French CAESAR cannons on a Czech chassis are a rational choice for the Czech Artillery

French CAESAR cannons on a Czech chassis are a rational choice for the Czech Artillery
29 / 06 / 2020, 10:00

It seems that the artillery of the Army of the Czech Republic will finally receive modern armaments, the need for which has been talked about for many years. The basis for consideration of modernization was, above all, the requirement to switch to a 155 mm caliber, which is the standard of NATO's armed forces. It will bring common logistics and easier coordination of deployments. In addition, modern systems with such weapons offer significantly better ballistic performance than the currently still used m. 77 DANA self-propelled cannon howitzers. For their replacement in professional units, the Army chose the proven French CAESAR system from NEXTER, of course, for Czech purposes, built on the Czech domestic chassis from TATRA.

What the Army needs new cannons for? We have those great DANA self-propelled howitzers, can be read in many reactions to reports about the ongoing acquisition project. The Army has almost nine dozen of them. With an average service life of 20 years, it has been in use for 35 years. Their residual value in 2018 was about 105 million crowns. These were very good weapons at their time, but if we compare their ballistic performance with today's modern systems, it is clear that first-line, professional units need an upgrade. The maximum range of the 152 mm DANA howitzer is 18,700-20,000 m. In contrast, the chosen CAESAR system extends up to a distance of 42 km, ie more than double, and with more efficient ammunition.

See also: Czech Army’s Modernization Projects: the Self-Propelled Artillery

From June 2018 at the latest, it was clear that the existing howitzer would be replaced with a weapon installed on a TATRA wheeled chassis, a platform on which the Czech Army’s mobility relies for a long time, and another solution would make no sense. This eliminated heavy systems installed on tracked chassis. Their typical representative, which would undoubtedly be seriously considered in another situation, is the German self-propelled howitzer PzH 2000, which Hungary recently acquired for its armed forces as part of the purchase of heavy armored vehicles with Leopard 2 tanks (on the chassis of which artillery system is built).

The wheeled chassis has obvious advantages both in the higher mobility of the system when moving on the road and, and this was undoubtedly decisive, in the lower price. And the price probably played a decisive role in addressing the question of whether to purchase a system with the turret mounted main weapon, or a turretless solution, which is essentially "only" a more mobile replacement for towed artillery. The main competition of the CAESAR system in this respect was the Slovak ZUZANA 2, a distant relative of the DANA howitzer. Its advantage is the turret, which provides the howitzer operators with better protection against infantry weapons, shrapnels, weather or the effects of weapons of mass destruction, and also has an automatic loading system. The disadvantage of such a solution is, on the one hand, a higher price (estimated by more than a third), and, on the other hand, a higher total weight of the vehicle, which reduces its strategic mobility. And it is strategic mobility that is the great advantage of the chosen CAESAR system, which was developed by NEXTER (formerly GIAT Industries) for the French army. CAESARs can be transported on board C-130 Hercules or Airbus A400M transport aircraft.

The name CAESAR is an abbreviation of the French camion équipé d’un système d'artillerie, a truck equipped with an artillery system. Developed in the 1990s, introduced to the public in 1994, it went through military tests, and in 2000 the French army ordered the first pieces, which in the armament of French artillery mean a transition between towed 155 TRF1 cannons and heavy self-propelled howitzers AuF1, and it is the most mobile of them, which is an important feature for modern artillery in the situation of deployment of very efficient systems capable of quickly determining the position of the firing pieces and directing counter battery fire.

At the same time, the relative simplicity of construction, reliability of the chosen platform and economic advantage led to the export success of the weapon, which is used today by the armies of Indonesia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Denmark, which acquired them in 2017. Poland, which, however, embarked on the path of building its own artillery system on a wheeled chassis (Kryl), which will replace the existing 122mm Goździka and also more than a hundred of the 152mm DANA howitzers.

See also: The Military Technical Institute will deliver seven new LOV-Pz artillery reconnaissance vehicles

The first unit (after testing the first five pieces produced by the 93rd Mountain Artillery Regiment) which got CAESARs into service in 2008 was the 68th African Artillery Regiment of the French Army, which now has 77 pieces, and in the past has deployed them in a number of foreign operations: in 2009 in Afghanistan, in Lebanon in 2011, and in the same year they were deployed in border clashes with neighboring Cambodia by the Thai army (allegedly successfully eliminated two enemy rocket launchers). The French have been using their CAESARs in Mali since 2013, they have also been deployed in Iraq against the Islamic State since 2016. In four months, one CAESAR fired 1,128 rounds, representing about half the life of the barrel, and 18,000 grenades were fired by these weapons against terrorists in total.

Our 13th Artillery Regiment should therefore receive 52 CAESAR guns in the near future, and the existing DANA howitzers, for which we have a considerable stockpile of ammunition, would continue to serve in the Active Reserves. Especially in the case of their modernization and extension of range, CAESARs could suitably complement the professional army in the role of a means of direct fire support, provided that a fire control system is acquired that allows it. With regard to the mentioned strategic mobility, it will not be excluded that Czech artillerymen will be able to participate in foreign missions with their own heavy equipment.

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