Artillery: Fast, Flexible, Frugal


August 1, 2018: In 2007 Chinese arms firm NORINCO introduced the SH1, a truck-mounted 155mm howitzer. SH1 was, identical to the original French Caesar design that entered service five years earlier. SH1 development began in 2002 after it was obvious that Caesar worked and was a useful and cost-effective battlefield system. The Chinese military, like their French counterparts, were dubious at first and did not place orders until 2017. In the meantime, export orders were obtained from Pakistan and Burma for at least 48 SH1s. Since 2017 the Chinese Army has ordered a few dozen to be used in rapid reaction brigades, mainly because the 23 ton SH1 can be carried my most four-engine military air transports.

Caesar, unlike the Chinese SH1, was developed, in the 1990s with the French military in mind. It took some persuading and successful combat use (initially in Afghanistan, but later in Mali, Thailand and Iraq) to convince potential buyers that the concept was worth paying for,

There have been five (so far) export customers and nearly 200 Caesar systems delivered or on order. The latest sale is to Denmark in 2017 for at least fifteen Caesar systems with an option for six more. Each system costs about $6 million. The armored truck protects the six-man crew from shell fragments and rifle fire. The vehicle has a top speed of 100 kilometers an hour on roads, and Caesar can halt, and be ready for firing within 60 seconds. It only takes 30 seconds to be moving again after firing. The fire control system uses GPS and inertial guidance, thus enabling the Caesar to use "shoot and scoot" tactics to avoid counter-battery fire.

The gun is NATO standard and can fire three rounds in 15 seconds, or six per minute for extended periods. Caesar was designed with rapid reaction forces in mind. The vehicle can be moved by C-130 aircraft. Caesar development went on for nearly a decade before the first production model appeared in 2002 followed by the French army making the first order, for 72 systems, in 2004. Denmark is ordering a customized version that uses an auto-loader that makes it possible to operate the gun with only three troops. The Danes are also using a larger 30 ton 8x8 Tatra truck which is much better armored than standard 6x6 17-ton trucks and can carry more ammunition (up to 30 rounds compared to 18). To keep the same level of mobility the new variant will receive a more powerful engine (410 horsepower). For the Danes, Caesar will replace twelve nearly 50-year-old M109A3DK tracked howitzers.

Meanwhile, Sweden saw the benefits of the Caesar concept early on and in 1995 began developing a heavier (30 ton) version (Archer) but was never able to get any export customers. The Swedish Army has ordered 24 Archers and finds the heavier (and armored) Archer more suitable to Swedish needs. Meanwhile, Caesar has the lead in export customers while Norinco which has been sanctioned itself for selling to customers (like Iran) already under arms export bans stand ready to supply the outlaw market.

Compared to SH1 Caesar offers more flexibility in truck use and accessories. So far Caesar has been used on 6x6 and 8x8 trucks that produce systems weighing from 22 to 30 tons. The most popular accessories are added armor and an autoloader (which requires a crew of only three rather than five or six). Meanwhile, GPS guided shells, pioneered by the Swedish-American Excalibur have been complemented with much less expensive versions that rely on a larger fuze that can turn any 155mm shell into a GPS guided one. Add to that rocket boosted 155mm shells (max range 50 kilometers) and a few Caesars equipped with rocket-boosted GPS guided shells provide a potent artillery capability that can be quickly flown to anywhere on the planet in less than twelve hours.




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