Self-propelled mortars - what are the possibilities for the future of the Czech Army

Self-propelled mortars - what are the possibilities for the future of the Czech Army
Caption: Pandur II Mortar Carrier
31 / 12 / 2020, 10:00

The modernization plans of the Army of the Czech Republic also include the purchase of 120mm self-propelled mortars, which should provide fire support for mechanized battalions and task forces. However, the range of possibilities offered as a solution to this task is very wide, because there are two basic concepts of self-propelled mortars and there is also a discussion about which platform would be suitable for their installation.

The Army of the Czech Republic currently uses two variants of the ANTOS caliber 60 mm light mortar, the m. 52 caliber 82 mm company mortar, since 2016 caliber 81 mm Expal 81-MX2-KM mortars and finally two variants of the PRAM caliber 120 mm battalion mortar. Towed mortar m. 82 or PRAM-L has a muzzle load and its rate of fire reaches up to 12 rounds per minute with a maximum range of 8 km. The total weight is 240 kg, including the auxiliary wheeled chassis, which is dismantled in the combat position, which reduces the weight to 178 kg. The mortar is transported with the help of a truck, which can either drive it on a body or pull it in a tow on that auxiliary chassis. Medium-sized Praga V3S cars have long been used for transport of these, and were later replaced with new Tatra 810 cars, but the final solution is only the Tatra 815-7 car with an armored cab, which provides ballistic protection to the operators.

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

The second variant bears the designation m. 85 or PRAM-S and belongs to the self-propelled mortars, because it is built on an extended chassis of the BMP-1 (BVP-1) Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Weighing less than 16 tons, the armoured vehicle has a system for automatic loading, which takes care of the theoretical cadence of up to 20 rounds per minute. Max. range is again about 8 km. At its time, the system was  one of the best in the world, but due to international agreements, the end of the Cold War and the partition of Czechoslovakia, only a small amount was built. In the arsenal of the Czech Army, there are currently 85 pieces of towed mortars m. 82, but only eight self-propelled mortars m. 85.

In any case, the introduction of new self-propelled mortars should be accompanied by the least possible logistical complications, which must also be reflected in the choice of the platform. PRAM-S self-propelled mortars are now used in the 72nd Mechanized Battalion, which belongs to the 7th Mechanized Brigade, while PRAM-L towed mortars are found in the 71st and 72nd Mechanized Battalions, and also in the 41st and 42nd Mechanized Battalions, which belong to the 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade. As for the replacement of the PRAM-S, logically there is a use of the chassis of the new Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which the Czech Army wants to choose in the near future. The ASCOD 2 currently does not exist as a mortar, which also applies to the Lynx platform, while the CV90 has a mortar version with the Mjölner weapon, which is specifically a Swedish solution that the Czech Army would probably not be interested in. In any case, the construction of the current tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles allows a mortar to be built into them, or to be fitted with a mortar turret. It can therefore be assumed that after the selection of the new Infantry Fighting Vehicle, Czech Army will also examine its modification into a self-propelled mortar, which should be included in the 7th Mechanized Brigade as an organic fire support.

Another option, of course, is the Pandur II eight-wheel armoured vehicle as a basic vehicle in the equipment of the 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade. In its case, however, there is already a very specific solution, because in 2017, its mortar variant was introduced. At this point it is worth emphasizing that when the requirements for these vehicles were formulated at the beginning of the century, a mortar carrier also appeared in the list of variants, but after the reduction in numbers and requirements, this version was not implemented. The introduction of the Pandur II mortar vehicle would thus actually mean "only" a delayed implementation of the original plans. In this version, Pandur II is armed with the already mentioned Soltam Cardom caliber 120 mm, which is located inside the hull and conducts fire through open hatches. The solution is therefore essentially the same as that used by the US military for the M1129. The mortar is mounted on a motorized carriage, which in conjunction with the fire control system allows quick adjustment of elements. The mortar can also be taken out of the vehicle. Max. cadence is 16 rounds per minute and the vehicle transports a supply of 50 rounds, which may include, in addition to NATO-standard grenades, the old 120mm "eastern" ammunition. It also has the ability to fire grenades with rocket accelerators or guided munitions.

However, in addition to the platform of the new Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the Pandur II, other alternatives are also offered. One of the options can be the brand new TITUS six-wheeled armoured vehicle. Although the official list of variants does not exist, there are repeated reports that TITUS could be used, inter alia, as a mortar carrier. In this case, there are two possible solutions. The first would be a truly self-propelled mortar, essentially the counterpart of the Griffon vehicle equipped with the Thales 2R2M mortar. The TITUS type belongs to the same category as the Griffon (after all, the Nexter company participates in both) and the concept of the mortar version, obviously carrying the 2R2M weapon, actually appeared in the manufacturer's promotional materials. The second option would be to use the TITUS vehicle in the same role as the Tatra 815-7, or as a means of transporting the towed mortar. Another platform for the self-propelled mortar could be an off-road vehicle, which could appear in the armament of the airborne regiment which is currently under construction. The Cardom (or Soltam) company also supplies the "ultra-light" 120mm Spear mortar, which can be placed on ordinary off-road vehicles (such as the HMMWV) and which offers a maximum range of over 7 km. A car equipped in this way would, of course, be an extremely valuable mean for our paratroopers.

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Towed and self-propelled mortars represent highly effective fire support tools. Their abilities stand out especially in contrast to their simplicity. Although their maximum range cannot compete with howitzers, mortars are extremely effective for destroying "soft" targets at shorter distances or when fighting in urban area. The shard effect against live force is huge and it is worth mentioning a wide range of types of ammunition. It therefore seems obvious that the Czech Army wants to replace the current 120mm PRAM mortars with new weapons. First, however, it will be necessary to resolve several fundamental questions, especially whether the army wants a more universal means of direct fire, or whether it wants mortars primarily for their basic mission. In the first case, a towed solution seems more appropriate, while in the second, a turretless system should be chosen. As for the platform, of course, care must be taken to ensure compatibility, so in the 7th Mechanized Brigade, the mortar should be placed on the chassis of the new tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicle, while in the 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade, Pandur II will be the logical choice, which already exists in the mortar version. However, other platforms cannot be excluded. In any case, the Army should pay considerable attention to mortars, because these weapons continue to be of great importance.

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