Artillery: The Future Overtakes The PzH 2000



December 20, 2011: The Netherlands Army is reducing its artillery force from 24 PzH 2000 self-propelled (SP) 155mm artillery guns to 18. The number of artillerymen is being reduced by half (by eliminating a lot of headquarters and support troops). This was done based on combat experience with some PzH 2000s in Afghanistan. The Netherlands was not the only NATO country there that was experimenting with new ideas about how to use artillery, and most of those nations are acting on that experience. A decade ago, the Dutch ordered 57 PzH 2000 systems but that was eventually reduced to 39 and the unneeded ones are being sold off. The Dutch were the first to use the PzH 2000 in combat in Afghanistan five years ago.

The German built PzH (Panzerhaubitze, or armored howitzer) 2000 was built to replace the 1950s era American M-109s in German service. The PzH 2000 is larger (at 56 tons, compared to 28) than the M-109, has a longer range gun and a smaller crew (three compared to four men) and more capabilities and features as well. This enables the PZH 2000 to deliver more accurate fire over longer distance and do it quicker than other artillery. For this reason, the Dutch adopted the PzH 2000 in the first place. The Netherlands is also integrating its fire support (artillery, mortars, helicopter gunships, and smart bombs) more closely so that the most effective firepower is delivered as quickly as possible. 

Another new idea is lighter versions of self-propelled systems. The AGM (Artillery Gun Module) self-propelled gun puts the 12.5 ton PzH 2000 turret on a lighter armored vehicle or heavy truck. The turret contains a fully automated loading system and 30 155mm shells and propellant charges. There is only a two man crew, one of them enters the firing information and the shell is loaded and fired in the proper direction. Mounted on the same chassis as the U.S. MLRS rocket launcher, the AGM weighs 27 tons. If you mount it on a heavy (6x6) truck, it weighs about 23 tons. The AGM, using GPS guided rounds (like the new U.S. Excalibur), would be able to fire one or two rounds and get away before counter-fire could arrive. Thus one AGM, with 30 Excalibur rounds, could be able to take out two dozen targets (taking into account misfires and targets needed a second shell) before needing resupply.

All this is just as revolutionary as what happened a century ago when more accurate, long range howitzers appeared, making precision artillery fire at targets over the horizon a possibility for the first time. This innovation changed artillery use on a fundamental level for the next century.

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