the GC 45 taken to its next logical step. It has much the same performance as the other L/45 guns, but numerous changes have been made in the manufacturing methods. For instance, the barrel rifling is now much deeper, and various types of breech mechanism are on offer to suit customer requirements. Overall there are fewer parts than with other designs. The FGH-155 has been designed from the outset to fire the long-range ERFB round: if older projectiles are used special plastic adaptor rings have to be used.
The advent of the L/45 guns has not meant that designs with shorter length barrels have ceased to appear. Away from the long barrel designs, the preferred barrel length is still L/39, which is used with the FH-70, the American M198, the Spanish SB 155/39, the Finnish Tampella M-74 and various models from the Israeli Soltam concern. L/39 barrels are also used by the French Towed Gun TR and the Swedish Bofors FH-77A and FH-77B. The latter became one of the largest export sales successes of recent years when over 400 were sold to India, so it cannot be said that L/45 designs have swamped the potential artillery market.
On a smaller calibre scale, 105 mm designs are now few and far between. The few designs on the market are intended mainly for specialised troops such as mountain batteries and commando support units. Top of the success list must come the British Royal Ordnance 105 mm Light Gun, which has been sold to many countries and equips several British Army regiments. The Light Gun replaced the older OTO-Melara Pack Howitzer, which is still in production although it has been around since 1956. The only other 105 mm gun currently being offered for sale (apart from the Indian 105 mm Field Gun which is a virtual copy of the British Light Gun) is the French GIAT LG1 light gun, a design which can be traced back to the mid-1960s. The South Korean KH178 is a virtual M101 re-build with a longer barrel and has attracted little sales interest outside South Korea itself.
The main reason for the eclipse of the 105 mm calibre has been the realisation that 155 mm is the smallest calibre that can be expected to have any effect on the type of massed armoured assaults that are expected to be the norm in future warfare. The effectiveness of 155 mm projectiles against massed armour was demonstrated many times during the various Middle East Wars and the recent Iran-Iraq conflict.
The trend towards 155 mm for all field artillery applications has now reached the point where lighter and lighter guns are being requested. Even special-purpose unit support batteries are now requesting 155 mm weapons to replace their 105s. The main draw-back is that current 155 mm designs, with the possible exception of the American M198, are all large and heavy guns that cannot be airlifted underslung by a helicopter. Such airlifts are a prime requirement for special units: where they go the guns must follow, so somehow a way must be found to make the 155 mm heliportable.
At present helicopters such as the CH-47D Chinook can just about manage to lift a M198 or similar weapon, but the US Army and Marine Corps now have a requirement for a 155 mm howitzer that can be airlifted by a helicopter the size of the UH-60 Black Hawk. So far several design teams have attempted to produce such a lightweight weapon but only two have got anywhere near the target. Both teams are British, being Royal Ordnance and Vickers. Royal Ordnance have actually test-fired a barrel, while the Vickers design is still in model and mock-up form.
In order to keep down weight both designs make extensive use of advanced materials including light alloys and composite materials such as Kevlar. Little has been released regarding their detailed design but one can assume that their carriages are unorthodox, with forward-facing trail legs, and that they are generally muzzle-heavy designs. The intention is to allow barrel weight to absorb a good proportion of the recoil forces. Both designs use L/39 barrels to ensure that they have a performance at least equal to the weapons they are intended to supplement or replace.
It will be some time before these lightweight 155 mm designs appear in saleable form. However, it must be stressed that they are intended for special force applications only: it is not intended that they should become standard field weapons.
One design that seems likely to become a standard field weapon is yet another product of the Belgo-Spanish SRC. They reckon that many existing 155 mm carriages could accommodate a 203 mm barrel and are at present producing a design known as the FGH-203. The FGH-203 is intended for mounting on the same carriage as the FGH-155, but the improvement in firepower over the FGH-155 is very considerable.
In common with most other 155 mm L/45 design, the FGH-155 fires a ERFB BB shell (BB = base-bleed or as the Americans say, base-burn) weighing around 43 kg to a range of 39 000 metres. In contrast, the FGH-203 could fire a ERFB BB shell to a range of over 50 000 metres and with a greater effect due to the larger payload carried. The FGH-203 is still in the design stage, but the promise of a heavier projectile fired from existing carriages has many attractions and it could mark the end of the 155 mm calibre as the accepted standard. However, such is the widespread acceptance of 155 mm and the number of 155 mm weapons in the world's gun parks that it will be many years before 203 mm becomes the accepted norm, if ever.
In the meantime, the numerically most important towed artillery system in a Soviet 122 mm howitzer. This is the 122 mm D-30: it is the mainstay of Warsaw Pact artillery regiments and is encountered wherever Soviet influence has reached. The D-30 uses an unusual three-trail carriage and fires a fragmenting HE shell to a range of 15 400 metres. The D-30 is also licence-produced in China, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Egypt.
There have been relatively few design developments of late in self-propelled artillery as compared with towed artillery. In cost terms SP guns are more expensive than towed guns both in capital cost and maintenance terms, so that weapons are expected to remain in service for long periods. The best example is the venerable 155 mm M109 which has been around since the early 1960s. Over the years it has been provided with a new and longer barrel, and detailed improvements have been many and various, but even so it is now regarded as at best obsolescent. Yet the US Army and many other armies have large fleets of M109s in various forms. Several still have the old short barrel that provides a performance similar to that of the towed M114 howitzer, i.e. a maximum range of 14 600 metres. It takes a rocket-assisted projectile (RAP) for even the long-barrelled M109A1 to reach the accepted standard range of 24 000 metres.
At present the M109 is undergoing a programme to enable it to reach the M109A6 standard called the M109 HIP (Howitzer Improvement Program). This may be regarded as an attempt to squeeze the last drop of juice from the M109 design lemon. The barrel is being uprated to enable it to use a larger propellant charge, ammunition stowage is being increased and there are numerous design detail improvements.
Exactly what the outcome of the M109 HIP programme will be was still uncertain at time of writing. It may well be that the HIP will be shown to have few advantages over existing M109s and that the whole project will be scrapped in favour of a new programme. The latter has been known under several names during its existence, but the favoured one now seems to be the Advanced Field Artillery Systems, or AFAS.
AFAS will be a 155 mm weapon and when it does arrive will certainly be an advanced system but this is a long way off. The US Army's specifications read like science fiction in places. Top of the list is a maximum range of over 50 000 metres: to that have been added a burst fire requirement of at least four rounds in 15 seconds, a "shoot-and-scoot" capability, an on-board computer to handle everything from fire-control to land navigation and on-board systems management, air-portability in C-5, C-17 and C-141 transport aircraft and the capability to remain in action under NBC conditions for at least 72 hours.
Needless to say, the AFAS will be the subject of a great deal of development before it reaches the troops in the field, if it ever does.
Outside the USA, self-propelled artillery development is still active. One of the more promising designs emanates from the UK where Vickers have developed the AS-90, a 155 mm design which now seems very likely to be the British Army's next SP gun. (At time of writing the AS-90 is in a "shoot-off" against the American M109 HIP). The AS-90 started life as a purely commercial venture to provide third-world armed forces with a low-cost and simple design, but has evolved into a more complex weapon system to meet British Army requirements following the cancellation of the International SP-70.
Vickers are no strangers to the SP artillery market and are still actively promoting their GBT 155 turret. This novel approach involves a turreted 155 mm gun that can be mounted on the turret ring of virtually any large MBT chassis. This would enable many armies to utilise old or obsolete tank chassis and provide them with viable self-propelled artillery at a relatively low cost. To date the GBT 155 has not met with any sales success. However, there are prospects of sales to India where the present L/39 barrel on offer could be replaced by a 155 mm FH-77B barrel in a GBT turret mounted on the chassis of the Vijayanta tank. The Indian Army will have a considerable fleet of Vijayantas on its hands once it changes over to locally-produced T-72s.
The last few years have seen the reemergency of wheeled SP guns. The first of these systems was the Czech 152 mm Dana built onto a modified Tatra 815 8X8 truck. The 152 mm Dana has a range of about 20 000 metres but this can be increased by the use of enhanced performance projectiles.
In many ways the South African G6 is one of the more remarkable SP artillery pieces in service today. It mounts the same 155 mm ordnance as the towed G5 and thus has a potential maximum range of nearly 40 000 metres using ERFB BB projectiles. The 6X6 G6 was designed and built with South African conditions in mind, so it is extremely tough and is capable of long-range operations over rough bush terrain. It is now in production after somewhat prolonged development and has seen action on the Angolan border.
Until recently the Dana and G6 were thought to be the only wheeled SP guns of their type but the recent Baghdad exhibition put paid to this notion. In Baghdad the Iraqis showed two new gun systems on articulated wheeled 6X6 chassis. One was a 155 mm unit known as the Majnoon which fires a ERFB BB round to 38 000 metres. On a similar chassis was the A1 Fao with a 210 mm barrel.
The A1 Fao and Majnoon share the same turret and chassis but the A1 Fao with its unusual 210 mm gun is something of a revelation. According to data supplied by Baghdad the 210 mm gun fires a 109.4 kg ERFB BB projectile to a maximum range of no less than 57 340 metres. This is way in excess of any other artillery piece in service or on the drawing board. It is understood that both systems were developed in Iraq with outside assistance from several European countries.
Reverting to tracked SP gun systems, the Chinese have introduced their Type 83. This is a 152 mm-armed system based on an entirely new chassis, but the gun is a derivative of the Chinese Type 66 gun-howitzer and thus its maximum range is 17 230 metres. It is anticipated that longer barrels may be fitted in the near future.
The French have had their 155 mm GCT SP gun in service for some time and have sold numbers to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The GCT's barrel is about 40 calibres long and uses a family of ammunition that is used by no other system (apart from the towed TR gun). Maximum range with standard projectiles is 23 300 metres, although one projectile making use of both base-bleed and rocket assistance can attain 31 500 metres.
The Italian OTO-Melara Palmaria uses a 155 mm gun based on the International FH-70 but 41 calibres long. The Palmaria was originally produced primarily for export. It has had some success, having been sold to Libya and Nigeria, but production has now ceased.
One long-running programme has been the contest to provide a SP gun system to the Egyptian Army. The idea is to mount locally-produced 122 mm D-30 howitzers on a self-propelled chassis: both Royal Ordnance and the American BMY concern have produced prototypes. The Royal Ordnance chassis is intended to be one component in a new family of tracked vehicles, while the BMY design is not surprisingly based on the M109 chassis for which BMY have long been prime contractor. The contest between the two designs was supposed to have been completed in 1987 but no "winner" has yet been announced.
For most Western nations the M109 in one or other of its various versions remains the most important SP gun.
There has been one recent arrival on the self-propelled scene and that is the Israeli Rascal. The Rascal, produced by Soltam, is a lightweight vehicle (only 20 tons) carrying a 155 mm L/39 or L/45 gun-howitzer on an open mounting at the rear. Only two of the four-man crew travel on the vehicle: to save weight the 36 projectiles are stacked in open racks on either side of the gun breech, the charges being stowed under armour. The Rascal is small enough to carry in a C-130 and much of the gun firing stress is taken up by a large recoil spade at the rear. Relatively few details have been released but it seems likely that some of the chassis components are derived from the Merkava tank.
For the gunner the projectile is the weapon - the gun is but the delivery system. Thus ammunition development also has to be considered.
The most important development of the last few decades has been the development of Extended Range Full Bore (ERFB) projectiles with their streamlined outline and "nubs" that engage in the barrel rifling as the projectile is loaded. These projectiles enable any gun performance to be considerably enhanced, to the extent that an L/39 barrel can improve its performance from 24 000 metres using standard projectiles to around 30 000 metres using ERFB. By adding a base-bleed unit, the range can be further improved. An L/45 gun that can reach 30 000 metres with a normal ERFB can attain 39 000 metres with ERFB BB.
The large-scale introduction of base-bleed has all but done away with other range-enhancing devices such as the rocket-assisted projectile (RAP). The RAP proved to be too innaccurate for use against anything other than wide area targets such as towns or large supply depots. However, RAPs are still used by many Warsaw Pact artillery guns and even by some variants of the American M109. They will no doubt be done away with when the next round of artillery development takes place.
Cargo rounds are now coming into service carrying a variety of payloads, from minelets to act as area denial weapons to radio transmitters for use as local communications jammers. Some of the more advanced designs carry anti-armour warheads producing self-forging fragments for use against tanks. The main drawback to most cargo rounds is that they cannot be fired from many barrels using full charge as the stresses involved are too great for the mechanisms of the cargo rounds.
Liquid propellant (LP) development would now appear to be at a stage when it can be considered for service use. General Electric have been carrying out a great deal of work in the USA and have reached the point where they are producing a 155 mm LP gun for mounting on a M109 SP chassis. The end-result could be used in the US Army's AFAS. If LP is used for the AFAS it will be a landmark in the development of artillery since its introduction will bring about a revolution in artillery logistics and ordnance desing.
PHOTO : Caught at the instant of firing, this US Army M-198 howitzer expels a 155 mm laser-guided Copperhead round produced by Martin Marietta Orlando Aerospace.
PHOTO : At the time of writing, the Vickers AS 90 155 mm howitzer, competing against the American M109 HIP, seemed very likely to become the British Army's next SP gun.
PHOTO : Test have recently been carried out to verify the compatibility of the Contraves Fieldguard FCS system with the Swiss Army's M109AI SP howitzer.
PHOTO : Bofors' FH-77B, which features an L139-type barrel, has been one of the world's most successful export examples with well over 400 units sold to India.
PHOTO : The South African 155 mm G6 self-propelled howitzer, which uses the same ammunition as the G5, can reach a range of nearly 40 000 metres ith ERFB BB rounds.
PHOTO : Typical unfuzed ERFB projectiles. These examples are for firing from the South African G5 or G6 SP guns.
PHOTO : A typical base-bleed unit for a 155 mm projectile. The unit is shown removed and fitted.
PHOTO : Austrian manufacturer Noricum produces the GH-N-45 as well as the GC 45 in a revised form. The latter saw extensive use in the Iran/Irak war.
PHOTO : There are prospects of sales of the British GBT turret fitted with the 155 mm barrel of the Bofors FH-77B for mounting on the Indian Vijayanta tank.
PHOTO : Bofors also supplies barrels for RDM of Holland - currently one of the most successful M-114 retrofitters with sales to Demark, the Netherlands and Norway.