Artillery Systems 'Boom' in Asia
While defense budgets continue to shrink in other parts of the world, the demand for new weapon systems continues to grow across much of the Asia-Pacific region. Today, Gordon Arthur looks at the regional market for artillery systems and assesses who is locally able to build what.
By Gordon Arthur
This article was originally published in the March-April 2014 issue of Defense Review Asia.
We shall begin our regional survey by looking at indigenous capabilities. There are currently four countries self-sufficient in artillery system production - China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, and we shall look at their offerings in turn.
As the world's largest armed force, and one that continues to rise at a stunning rate - for the coming year China announced a 12.2% hike in its defence budget to US $132 billion - the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is enamoured with SPH systems. In total, China owns 6,000+ towed artillery pieces and 1,700 SPHs. The PLA has traditionally operated Soviet 122mm, 130mm and 152mm artillery calibres, although its newest SPH is notable for being of 155mm calibre. This signals that China is switching over to 155mm for future designs. The system in question is the 35-tonne PLZ05 (Type 05) from NORINCO, which features an U52 gun. It can fire laser-guided munitions based on the Russian Krasnopol design, with the WS-35 round reputedly having a 1OOkm range.
Also new for the PLA is the 22.5-ton PLZ07 (Type 07) 122mm SPH introduced by NORINCO in 2007. China has also brought the PLL05 120mm mortar* howitzer into service, this being based on a WZ551 6x6 chassis; it was first noticed deployed in 2008. China also has systems available for export, primarily through the state-owned firm NORINCO. China has sold PLZ45 155mm SPHs to Algeria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, this type being a forerunner to the PLA's own PLZ05.
As part of its post-Cold War reorganisation, Japan is drastically reducing the number of main battle tanks (MBD and artillery pieces in the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) inventory. The National Defence Program Guidelines (NDPG) released in 2010 reduced the number of MBTs and artillery pieces from 600 units to 400 each (drastically down from mandated levels of 900 in 2004). However, according to the latest NDPG of late 2013, MBT and artillery numbers will be pruned even further to 300 respectively. The JGSDF's artillery force current y relies on the Type g9 155mm SPH (54 units built from 1999- 2005), M11OA2 203mm SPH (91 units licence*built) and FH-70 155mm towed howitzer (479 licence-built from 1983-2001). The Type 99 from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries boasts an U52 gun offering a 40km range. The JGSDF also possesses 45 examples of the American-designed M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), these having been assembled locally by IHI Aerospace.
Singapore has inducted two artillery systems built by ST Kinetics (STK) and developed in conjunction with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) - the Pegasus 155mm towed howitzer and Primus 155mm SPH, though neither has achieved exports. Both feature an U39 gun. The compact SSPH 1 Primus weighs 28 tonnes and it entered service in 2004. The 5,500kg Pegasus, meanwhile, can be airlifted by CH-47 helicopter and about 18 units are in service. The Pegasus has a limited self-propelled capacity via a Lombardini 9LD625-2 engine. STK is developing a new 28-tonne 155mm Advanced Mobile Gun System (AMGS) based on an 8x8 chassis, which would provide improved strategic mobility.
Artillery is essential for South Korea, which is confronted by the threat of massed North Korean artillery strikes capable of raining down 500,000 rounds per hour on the capital Seoul. Samsung Techwin is well known for its 46.3-tonne K9 155mm SPH, which is also being built under license in Turkey as the T-155 Firtina according to a 2001 contract. The Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) will eventually require 1,000+ Kgs, and several hundred are already in service. Armed with an 155mm/52 calibre gun, the first K9 deliveries occurred in 1999; and matched with K10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicles, the K9 supplements about 1,040 in-service Samsung Techwin K55 SPHs, a licence-built version of the M1ogA2.
Truck-mounted systems hold an understandable attraction to Asian militaries since they are cheaper to operate than tracked systems, plus their on-road mobility is greater. Modern systems can conduct shoot-and-scoot missions as easily as heavier tracked vehicles. South Korea is pursuing truck* mounted systems in a major way as it seeks to enhance hundreds of older towed artillery pieces in a cost-effective way. Samsung Techwin generated the EV0-105, and the ROKA expects to induct 800 examples. The EV0-150 mounts an M101A1/ KH178 howitzer upon a KM500 6x6 truck chassis, while the fire control system is adapted from that of the K9. The weapon can fire less than one minute after the truck comes to a halt, and it can move off within 30 seconds of its final round. First deliveries are expected in 2017, and Samsung Techwin is promoting EV0-105 around the region.
Thailand was Asia's first customer for Nexter's CAESAR 155mm truck-based howitzer after it ordered six examples in 2006. However, the CASEAR's electronic systems are proving problematic in Thailand's tropical climate, so the Royal Thai Amiy (RTA) is also pursuing cheaper and hopefully more robust alternatives. Colonel Teera Nakmalee from the Weapon Production Centre (WPC) spoke to Defence Review Asia at the Defense & Security show in Bangkok last November. The WPC is developing a 155mm SPH based on a Volvo 6x6 chassis as a cheaper alternative to the CAESAR. Six vehicles have been ordered, and Autonomous Truck-Mounted System (ATMOS) technology from Elbit Systems will automate the guns. Elbit will supply the ATMOS autonomous artillery system for $30 million within three years, with the first completed vehicle due this year. Col Nakmalee said the WPC has a second artillery project under way too. In the past few years, the WPC has integrated nine 105mm M101 howitzers onto Kia 5-ton trucks as part of an 18-unit RTA requirement. Furthermore, the RTA purchased 54 surplus M198 155mm towed howitzers from the US Army in 2012 to replace M114A1s. Indonesia followed in Thailand's footsteps when it too ordered the French CAESAR based on a Renault Sherpa 6x6 chassis. This 2012 order was for 37 CAESARs, and Sagem recently announced in March it will be supplying an identical number of Sigma 30 navigation and pointing systems for them.
NORINCO has moved into truck-mounted howitzers in a serious way too. China is supplying an estimated 150 SH1 truck-mounted 155mm systems to Myanmar. NORINCO also offers for export 122mm SH2 and 105mm SH5 truck-based weapons. Taiwan has an old artillery inventory, still employing older M101A1and M114A 1 towed systems, as well as Ml09 and M11OA2 SPHs.
Most M109s are of M109A2 configuration, although 28 newer Ml09A5s were obtained after the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. Taiwan exhibited a 6x6 155mm L/45 truck-mounted howitzer at the TADTE 2011 exhibition, but nothing has been heard of it since then.
Japan continues to develop a new 6x6 155mm system called the Lightweight Combat Vehicle (LCV). Utilising an innovative dual recoil gun system, it is destined to incrementally replace FH-70 towed howitzers.
Other Conventional Artillery Developments
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) possess no artillery piece over 105mm in calibre. To rectify this capability gap, the country's Bids and Awards Committee issued a PHP438.6 million tender for ten 155mm towed howitzer units (plus 240 rounds) for the Philippine Army last November. The K9 SPH and BAE Systems M777 155mm towed howitzer are considered leading contenders. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Royal Brunei Land Forces (RBLF) is thought to require 105mm light guns since its heaviest indirect-fire weapon at the moment is 81mm mortars.
Australia shortlisted the German PzH2000 and South Korean AS9 (a K9 derivative) for an SPH requirement, but the government inexplicably cancelled this LAND 17 Phase 1C programme and instead opted, in October 2012, to add 19 M777A2s to the 35 it purchased in 2010.This provided enough M777s to equip each artillery regiment in the Australian Army's three combat brigades, and the M777's full operational capability was achieved last year. Associated with the deal was the introduction of Raytheon's Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), as used by the US Army and US Marine Corps. An important feature of the M777 and its U39 barrel is its light weight of 4,200kg since it uses much aluminium and titanium. Last year, Australia ordered 4,002 Ml156 Precision Guidance Kits (PGK) from ATK, this being a lower-cost alternative to the M982 Excal bur round. While highly accurate, the Excalibur is very expensive at $100,000 a pop. The PGK screws onto existing rounds, and it was first fired by the US Army in Afghanistan in April 2013.
The New Zealand Army upgraded 24 L119 Light Guns of the 16th Field Regiment via a $16 million contract with Selex ES. This project fitted them with the Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing System (LINAPS) and will keep the guns in service until 2030.
India's artillery situation is farcical, with the army not receiving any new howitzers since the 1987 Bofors scandal. There is a cumulative requirement for 3,000 artillery pieces by 2027 under the Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan. However, a Gordian knot of blacklisting, legal wrangling and bureaucratic ineptitude has created a logjam. The Indian Army wants 155mm U39 lightweight howitzers and a mix of 155mm L/52 towed, mounted, self-propelled (tracked and wheeled) howitzers acquired through imports and licensed manufacture. A mainstay of Indian artillery regiments is the 105mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) built by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). The limited 17km range of the IFG makes it largely irrelevant on today's battlefield.
A requirement issued in 2011 called for new 155mm U52 towed howitzers, comprising 400 off-the-shelf systems plus 1,180 more to be manufactured locally by the OFB. Some vendors opted out as fatigue settled in because of India's tortuous procurement process. Furthermore, at least four foreign companies are blacklisted for non*transparent reasons, including STK. Nevertheless, after earlier conducting summer trials last August, two rival towed systems completed winter trials in January. The two are Nexter's modified Trajan and Elbit's ATHOS 2052. For this tender, Nexter teamed up with Larsen & Toubro (L&T), while Elbit is working with the Kalyani Group. The systems must now await maintainability acceptance trials and clearance from the Directorate General of Quality Assurance.
Requests for proposals were previously issued for 100 155mm U52 tracked and 180 wheeled SPHs. The latter are suitable for use on the western plains. There are currently two contenders for the tracked requirement, including South Korea's K9 (in partnership with L&T) and a modified MSTA-S from Russia (based on a T-72 chassis). Trials for both concluded late in 2013. For both these towed and tracked competitions, the Artillery Directorate will shortlist a preferred bidder so that purchase negotiations can edge forward. In the meantime, the OFB also has a programme to build FH-77B U45 Dhanush guns using technology transfer gained from Bofors in 1987. Plans were temporarily set back by a barrel explosion last August, but the OFB hopes to start producing an initial 114 guns in 2015. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is also spearheading the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG) project to create a 12-tonne 155mm U52 gun with a range of 60km.
The project likely to reach fruition first (touch wood!) is for 145 lightweight 155mm U39 towed howitzers suitable for mountain operations and rapid helicopter transport. In 2010, the Indian government requested a possible Foreign Miltary Sale (FMS) of 145 M777s equipped with LINAPS. After this notification lapsed, India lodged it again in August 2013 but this time the price had risen 37% to $885 million. BAE Systems subsequently announced its UK plant would be temporarily decommissioned, and the Indian Ministry of Defence again deferred the deal in February.
Rocket Artillery Systems
Rocket artillery is a specialist subset that offers armies the ability to rapidly saturate areas with high explosive. Thailand was the first Southeast Asian country to possess multiple rocket launchers (MRL), and it is seriously upgrading its capability. The state-owned Defence Technology Institute (DTi) acquired a single WS-1 302mm MRL from China about five years ago. This was a first step in Thailand's pursuit of its indigenous DTi-1 system, for which development is now complete. Now DTi is focused on developing the 180km-range guided DTi-1G, which it is trying to do with technical input from other countries. Thailand also acquired several SR4 122mm-calibre truck-mounted rocket systems from China last year, perhaps as an interim step while it produces an indigenous DTi-2 solution. Malaysia procured 18 Brazilian-made Avibras Artillery SaTuration ROcket System (ASTROS) II MRLs in 2000, followed by the delivery of another 18 for a second artillery battalion in 2oog-10. Malaysia does not possess any conventional SPHs, so this remains a requirement on the Malaysian Army's wish list. A future purchase could entail 155mm SPHs, and a mixed fleet of tracked and wheeled systems may prove the best combination for Malaysia's geographic realities. The ASTROS 11 is believed to have found an additional customer in Indonesia, which is set to acquire 36 examples.
Following Malaysia's lead, Singapore requested from the USA via FMS a proposed $330 million sale of 18 M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) in September 2007.The first HIMARS launcher was delivered in July 2010, and the following year the 23rd Battalion of the Singapore Army became fully operational with its 18systems. The HIMARS utilises the same rocket pod as the M270A1 MLRS but it has the advantage of being transportable within a C-130 Hercules aircraft. Last October, Singapore requested another 88 GMLRS pods for $g6 million. Thailand has ordered three HIMARS too, and these are due for delivery next year.
South Korea operates 29 M270A1 MLRS vehicles, plus it will induct the Chunmoo 230mm MRL, of which Hanwha will complete its development this year. Based on a Doosan 8x8 truck platform, Chunmoo rockets will have an 80km range. Elsewhere, Taiwan is currently inducting the Ray Ting 2000 (RT-2000) developed by the state-run Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSISD. The RT-2000 is based on an MAN 8x8 commercial truck chassis, and some 43 systems are being procured. It features twelve launch tubes that can fire Mk.15 (117mm), Mk.30 (182mm) or Mk.45 (230mm) rockets. Across the Taiwan Strait,the PLA boasts an estimated 1,770 MRLs. The most capable system is the PHL03 that entered service in 2004. The twelve-tube, 300mm-calibre PHL03 is a copy of the Russian 9K58 Smerch, and it offers a 150km range. The Indian Army relies on the 9A52-2T Smerch, of which it received 62 systems after two separate orders in 2005 and 2007. India also produces indigenous Pinaka MRLs mounted on a Tara 8x8 truck chassis. The Pinaka can fire twelve rockets a distance of 40km, and systems are fitted with Sagem's Sigma 30 positioning system. The DRDO successfully tested the Pinaka Mk II with longer 60km range last December.
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