18/3/2014 Avigdor Klein - israeldefense.com
Brig. Gen. (Res.) Avigdor Klein, formerly the IDF Chief Armored Corps Officer, wishes to point out a few facts before the IDF proceed along the path leading to the purchase of a new self-propelled gun system
Almost no military organization intends to purchase a new self-propelled gun system. That is a fact. There are many reasons for it – from the costly maintenance of the arsenal (compared to the rocket launching systems adapted to providing accurate combat fire support) to the fire support needs that have changed. Accuracy and collateral damage restrict the use of tube artillery offering statistical performance, and a warhead adapted to the target and improved accuracy are required.
Modern armed forces are switching to tactical combat fire support within closer ranges, based on accurate mortars and rockets, and gradually minimize their self-propelled gun arsenals while upgrading the remaining ones. The trend is to provide more support to urban warfare operations.
Another fact – almost no military organization has purchased a new tracked self-propelled gun system. In recent years, the need for maneuvering in difficult traffic ability terrain has decreased (range will compensates for such needs, if they arise). The vehicle is problematic as far as civil infrastructure (roads, bridges and water conduits) is concerned. Its spare parts and maintenance are costly; it is restricted with regard to long journeys (e.g. between fronts) owing to the increased wear sustained by the track and suspension system in such journeys; it is costly owing to the high fuel consumption of the platform (owing to weight). Additionally, this vehicle requires specialized training for operation, servicing and driving (it is not similar to civilian vehicles), thereby necessitating a large crew per platform (for overcoming emergency malfunctions). Moreover, self-propelled guns do not enable rapid mobilization between fronts and theaters and necessitate a supporting arsenal of dedicated transporters.
A third fact – no military organization has purchased or upgraded an existing self-propelled gun system into a fully automatic system, as reducing the number of crewmen can be achieved through other improvements. Additionally, the required operational rate of fire can also be achieved through other improvements. For example, the modular propellant arsenal is not yet sufficiently mature to support, with the required degree of reliability, a responsible operational layout. Experience has shown that frequent cleaning of the breechblock, as well as clearing of malfunctions during actual firing are required, which necessitate that the turret remain manned. Primarily, however, a fully-automatic system will be costly relative to the expected operational benefit, and military authorities prefer to invest the budgets required for such upgrading in more suitable fire layouts.
So, what do the armed forces of friendly countries do? First of all, they reduce their arsenals. The armed forces of NATO have reduced their self-propelled gun arsenals to a minimum, and now rely on other fire layouts. At the same time, they have been addressing the aspects of range and accuracy. These armed forces are making serious efforts to improve the combat fire performance by making it more accurate (the M982 Excalibur extended range artillery shell already exists, other systems are still under development) and increasing its range (45, 47 and 52 caliber barrels).
At the same time, ammunition manufacturers are hard at work developing reliable modular propellants and shells offering extended range and improved accuracy. Gun manufacturers are improving the ability of their guns’ breechblocks/chambers to fire shells using more “aggressive” propellants.
In the context of this upgrading trend, manufacturers are also hard at work developing longer barrels. The efforts of developing, manufacturing and purchasing modern artillery systems by most armed forces focus on wheeled systems with long-barreled guns – 47 or 52 caliber barrels.
Most armed forces also place the emphasis on incorporating the combat support elements into a fast, reliable combat network, and then basing their fire processes on maximum automation, all the way to the actual trigger pull. Additionally, they address the entire fire cycle chain – from the Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) to the individual gun. Most armed forces also invest – having reduced their self-propelled gun arsenals – in extending the service life of the remaining arsenals, while introducing ammunition management systems that handle the ammunition from the logistic echelons to the chamber. When purchasing does take place, however scantily, it usually involves wheeled guns (Czech Republic, Sweden and Slovakia). The towed gun market is still attractive and still used by the “Western Club”, notably the USA.
But above all – nobody is purchasing any new tracked self-propelled gun system of any kind!
The fire support needs of armed forces generally and ground combat teams in particular in recent times have indicated drastic changes with regard to everything we knew in the past. There is a growing demand for immediate availability, for accuracy rates that are often uncompromising (selective and accurate engagement of pinpoint targets with minimum collateral damage), for extended ranges (in order to minimize relocating maneuvers and movement through threatened areas) and for diversified structure destruction and kill capabilities. These needs stem from the blurred nature of the enemy, the short exposure intervals of the enemy targets and mainly from the fact that the enemy often chooses to operate in a civilian environment.
Budget constraints alone necessitate that the remaining funds be invested in the most vital needs. Additionally, we should also address such considerations as the incomplete maturity and technological reliability of the aforementioned fully-automatic self-propelled gun system with no crewmen in the turret. We should ask ourselves whether we alone think differently when we opt for a new tracked and fully-automatic self-propelled gun system.
It is this writer’s opinion that the IDF units need organic close fire support, so the self-propelled gun system has a right to exist, not “at sufferance” but owing to an actual need. I urge the reader to bear in mind that in most western armed forces, the self-propelled gun system is associated, almost organically, with the brigade level – and this fact determines the system’s tactical designation. I expect that in the IDF, too, the designation and role of the brigade will intensify and change as it gradually evolves into an autonomous formation that may be mobilized between theaters, more intensively than today. Anyone who shares my view will agree that the examination of the type of self-propelled gun system and the type of chassis assigned to carry it should be based on a forward-looking, system analysis and the needs of the brigade: mobility between theaters and fronts and flexibility in particular.
I would recommend to the IDF Artillery Corps and the builders of the IDF ground force to invest in a new and modern weapon system from the category of the divisional, theater/regional fire layouts (including accurate rocket systems). I would mark the most essential things that need to be done in order to keep the existing or new self-propelled gun arsenal, so that in determining its contents and quality, the elements I have outlined are taken into consideration, including the integration of the self-propelled gun system with the introduction of mortars on the one hand and rockets on the other hand, so as to provide the much-desired operational flexibility.
In any case, a relevant and effective system should be selected, based on the criteria of range, accuracy, ammunition, auxiliary systems for ammunition management and operation and autonomy – “network self-propelled gun”.
A fully-automatic, tracked self-propelled gun system without crewmen in the turret? Absolutely not!
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Brig. Gen. (res.) Avigdor Klein is the owner of Avigdor K. Engineering Systems Ltd. Among the many positions he served in during his military career was that of the IDF Chief Armored Corps Officer.