At DSEI 2019, BAE Systems presented a new version of the Archer self-propelled howitzer, mounted on the HX44 8x8 chassis by Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles
Self-propelled barreled artillery remained the basis of the arsenals of many armies of the world even after the Cold War, and its use in recent conflicts has shown the enormous importance and relevance of these weapons systems in any scenario of confrontation between equal opponents.
Of all the weapons that a modern, well-equipped army can use against its opponents, artillery remains one of the most destructive. Having demonstrated its power in the XNUMXth century, it continues to play a major role in modern conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.
Such confirmation of its potential is beginning to have a noticeable impact on the purchase of artillery systems by the main military powers. Although a full-scale conflict of almost equal rivals is unlikely so far, the growing disagreements between NATO countries and their allies on the one hand and the more belligerent (according to the West) Russia and China, on the other, are forcing the allocation of considerable funds for weapons necessary to successfully wage war against the militarily powerful opponent.
If such a conflict arises, then, in accordance with modern military theory, it will be characterized by a series of short sharp clashes in a number of areas of hostilities. Artillery, with its potential to disperse the concentration of enemy forces and support the maneuver of its forces, will be very important to gain an advantage. As a consequence, any military organization seeking to ensure a reliable deterrence of Russia or China must have a sufficient number of modern artillery weapons.
Although multiple launch rocket systems and mortars make up a significant part of artillery arsenals, traditional barreled artillery systems, in particular self-propelled howitzers (SG), remain the backbone of almost all armies in the world. These highly maneuverable systems can perform both the traditional task of mass shelling a given area, and fire expensive high-precision projectiles when delivering a selective strike at particularly important targets.
Superiority is required
However, in order for these systems to be able to reliably perform their tasks, they must match (or exceed) the weapons of their opponents in two critical characteristics: range and mobility. The first of these is a good incentive to modernize artillery systems and develop new ammunition; unable to strike at enemy artillery from a long distance, large-caliber cannons are more vulnerable to counter-battery fire.
Mobility at the operational and tactical levels is also paramount. Artillery systems must be able not only to arrive on the battlefield in time to support their forces, but also in the conflict zone, which is likely teeming with advanced systems and electronic warfare means, they must be able to quickly complete a fire mission and change position. In order to reduce the time spent in one place, artillery systems are increasingly being installed on self-propelled chassis, and also increase their level of autonomy through the integration of automatic loaders and digital fire control systems.
The availability of all these features is limited by only one factor - cost. Many armed forces are forced to balance, standing on the edges of an ever-widening chasm between shrinking budgets and the need to modernize equipment, which greatly affects the configuration of artillery systems.
Over the next decade, all these trends and factors are expected to change to some extent the entire self-propelled artillery market.
The global market for self-propelled artillery is projected to peak in 2022, after which costs will gradually decline to 2010s levels as programs in Europe and Asia-Pacific, which are currently driving growth, come to an end.
Even if most of these costs go towards upgrading or purchasing new tracked systems that have a greater range than their Cold War predecessors, nevertheless, one cannot fail to notice the increased attention to wheeled SGs based on military truck chassis. Compared to heavier systems, they are less tenacious, but this is offset by strategic mobility and, perhaps more importantly, reduced acquisition and maintenance costs.
It is predicted that between 2019 and 2029, all countries of the world will spend a total of $ 25,9 billion on self-propelled artillery procurement programs. This is 62% of the total artillery systems market.
88% of this amount will be concentrated in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and North America, where the likelihood of conflict with equal rivals is especially high.
Focus on solving one problem
The SG's leadership is confirmed by the fact that the Long-Range Precision Fires program, which includes several subprograms for the development of new artillery systems, is considered by the American army as a priority modernization project.
In order to increase the level of uniformity of tracked artillery systems with other vehicles in its armored brigade groups, the US Army approved the transition to full-scale production of the BAE Systems M109A7 Paladin Integrated Management howitzer and later at the end of March 2020 signed a contract worth 339 million dollars for the supply of additional 48 platforms.
After the start of full-scale production of the M109A7 PIM howitzers, US investments in self-propelled guns are likely to remain relatively stable, although in the short and medium term there is no chance for manufacturers seeking to challenge the dominant position of BAE Systems.
However, the 155 mm / 39 klb cannon, currently integrated into the M109A7 platform, can hit targets at a distance of no more than 30 km, which is seriously inferior to the range of Russian new generation platforms. In this regard, it was decided to increase the capabilities of this system and install a 58-caliber barrel, developed under the Extended Range Cannon Artillery program. It is planned to begin its deployment among the troops in 2023, which will allow it to catch up with a potential enemy by increasing the maximum range to 70 km.
Despite an assessment of several wheeled artillery systems, such as the 155mm Brutus gun mounted on the chassis of the FMTV medium-duty military truck, the US Army has not officially started a program to develop such weapons.
The largest market for self-propelled howitzers is expected to be Europe, where, according to forecasts, a total of $ 2029 billion will be invested in the purchase of these systems until 8,3. Compared to North America, investment is more evenly divided between tracked and wheeled platforms, although there are several programs in which the exact configuration of the platform has not yet been determined.
As for the heavier machines, two main platforms prevail in the European market: the PzH 2000 of the German company KMW and the K9 Thunder manufactured by the South Korean Hanwha Techwin. Both systems are offered both from the factory and from the presence of armies of different countries, which makes them more affordable for a wide range of future customers.
While almost 50% of European investments in self-propelled systems will go to tracked platforms, wheeled units represent a significant share and may aim to win in many programs that have not yet decided on the final configuration.
Among the last customers of the PzH 2000 howitzer are Croatia, Lithuania and Hungary, which, for example, signed a contract for $ 565 million for the supply of 24 systems in one package with tanks Leopard 2.
An even larger part of the market is occupied by the K9 Thunder system, which entered service with Finland, Norway and Estonia, the latter decided in October 2019 to purchase six additional howitzers worth $ 21,9 million. In addition, Hanwha is actively transferring technology to its system. It provided technical assistance to Turkey in the development and local production of at least 350 Firtina platforms, and also authorized the licensed production of K9 hulls in Poland for the subsequent assembly of 120 Crab howitzers.
While these countries opted for tracked platforms, wheeled truck-based SGs increased their market share for self-propelled artillery. In particular, the Caesar howitzer of the French company Nexter, which is installed on a 6x6 or 8x8 wheeled chassis, was delivered to France and Denmark, which ordered four more systems in October 2019.
In addition, in the future, it is planned to implement projects on several more self-propelled systems, both tracked and wheeled. The largest of these projects is considered the British Mobile Fires Platform program. The new platform will replace the outdated AS90 howitzers, it will be armed with a 155 mm cannon with a 52 caliber barrel, which will provide a range of at least 40 km. In total, the British army needs 135 platforms, at the moment the initial readiness for combat use is planned for 2026.
Forecast of the dynamics of the European market for self-propelled artillery systems in the coming decade
Belgium and the Netherlands also want to acquire new 155mm self-propelled platforms in the long term. In turn, the Czech Republic wants to buy a 155-mm gun based on the Tatra 8x8 chassis in order to replace the remaining Dana platforms. The Dana howitzer is known for being one of the few wheel systems produced during the Cold War. The production of up to 168 self-propelled guns of 155 mm caliber on the basis of a Polish truck chassis is envisaged by the local Kryl program, but there has been no significant progress since its launch.
According to some forecasts, the volume of the Asia-Pacific market for the entire period under review will amount to about 7,4 billion dollars, which is 29% of the total world spending on self-propelled platforms. The owners of the largest fleets in the region, China and North Korea, have a significant number of self-propelled systems in service, which is a serious incentive for other military to develop their own artillery arsenals.
In those military organizations that have the largest budgets and the most powerful defense industry, self-propelled tracked platforms will retain their leading positions. In addition to Europe, the K9 Thunder platform has succeeded here, taking a large market share. It is manufactured under license in India by the local company Larsen & Toubro, as well as by South Korea for the army of their country. The K9 Thunder howitzers will also enter service with the Australian Army under the Land 8112 program.
Although in the Asia-Pacific region there is a growing demand for self-propelled artillery systems based on wheeled chassis, they are usually purchased in small quantities by the poor countries of Southeast Asia and, as a result, almost 75% of the market is still accounted for by tracked platforms.
It is possible that India expects to acquire more than 300 K9 Thunder howitzers after the delivery of the first batch of 100 vehicles. Unlike many Indian arms purchases, this program went relatively smoothly with no delays, indicating the lower risks associated with it.
If these plans are implemented in India, the share of expenditures on tracked systems could amount to 73% of all APR expenditures on self-propelled platforms.
However, the market for wheel systems is also booming. These systems have proven particularly popular in Southeast Asia, where their lower cost and easier airlift across islands make them more localized than their tracked cousins.
With many of the militarily strong countries in the Asia-Pacific region already launching programs to modernize their fleet of self-propelled platforms, market size is predicted to peak in 2024, followed by a sharp decline almost immediately in 2027. associated with the completion of these programs
Two programs only reinforce this trend - the local assembly of the Autonomous Truck-Mounted Howitzer System (ATMOS) of the Israeli company Elbit in Thailand and the purchase of the ubiquitous Caesar platforms by the Indonesian army. It is expected that in both of these cases, in order to replace the outdated towed guns, the maximum number of systems will be ordered. The Philippines also has a need for 12 ATMOS platforms on a 6x6 chassis.
Some countries, armed with tracked systems, do not abandon wheeled platforms, thereby expanding the range of tasks performed by their armed forces. For example, the Japanese and Korean armies are developing and adopting wheeled SGs to equip their rapid reaction forces.
Despite the fact that the militaries of the countries of the Middle East are not very willing to share information about their needs and planned programs, there are a significant number of end-of-life platforms that will need to be replaced or upgraded in order to remain competitive.
The most common system is the M109 platform of the British company BAE Systems, of which there are a total of 652 in countries such as Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Since all variants of this howitzer are armed with the original 39 caliber barrel, they have significantly lower range compared to the next generation self-propelled systems.
In terms of cost and volume, most of the currently contracted SPGs are tracked, although the purchase of various wheeled platforms indicates a growing interest in them.
Such an established customer base, coupled with the strong geopolitical influence of the United States in the region, could turn BAE Systems into a major player in this market with its M109A7 Paladin howitzer with a longer 58 caliber barrel. However, the regional military also showed a willingness to buy new systems from other suppliers, for example, Saudi Arabia bought 132 Caesar wheeled howitzers, and 24 PzH 2000 tracked platforms were delivered to Qatar.
The nature of the self-propelled howitzer sector in these four regions determines the future trajectory of the market. In all of these regions, the purchase of new artillery systems is seen as an urgent priority by most military organizations, which will lead to the largest expenditures in the first half of the decade under review.
More expensive and heavier tracked platforms will continue to consume most of the funding, while the combination of cost and strategic mobility has opened up new avenues for wheeled solutions. While for some armies, wheeled chassis solutions are the only realistic option for replacing existing towed systems, armed forces with large budgets regard them as a useful addition to tracked platforms that offer greater deployment flexibility.
As towed artillery becomes more and more vulnerable, the demand for self-propelled wheeled systems will only grow in the future.