2-1: Protected Mobile Fires – Self Propelled Field Artillery

Protected Mobile Fires Objectives

The aim of the LAND 8116 project is to provide “a tracked mobility, protection and firepower capability that can operate in medium to high intensity warfare in support of highly manoeuvrable armoured vehicles.” [1] When light or airmobile forces are deployed, the self-propelled Protected Mobile Fires systems delivered under LAND 8116 will provide the principal field artillery support to the Australian land forces, augmented by in-service towed BAE Systems M777A2 howitzers.

The RAA’s modernisation to self-propelled artillery will allow it to better support armoured assets in a peer-to-peer battle. Self-propelled platforms have a slight range advantage over comparative towed artillery platforms, but also the advantage of being operated by a smaller and better-protected crew that can reload and fire at an improved rate.

Protected Mobile Fires Systems

Australia’s new self-propelled field artillery systems will be protected, more mobile, and able to employ ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactics to improve survivability from counter-battery fire. They will also allow continual fire support to be given to mechanised units as they advance at pace. Further, they will enable the development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures. For example, some self-propelled systems (such as the platform that Australia is acquiring) have multiple-launch, simultaneous-impact firing ability, which can provide what traditionally would require three guns, or half a battery. This means three of these new platforms could deliver a weight of fire that traditionally would have required one and a half batteries, but with a lot less communication and co-ordination.

LAND 8116-1 Protected Mobile Fires

This project will introduce a protected and mobile 155mm artillery platform to the preparedness system. It will be able to support the ADF’s manoeuvre system of armoured vehicles, providing rapid lethal fires while conducting counter battery fires against threat artillery systems. It will provide a domestic manufacturing and maintenance capability to the support system with heavy grade repair being conducted from the Geelong region.[2] This capability will realise changes to existing employment categories[3] and simulation systems within the people system.[4]

LAND 8116-3 Protected Mobile Fires (Capability Assurance Program)

This option seeks to update hardware and software of the ADF’s protected mobile fires capability, delivered under phases 1 and 2 (an additional Regt), to ensure that it remains a capable, up to date weapons system. It will ensure that the latest ammunition and communications systems are included, allowing the protected mobility fires units to remain a key part of the integrated Joint Force.[5] This option will enhance the Joint Capability Effect of Land Control.[6]

Australia: Hanwha – Huntsman

AS9 Huntsman and AS10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle

AS9 Huntsman and AS10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle[7]

Under Phase 1 of LAND 8116, the Australian Government has entered an agreement with South Korean company Hanwha to purchase 30 tracked self-propelled 155mm, 52-calibre howitzers, to be known as AS9 ‘Huntsman’, and 15 armoured ammunition resupply vehicles[8] – with this balance of provisioning reflecting the importance of ammunition replenishment.

There are four essential components to this system. The first is the weapon platform itself which fires the projectiles. The second is the ammunition resupply vehicle which connects to the back of the Huntsman so that ammunition transfer can occur with continued protection for the crews. The third component is a weapon-locating radar to ensure the accuracy of fire and aid in survivability by detecting counter-battery fire.[9] The fourth component is an armoured artillery command post vehicle, based on the ammunition resupply vehicle, with an interior workspace for 6-7 personnel. Its design means it could act as a forward command post and ground control station for artillery UAVs.[10]

The Huntsman is operated by five crew and fitted with an automatic shell-handling and ramming system and is compatible with all standard NATO 155mm ammunition. It can achieve ranges out to 30 km, with a range out to 40km with rocket-assisted shells. It has a maximum rate of fire of six rounds per minute, and a sustained rate of two rounds per minute. The Huntsman is capable of multiple-round simultaneous-impact firing, meaning it can launch 3 rounds in 15 seconds, each at different trajectories, so that all the shells arrive on target at the same time.

AS9 Huntsman and AS10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle (side view)

AS9 Huntsman and AS10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle (side view)[11]

The Huntsman takes 60 seconds to prepare for firing from traveling order. It is equipped with a nuclear, biological, and chemical protection system and it has been reported that this weapons platform is the most protected howitzer in its class.[12]

The AS9 Huntsman’s immediate predecessor, the K-9 Thunder is currently in service with Turkey, Poland, Finland, India, Norway, and Estonia.[13]

United States of America: BAE Systems – M109A7 Paladin

BAE Systems Paladin M109A6

BAE Systems Paladin M109A6[14]

Developed from the M109A6, the BAE Systems Paladin M109A7 is an armoured, self-propelled 155mm, 58-calibre howitzer, with a range of 24km using unassisted rounds or 30km using assisted rounds. The Paladin achieves a maximum firing rate of up to eight rounds a minute, or three rounds in 15 seconds and a sustained firing rate of one round every three minutes. The Paladin is complemented by the M992A3 ammunition carrier. Paladin is in service with US Army and was used in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March-April 2003, and later in ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.[15]

M109A6 Paladin live firing

M109A6 Paladin live firing[16]

People’s Republic of China: China North Industries Group Corporation – PLZ-05

PLZ-05 155mm SPH

A Chinese PLZ05 155mmm Self-propelled Howitzer on display at the "our troops towards the sky" exhibition in Beijing[17]

The PLZ-05 is an armoured, tracked, self-propelled 155mm 52- or 54-calibre howitzer, with a range of 30km with rocket assisted projectiles out to 39km. The PLZ-05 has a maximum rate of fire of 8–10 rounds per minute. The PLZ-05 entered service in 2008 and the Chinese military has nearly 300 platforms.[18]

Federal Republic of Germany: Krauss-Maffei Wegmann – Panzerhaubitze (PzH) 2000

KMW PzH 2000 155mm SPH

The Bundeswehr’s PzH 2000 armored howitzer on the way to the next position.[20]

The KMW PzH 2000 is a German-made armoured, tracked self-propelled 155mm, 52-calibre howitzer. It has a crew of five and an automatic loading system which can load 60 shells and propelling charges in 12 minutes. Its maximum unassisted range is 30km and can reach 40km with assisted rounds. The maximum rate of fire in burst mode is three rounds in 9 seconds, or 12 rounds in one minute. It has a continuous rate of fire of 10-13 rounds per minute. The PzH 2000 can fire 5 rounds with simultaneous impact.

2-2: Future Field Artillery Ammunition

Field Artillery Ammunition Objectives

It is a long-held maxim that ‘the weapon of artillery is the projectile’, and indeed this focus remains true in principle across all forms of artillery. Regardless of the artillery delivery system, the potency of the projectile (or the effect delivered by that system) is paramount. What gives this potency a truly strategic advantage is reach. If a combat force can influence the ‘deep battle’, this not only delivers lethal effects onto opposing combat troops, including engaging in counter-battery fire; it also constrains adversary considerations for placing rear logistics and higher headquarters locations, creating an additional tax on distance and time in transit between combat units and these locations, while remaining out of range of the adversary.

Field Artillery Ammunition Systems

In the realm of field artillery, the ammunition projectile is constantly in evolution to improve the characteristics of range, accuracy, precision, and terminal effect. Precision is enabled both through on-board guidance systems in the projectile, but equally, ongoing improvements in firing calculations and consistency within delivery systems, as well as more accurate and longer distance targeting technology. Together, these deliver unprecedented degrees of precision in modern unguided munitions.

Until recently, the range that artillery weapon systems could achieve had not radically changed since the end of World War I. Currently, there are multiple companies seeking to improve the range, effects, and accuracy of ammunition across several weapons platforms.

LAND 17-1C.2 Future Artillery Ammunition.

This project will increase the range, improve the effects available to the preparedness system, and provide more insensitive munitions (IM) compliant natures. It will provide a secondary source of ammunition supply to the support system with opportunities for domestic manufacture, which in turn will increase supply line assurance.[21]

LAND 8110-1 Future Artillery Ammunition Replacement.

The Phase 1 Future Artillery Ammunition Replacement Program will introduce into service for the ADF modern explosive ordnance natures to optimise the 155mm Indirect Fire System, with a particular focus on Artillery Precision Guided Munitions (APGM). The future ammunition system will have reduced vulnerability in storage, transportation and operational use. It will also have improved range and a greater variety of lethal and non-lethal effects. LAND 8110 Phase 1 particularly supports Joint Fires and Effects in Land Combat Operations.[22]

LAND 8115-1 Mortar Ammunition Replacement.

LAND 8115 will procure 60 mm and 81 mm ammunition, including high-lethality and IM compliant natures. The later will deliver a similar effect as a 120 mm round, achieving greater target effects whilst reducing the number of rounds required per target. It is expected that the ADF will gain access to sufficient data to inform a future purchase, and potentially incorporate the data into future domestic production. Included in the project is an 81 mm practice round load-assemble-package (LAP) activity to confirm the viability of local assembly of practice rounds based on stockpiled components.[23]

Australia: Future ADF Ammunition

These new ammunition technologies will allow the ADF to hit targets at ranges almost triple what was possible in World War I. This allows field artillery to influence more of the battlespace and improves their survivability through increased distance from the front line. It also allows artillery units to support more units over a broader area and reduces the time they are unable to fire while moving to follow-on locations, to help keep pace with the movement of the supported mechanised force. It additionally aids field artillery survivability through the increased range from which to engage in counter-battery fire.

Integrating these rounds with improved guidance systems improves first-round accuracy, which ensures less collateral damage, with a lower cost and smaller logistics requirement. By having this capability, field artillery can contribute to the ADF’s joint fires by delivering effects on a target that currently only the Air Force could achieve, freeing up those resources and allowing the ADF to project deeper into the battlespace.

These new ammunition natures will also change artillery tactics. Whereas traditionally field artillery was used for engaging fixed targets or disrupting the movement of enemy forces, moving targets can now be engaged. This will enhance artillery’s lethality against manoeuvre formations, and its ability to transform the shape of battlefields.

Federal Republic of Germany: Rheinmetall

DM-52-2l gun fires 155mm Very Long Artillery Projectile 67 km

DM-52-2l gun fires 155mm Very Long Artillery Projectile 67 km[24]

Rheinmetall[25] is currently focusing on achieving an enhanced range 155mm artillery round fitted with a precision guidance kit, as well as on developing a new 155mm projectile with an improved integrated propulsion system. Rheinmetall’s Velocity Enhanced Long-Range Artillery Projectile (V-LAP) round achieves a range of 76km, which is the longest range of a conventional artillery projectile.[26] The unique projectile design enables simultaneous use of rocket propellant, using specially designed nozzles and base-bleed charges.[27]

155 mm HE ERFB RA/BB (VLAP) projectile

155 mm HE ERFB RA/BB (VLAP) projectile[28]

Norway: Nammo

Illustration showing 155mm artillery shell and range options

Illustration showing 155mm artillery shell and range options[29]

Nammo[30] is a provider of specialty ammunition and rocket motors. With their 155mm ammunition series, Nammo offers base-bleed enhanced rounds and rocket-assisted shells and are in the process of developing a Ramjet-powered shell. The latter munition presents massive potential, as Nammo claim they can reach farther than any other 155mm round in production, with a range of up to 100km.[31]

A solid-fuel Ramjet-powered shell works by using the force of the launch to get the round moving fast enough to start the ramjet motor. The solid fuel source then propels the projectile up to a maximum speed of Mach 3 and keeps it moving at that speed for approximately 50 seconds. This type of motor has the added benefit of reducing drag on the shell itself, since it actively ‘pulls’ the projectile through the air.[32]

The NAMMO 40km-capable 155mm HE-ER has been chosen by Finland for its K9 Thunder platform,[33] meaning it could be used by the Huntsman when it enters service.

Diagram of 155mm Solid Fuel Ramjet

Diagram of 155mm Solid Fuel Ramjet[34]

United States of America: Raytheon Technologies

Raytheon[35] is known for its extended-range, precision munition named Excalibur. This projectile provides accurate first-round effects at all ranges in all weather conditions. It has a reach out to 50km and impacts at a radial ‘miss distance’ of less than two metres from a target. US Army analysis has shown it can require at least 10 conventional munitions to accomplish what one Excalibur round can.[36]

M982 Excalibur Guided artillery shell

M982 Excalibur Guided artillery shell[37]

Excalibur projectiles employ Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided inertial guidance and navigation (INS), free spinning base fins, four-axis canard airframe control, base bleed technology, and a trajectory glide to achieve increased accuracy and extended ranges.[38] The programmable guidance system allows a field artillery detachment to set the Excalibur to strike a specific geographic location.[39]

Raytheon are currently developing the Excalibur S; this builds on the earlier variant’s use of GPS guidance by adding a toughened digital semi-active laser seeker. After launch, the shell follows GPS guidance until it detects the laser energy from a designator that operators use to point out a target. This means the system can engage targets when exact co-ordinates are not readily available, with a reduced chance of the flight path being blocked by radar-jamming devices. More importantly, it means that artillery systems can now engage moving targets.[40]

In May 2020, Raytheon announced that it was working with NAMMO to build an Excalibur round with a ramjet engine and stated that it will be able to strike moving and stationary high-value targets on land and at sea, while being compatible with legacy and future 155mm artillery systems. The projectile will most likely feature some form of multi-mode guidance, such as using GPS-INS to get to the target area and then switching over to a combination of millimetre-wave radar or imaging infrared to find and then strike the target.[41]

Diagram showing flight profile of a notional XML155mm shell

Diagram showing flight profile of a notional XML155mm shell[42]