The XM1299 is the future of the US tracked self-propelled artillery. US Army Photos
The US Army has decided to purchase 155 mm self-propelled howitzers on wheeled chassis. Right now, the Pentagon is accepting and considering applications from potential contractors and identifying applicants for the contract. At the beginning of next 2021, it is planned to launch comparative tests. Vehicles of different types will show their combat capabilities, and the best example can become the subject of a major contract.
On the eve of the test
A year ago it became known that the US Army is working on the search, procurement and deployment of self-propelled guns with a 155 mm gun and wheeled chassis. It is assumed that such a technique will keep the firepower of self-propelled artillery at the required level, but will increase its mobility, and at the same time survivability. Later, the acceptance of applications from manufacturers of such equipment was opened. To speed up the work, it was decided to accept only finished samples for consideration.
By now it has become known about the filing of several applications from well-known manufacturers of equipment; basically we are talking about serial self-propelled guns, already in service with different countries. Some of the proposals have already been approved and admitted to the next stage of the program, and contracts have been signed for the supply of equipment for testing.
Experienced ACS AM General Brutus. Photo AM General
Under the terms of these contracts, during the first weeks of next 2021, the development companies will have to provide 18 self-propelled guns of their development. The equipment will be delivered to the Yuma test site (Arizona) for firing tests and comparison. The timing of these works has not yet been specified. In addition, the final Pentagon action plan has not yet been approved after the end of the comparative tests.
Applicants for the contract
At the moment, five participants in future trials from different countries have been identified. It is curious that only one sample of American design is involved in the program, and, unlike other competitors, it is not yet mass-produced and is not in service with any country.
The only American participant in future tests is the Brutus ACS from AM General. It is made on a three-axle cargo chassis and is equipped with an original artillery unit with improved recoil devices. Armament - howitzer M776 with digital fire control system and manual loading.
One of the BAE Archer SPG variants. Photo BAE Systems
BAE Systems will present Archer combat vehicles for testing. Such an ACS can be built on various types of chassis and uses an artillery system with a maximum degree of automation. Shooting preparation operations, data calculation and reloading are carried out automatically or by operator's commands.
Global Military Products, in cooperation with Serbian Yugoimport, are offering their NORA B-52 ACS. This product is made in different modifications and configurations. Later versions have advanced booking, are equipped with an automatic loader and other systems that take over the basic operations.
French Nexter will send the CAESAR self-propelled gun for testing. From a technical point of view, this ACS differs little from other competitive samples. At the same time, it is one of the oldest representatives of its class and can boast of a large number of export orders.
Recently it became known that the Israeli self-propelled gun ATMOS Iron Saber from the Israeli company Elbit Systems was admitted to the tests. It is a 155-mm howitzer on a three-axle chassis with manual loading and advanced fire controls. Depending on the wishes of the customer, certain modifications and changes are possible.
Various modifications of ACS NORA. Photo Wikimedia Commons
The specialized foreign media mentions the possibility of participation in the program of a number of other manufacturers. So, South Korea, South Africa, Slovakia, etc. have their own versions of wheeled ACS. At the same time, it is not known which of the companies submitted an application, and which of them will receive an invitation to participate in the comparative tests in the near future. It is possible that news on this account will appear as soon as possible.
Currently, the US Army has an ambiguous situation with self-propelled artillery, and the current competition should find a way out of it. 155-mm howitzer artillery is represented by armored vehicles of the M109 family, and a new XM1299 self-propelled gun is expected in the future. These are tracked vehicles with limited mobility and rather high operating costs.
Wheeled samples are cheaper and more mobile, and so far this class is represented only by the M1128 MGS product on the Stryker platform. However, such an ACS is intended for direct support with direct fire, carries a cannon with a caliber of only 105 mm and has a lot of operational drawbacks.
Self-propelled gun CAESAR at firing. Photo by Nexter Group
The reasons for this situation are quite simple. Until recently, the Pentagon simply did not see the point in developing and adopting wheeled self-propelled guns with large-caliber guns. To combat a poorly prepared and equipped enemy in Afghanistan or Iraq, the self-propelled gun support M1128 was quite enough.
However, in recent years, doctrines and strategies have changed, and now the US army is preparing to fight a developed enemy army. Among other things, this requires improving self-propelled artillery. It is necessary, at a minimum, to maintain combat characteristics and increase mobility. In other countries, these issues have already been resolved through the development of wheeled ACS. Now their experience is fully interested in the Pentagon.
The exact requirements of the US Army for a promising ACS remain unknown. Therefore, it will not yet be possible to assess which of the competitive samples more fully corresponds to the wishes of the customer and has a great chance of winning. A simple comparison of samples according to the declared characteristics is also difficult, since each of them has one or another advantage over competitors.
Israeli ACS ATMOS. Photo Elbit Systems
So, ACS Brutus from AM General differs in simplicity of design and low cost of production: it is built using a serial chassis and a howitzer, and from scratch you only need to make an original gun mount. Archer from BAE Systems has a successful automatic loader, which provides a high rate of fire, incl. in different modes. Elbit Systems offers customers to adjust the technical appearance of their ATMOS self-propelled guns in accordance with their wishes. Moreover, all samples have the same mobility provided by modern chassis.
Perhaps due to the proximity of the tactical and technical characteristics and the lack of decisive advantages in certain samples, the Pentagon has not even chosen the most interesting ones. The pending comparative tests will help to clarify the situation and determine the real characteristics of the equipment - as well as their compliance with the wishes of the customer.
Problems of choice
The start of comparative tests of several self-propelled wheeled vehicles is scheduled for early 2021. A more precise date has not yet been announced; their duration also remains unknown. Five companies, mostly foreign, have already received a contract for the supply of experimental equipment for these events. New members may be announced in the near future.
With all the current uncertainty, the long-term consequences of the current program are clear. The US Army has decided on the need for wheeled self-propelled guns and is now looking for the best example of this class from the existing ones. Accordingly, in the near future a contract for a large series will have to appear, and in a few years the army will receive fundamentally new combat capabilities. Of course, if the samples submitted for testing meet the expectations of the Pentagon.