Saturday, June 15, 2013

Artillery : Caesar Gets Bulletproof, Just In Case

Nexter Systems that builds the French Caesar truck mounted 155mm artillery system is developing, at its own expense, a more heavily armored cab for the vehicle. Although a Caesar vehicle has not get come under fire (in Afghanistan and Mali) troops have reported some close calls and that means there might be an urgent demand for such a heavily protected cab if some troops are wounded by enemy fire while riding in the current cab. The new cab increases the weight of Caesar 400 kg (880 pounds) and ups the price 4-5 percent. The additional armor also protects against many roadside bombs, anti-vehicle mines and 155mm shells landing as close as five meters (16 feet) away. The new armor can be added to current Caesars.  Caesar is getting quite a workout in Mali, supplying most of the artillery support for French forces and African peacekeepers. Four Caesar vehicles were flown to Mali last January.

Last year France placed a multi-year contract for Caesar ammunition. At that time Caesar was only serving in Afghanistan. The new ammo contract ensured that reserve stocks of 155mm ammo will be quickly replenished if there is a sudden surge in ammo consumption in the future, as it is currently in Mali. This recognizes that Caesar has become a key 155mm artillery system in the French army. Not bad for a weapon the army generals were not interested in at first.

Thirteen years ago the French Army agreed to buy a single battery of the novel new Caesar vehicles. Developed by GIAT (now Nexter) as a private venture in the 1990s, Caesar is a 155mm howitzer mounted on the back of a heavy truck. Before being fired the gun is backed off the rear of the truck onto the ground. This takes less than a minute. It was a marvelous system but Caesar was having a difficult time attracting export customers. It was believed that having even one battery in service with the French Army would help attract export sales. Once they got to use it the French army liked Caesar so much that they eventually bought 72 of them and plan to eventually have 141 of them. Caesar has become the primary artillery weapon for the French army. This led to export sales to Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. Caesar vehicles cost about $5.5 million each.

Caesar uses a 52 caliber 155mm howitzer mounted on the back of a 6x6 ten ton truck. While it is self-propelled it currently only has light armor in the driver/crew cab up front. Caesar (gun and truck) only weighs 18 tons and will fit into a C-130 transport, something that traditional tracked self-propelled artillery cannot do. Caesar's long barrel enables it to fire shells up to 42 kilometers. With on-board GPS it can be ready to fire in minutes. The truck carries the crew of six in an air-conditioned compartment. A 12.7mm machine-gun can be mounted, in a ring turret, on top of the cab.

Four years ago France sent eight of its Caesar howitzers to Afghanistan. The roads in Afghanistan are pretty bad and wheeled combat vehicles have a hard time of it. But Caesar was built to handle cross country operations. Afghanistan was the first time Caesar has served in combat. Two years ago Thailand used its Caesars against Cambodian rocket launchers and claimed to have destroyed two of them.

Caesar is no longer unique, it now has competition. Sweden and Norway have each bought 24 Archer truck mounted artillery systems. Both nations funded a $150 million, 14 year, development effort to create Archer. Archer is an FH77 155mm/L52 howitzer mounted on a modified Volvo 6x6 dump truck. The vehicle, with the howitzer on board, weighs 30 tons. L52 means the barrel is 52 times the caliber (8 meters/25 feet). The crew compartment is armored and has chemical warfare protection. The truck is articulated, making it easier for such a heavy vehicle to move cross country. The gun has an auto-loader, which is why it has such a small crew (four men). Archer also has a remote controlled gun turret (for a machine-gun) on the top of the cab.

When the vehicle halts the four man crew can extend the metal braces in the rear, raise the barrel, and begin firing within minutes. After firing the vehicle can be moving in less than a minute. Archer uses the Excalibur GPS guided round, which means Archer and an ammo vehicle can supply lots of effective firepower without the need for constant resupply.

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