Sunday, March 4, 2012

Collaboration. Not just with France, but even with Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is waiting for a visit of Dave Cameron this April, and according to japanese press, a defence collaboration agreement involving joint research and development projects is on the cards, DefenseNews report.

What caught my eye is that the report specifically mentions collaboration in development of an autoloader for 155 mm howitzers, only program specified in what is said to be a group of 4 projects.
The question is: why would the UK invest in a 155 mm howitzer autoloader?

The AS90 has a bustle-mounted autoloader which contains 31 of the vehicle's 48 on-board projectiles and charges. It makes it possible to fire at a burst rate of three rounds in 10 seconds, or six rounds per minute. Sustained rate is two rounds per minute.
It is a reliable and good system, but certainly not world-beating: modern howitzers such as the PZH2000 can fire 8 to 12 rounds per minute, and fire rapidly enough to perform MRSI, Multiple Rounds, Simultaneous Impact, attacks.

An upgrade of the AS90 autoloader is not planned, but if the UK is willing to put effort and money into research and development of a new system, some kind of long term interest must be there. 
Last time that the AS90 was to be upgraded significantly was in 2000, when the Braveheart upgrade was to fit new modular launch charges and a longer 52 caliber barrel. 

The current 39 caliber barrel gives, with standard HE rounds L15A2, a maximum range of 24,7 km increasing to a maximum of 32 km with ERFB ammunition.
All modern self propelled howitzers, and even some towed ones, are getting the longer 52 caliber barrel, because it offers massive advantages in terms of firing range: an AS90 with 52 caliber barrel could fire a standard L15 shell at 30 Km, and an ERFB at 40 or more kilometers of distance.

The Braveheart upgrade, immensely interesting, was centered on the longer barrel and on a new family of modular launch charges from South Africa's SOMCHEM, a subsidiary of Denel. These charges were particularly attractive because they offer an incredibly low barrel wear, but unfortunately they couldn't meet the regulation for Insensitive Munitions and this gave the MOD a good excuse to put the project "on hold" and effectively kill it. First of many kills that have severely hampered the efforts of the Royal Artillery to modernize its equipment and capabilities under the Indirect Fire, Precision Attack program, almost all part of which have been sacrificed at some point. 

According to the NAO's Major Projects report of 2001, Braveheart was to cost 188 million pounds, delivering 96 upgraded guns (interestingly, and sadly, after the cuts in the SDSR2010, the AS90 numbers have gone down to 95, but without any upgrade balancing the reduction!), 202 spare barrels and 1.169.130 modular launch charges. 

The awareness that the AS90 is practically ready for barrel change and immediate passage to the 52 caliber barrel makes it even more irritating that the Royal Artillery's main weapon is being kept significantly outranged by most possible competitors, with all the risks that this implies. During the first Iraq war in 1990, Saddam's army had self propelled howitzers capable of firing on targets 40 and more kilometers away, and the US emergency reaction was to create a longer range MLRS rocket by diminishing the load of submunitions and augmenting the propulsion charge. They also, in due curse, changed the barrels on their M109 self propelled howitzers, while the UK is still lagging to this day. 

The only AS90 export success is, in itself, out there to remind everyone of the problem, and of the fact that the solution is at hand reach but never financed: Poland, who acquired the AS90 turret design for installation on a hull designed nationally modifying a T-72 tank, is to produce a consistent number of "Krab" (at least 144, since the plan is for 3 regiments each on 48 guns), the resulting self propelled howitzer, all with 52 caliber barrels. 

Whatever can help the Royal Artillery resurrect the upgrade idea for the AS90 is welcome. 
It will also be interesting to see what the other 3 projects will entail. 

In another news of collaboration, Sweden is to get, via UOR for its forces in Afghanistan, 12 Viking rear cars from the Royal Marines. The cars will be delivered in british Afghan TES configuration, with complete additional armor. The Dutch will make available the front cars instead.
They are an urgent requirement for sweden infantry. 
The UK, at the end of operations, will get the 12 cars back, refitted and uplifted to MK2 standard, at zero extra cost. These will join a total of 24 MK2 Viking vehicles that were ordered by the MOD for Afghan ops. 

Everyone wins.    

The Viking MK2 is a significantly improved Viking variant, more powerful, better protected and with greater weight growth margin. It was also considered by the British Army alongside the Bronco, which was the one selected in the end, entering service as Warthog. 

The british armed forces have acquired no less than 166 Vikings, but a considerable number has been destroyed or damaged so seriously to be written off during operations in Afghanistan. The original Royal Marines order was for 108 Vikings. 
An order of 21 Vikings was also placed by the Army, which will use them to create high-mobility Tac Party carriers for the reception and redistribution of Watchkeeper imagery to formations on the ground.


  1. Gabriele

    The "autoloader for 155 mm howitzers" project seems most likely to be something to do with an AS90 upgrade but could it be connected with an entirely new weapon? The DONAR keeps being mentioned as a future possibility for British forces.

    Do you know whether the Watchkeeper Tac Party vehicle will be a Viking Mk2 vehicle or an older mark? Is anything else known about it?

  2. Regarding the autoloader, i don't know. The DONAR would be a good option for the future, but why try to put a new autoloader in it when it has an excellent and fully mechanic one, derived from that of the PZH2000...?
    Does not feel like a smart idea to me.

    I think the Tac Party Vikings are MK1 ones. Each Tac Party should include a Commander, an NCO and a Signaller. The capability of the rear car is not detailed, but i would expect radios, network capability and StrikeHawk video download feed to receive imagery from the EO sensor of the drone, plus another link to get radar data.

    I don't think the Tac Party will be able to take control of the drone and guide it over a new area directly or anything like that. For that, they'll have to ask to the guys back in the base in the Ground Control Station.

  3. Thanks very much for all that. Excellent knowledge shown as usual.

    If there is to be an upgrade for the AS90, presumably now it won't be the Braveheart one. That will,I assume, be by-passed in favour of another programme with a 52 calibre barrel?

  4. I think that the barrel upgrade could be rolled into service, and the current modular charges retained. Indeed, it could have been done already in 2001, the two parts of the upgrade aren't exactly related.

    The SOMCHEM modular charges would greatly enhance the barrel life, which is important to achieve long-term savings, but to this day i think it still does not meet Insensitive Munition requirements.

    Indeed, it would be a much more useful development if UK and Japan, instead of an autoloader, worked to develop IM-compliant modular charges, possibly based on the excellent characteristics of SOMCHEM's products.

  5. Thanks very much for the reply. What you say makes good sense.

  6. Is being outranged in Artilery a big deal?

    Surely an artilery duel will be settled not by range, but in favour of whoever gets a Brimstone laden Typhoon into the other sides guns first?

  7. I will avoid noticing that Typhoon as it is does not carry any Brimstone, would be too easy.

    But i cannot avoid noticing that with a shrinking number of airplanes in the air, in the next serious war, artillery will have a greater role than before, even though it is smaller than it used to be as well.

    As recently as 2003 operations in Iraq saw AS90 firing 9000 shells, and a significant number of submunitions shells for anti-vehicle attack.
    L118s fired some 13.000 shells.

    Even if there were lots and lots of airplanes up in the air doing a lot of the work.

    Counterbattery is definitely an issue, and being outranged is a significant disadvantage.
    Also, with less and less artillery in service, longer range means a larger area covered, even with fewer guns.

  8. But Typhoon is due for Brimstone carry by 2015 is it not? Whereas a new SPG is very much an aspiration.
    If all goes to plan, and the UK does operate 36 F35cs off a Carrier, its likely we will have considerable more aircraft available than has been the case historicaly, and they will be considerably better armed. A 'C' with 6 Brimstone Pods is rather more ground attack capability than has been available since piston aircraft carried rocket pods in the second world war.

    I'm not saying Artilery isnt useful, it is, we are always going to bneed big guns to plaster enemy positions. Merely that extra range isnt a war winning factor anymore.
    It certainly didnt save Iraq in 91.

    I just dont see a future war in which artilery range is going to be a serious factor. Helpful, sure, but "Big Bertha" will always be a priority for the airforce to knock out.

    There is of course a logistical bonus to not having to truck 22,000 shells that extra 6km (or even 20km), and for £188m, it seems an easy win.

    But I dont believe its a serious deficiency.

  9. Typhoon should get Brimstone in 2014, but it is an aspiration until the program isn't confirmed and financed.

    It might not be the most serious of deficiencies in the armed forces, but it is a severe limit for the Artillery, and there's a reason why in any scenario your aviation solution will only be partially feasible:

    try thinking of the cost of 9000 AS90 shells hitting a wide area with forces out in the open.
    Then think about trying to hit every single troop concentration, gun and vehicle with a Brimstone or Paveway.
    At 175.000 pounds per each Brimstone, plus many thousands pounds of cost per Typhoon flying hour, how much is it going to cost?

    How are you going to keep an area suppressed with bombs from the sky?
    Easy to main up a large area with a battery of howitzers, but the airplane comes, drops two bombs, and goes back to base.

    Again, how are you going to have airplanes at the ready in the air all the time, to be cued for a counterbattery strike when the COBRA radar on the ground detects enemy guns firing?
    You cannot.

    Even with Typhoon and F35 well armed and available, artillery has still a big role to play out there, and having a firing range comparable to that of competitors would represent a very significant improvement, to say the least.

  10. Hello Gabriele.

    This is an off-topic comment that is distantly related to the discussion of defence co-operation and collaboration.

    I am trying to track down a remark made my an EU bureaucrat on the subject of the EU's need for aircraft carriers. I distinctly remember the quote, which was made perhaps 2 or 3 years ago. The individual concerned said to the media that "the EU has a requirement for 3 to 4 such vessels".

    Now, however, I am unable to track down either the news story itself, mention of this figure of 3 to 4, or anything specific in any EU defence policy document.

    Any ideas?


  11. I remember talk of such a requirement, but i cannot remember who was who talked about it.

    I'm pretty sure that a plan for aircraft carrier battlegroups at european level was contained in a 2008 report to the European Parliament, which was backed by Sarkozy. But i don't have any idea of where to go to get to read that document, unfortunately.

  12. "would represent a very significant improvement, to say the least."

    Its the significant part I cant see

    An improvement.
    One certainly worth the chicken feed it will cost.
    But I just dont see anything beyond that.

    I cant see a situation in which those extra 6km are essential, rather than useful.
    I just cant.
    If I remember correctly, Argentina had at least one 155mm gun in the Falklands, it outranged anything the UK had, but it didnt manage anything beyond annoyance.
    A regiment of 36 gund would have been a serious problem, but also a much easier target to destroy or interdict by air.
    Or simply close the range and shoot back with your own guns.

    Yes, they can shoot whenever you come within their range, and run whenever you reach the point you can shoot back, but that sort of movement is exactly what aircraft would be waiting for.

    Or so I think anyway.

    Random thought, how heavy is the autoloader?
    Could we be looking at a Light Gun replacement, in 155, with a magazine?

  13. We have to agree on our disagreement, then, i guess.

    As to your question. If i understood correctly, you hint of a towed Light Gun replacement with autoloader...? No, i don't think it is feasible. I don't know the weights at play, but they are important. And bulk of the system is even more of a problem in such a project. I don't think they'd ever invest money in such a thing.

    The M777 ultralightweight howitzer is the natural replacement for the L118.
    At most, worth a thought would be the adoption of a lightweight prime mover acting as a Light self propelled howitzer for medium forces.

    Exactly what LIMAWS(G) was. A pity that it was cancelled.


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