Archer - The New Artillery Gun System for Today and Tomorrow
The Norwegian and the Swedish Armed Forces have agreed on the joint development and purchased 24 systems each of the "Archer" 155 millimetre artillery system. Sweden’s and Norway’s purchase is based on strict quality and low cost cycle criteria. Qatar, the Czech Republic, Belgium and India have expressed an interest in "Archer" and requested more information from BAE Systems Bofors a part of Global Combat Systems Weapons hereafter named GCSW.
A new generation of artillery systems is emerging in the 21st century to counter threats and carry out missions via specific deployment strategies, as well as modern artillery systems whose mobility, firepower, automation, and protected capacities far exceed those of the predecessors. Thus, the salient characteristics of today’s artillery are its modularity, versatility, and interoperability.
While air power, precision-guided bombs and missiles often receive all the glamour on the modern battlefield, cannon artillery still plays a critical role in today’s fight by serving as the only 24-hour, all-weather reinforcement for the infantry soldier - a fact proven in recent conflicts. Combat experience and extensive analyses have shown that the greatest threat to ground force survivability is indirect fire artillery.
After-action studies from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm have exposed that the units have a critical need for an advanced cannon artillery solution.
The "Archer” 155mm FH77 B05 L52 is a wheeled, self-propelled 155mm L52 automatic howitzer that has been developed from the towed FH77 B with a mounting on a commercial Volvo articulated hauler.
Unlike many other artillery gun systems the "Archer” crew is separated entirely from the armament and ammunition. They do not have to leave the protected cabin when operating the system - exept for maintenance. These features considerably increase crew survivability.
The 155mm/52 cal. self-propelled "Archer”, which is qualified to fire modular charges (zones 1 to 6), brings together into a single weapon system the elements essential to an autonomous artillery piece.
The crew consists of a chief/operator, one operator and one driver, but the system can be manned by 2 men (driver and one operator) if necessary. There is also a vacant seat that can be used by the gun platoon leader or an extra gunner.
The gun has been upgraded for better firepower and compatibility with 21 rounds of ammunition ready for fire in fully automated magazines, and has been equipped with the necessary equipment to facilitate remote operation via the gun’s computer. Additional ammunition can be stored in the boxes that are mounted on the chassis.
This means the crew do not need to leave the cab for normal gun operation.
The cab provides the crew with a protected work environment ensuring extreme endurance during severe circumstances. The protection includes ballistic protection, mine protection, NBC protection, fire protection and noise protection.
The chassis based on a Volvo A30F 6x6 articulated hauler gives the vehicle a road-speed of up to 70 km/h and a high terrain mobility performance with the ability to move in arctic conditions with snow depths of up to 100 cm as well as in desert dune sand.
The rated engine power is 250 kW and the radius of action is about 500 km.
The "Archer” system is air-transportable in the new A 400 M, or transportable on land by truck or train.
With today’s conventional ammunition, the "Archer’s” firing range is 40 km and around 50 km (+) with the M982 "Excalibur” (in Norway fire trial will be around 60 km).
It can go into a firing position within 30 seconds, with another 30 seconds for out of action time and to leave the area.
No personnel are exposed outside the howitzer system when firing from the magazines. Its firing performance is:
- Salvo: 3 rounds in 15 seconds;
- Intensive fire: 21 rounds (a full magazine) in 2.5 minutes;
- Continuous fire: 75 rounds an hour.
The "Archer” has a Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) capacity of up to 6 rounds and a direct-sighting for ranges up to 2,000 metres.
The "Archer” has an integrated command, fire control and communication system with internal fire control.
The "Archer” has a ballistic computation function for firing on moving targets, on land and at sea. Direct firing is possible with the gun barrel aimed sideways in any direction. The sensors in the secondary armament are used for direct aiming.
This artillery gun system has secondary weaponry (Remote Controlled Weapon System - RWS - the Kongsberg’s "Protector”). The RWS’s sensor is primarily the main gun’s sight system for direct firing and measuring of near crests, but when mounting a heavy machine gun or grenade launcher onto the platform the system will have an excellent self-protection capability as well.
GCSW and NAMMO AS are cooperating for the next generation of conventional artillery ammunition (High Explosive-, Illuminating-, Smoke shells and Insensitive Munitions-propellant charges).
It comprises a high tensile steel body with explosive, designed to minimize the risk of accidents, eg: inadvertent detonation by dropping, heat, friction or impact. The shell body has been optimised for high fragmentation and blast effect. The 155 HE IM ER has an optimised base bleed unit which enables the shell to achieve a range over 30 km when fired from 39 calibre ordnance. The two variants of this 155mm ammunition are 155 HE IM and 155 HE IM ER.
HEER (High Explosive Extended Range shell)
The GCSW HEER improved shell is specially designed for ranges of more than 40 km with very low dispersion.
Its long-range capability has been obtained by optimising the external ballistics via streamlining the body and equipping it with a base bleed unit to further reduce drag.
The 155 mm HEER improved shell is fully compatible with all 39, 45 and 52 calibre artillery guns. HEER 155 also meets the exceptionally high international requirements of safety. It is a GCSW/NAMMO co-operation product.
IM-development is ongoing in co-operation between GCSW, NAMMO and Eurenco.
"Bonus” is a 155 mm sensor-fused artillery shell - when launched, it is a fire-and-forget shell that combats any armoured vehicle from MBTs to AFVs and including self-propelled artillery.
It is designed in accordance with Joint Ballistic MOU and is compatible with most existing artillery guns. At the gun site it is handled just like any standard artillery shell.
The shell body, which carries two sensor-fused sub-munitions, is provided with a base bleed, giving ranges of up to 35 km. Both of the sensor-fused sub-munitions can defeat a target.
Once "Bonus” is launched, the warhead searches a 200 m diameter area. Immediately when a target is detected within the footprint, it is destroyed by an EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator) punching through its roof and devastating its interior.
"Bonus” detects and identifies targets by processing images received from IR sensors ranging over several frequencies and then combining the results with data received from a laser radar (LADAR).
By measuring the target profile and then comparing it with the results received from the IR sensors, combat-worthy targets can be separated from false ones. This combination of sensors also means that "Bonus” is effective against targets provided with both passive and reactive protection systems.
Historically, artillery has been a relatively imprecise area-denial weapon. For precision strikes in battle, "Excalibur” has been shown to be effective between 40 and 57 kilometres. Newer versions of "Excalibur” will have a range of 60 to 70 kilometres, i.e. almost twice the range of conventional artillery rounds. The new generation of precision ammunitions gives ground commanders increased flexibility, whether to precisely strike enemy targets or conduct offensive operations of their own. When aircraft are not readily available, the time from target acquisition to delivery can be reduced when one can use an organic land system.
With an "Excalibur” round "Archer” will achieve a range of about 50 kilometres (+). Raytheon’s Missile Systems business and BAE Systems-GCSW are co-operative partners.
"Excalibur” is a 155 mm trajectory correctable artillery shell. The shell is fired at high elevation and then glides from its apogee to the assigned target.
The rear section of "Excalibur” is equipped with a base bleed aggregate and rotating stabilization wings. It has deployable canard wings on the front section for trajectory guidance. The shell can deliver different types of warheads.
"Excalibur” is prepared, programmed and then fired just like a normal shell.
The glide flight to target starts after reaching the apogee. The shell is corrected in flight towards the pre-programmed trajectory by the GPS-supported navigation system and guidance system.
In late November 2006, a U.S. Army test at Yuma Proving Ground , Arizona, 13 of 14 "Excalibur” 1a-2 (35 to 40 km range) rounds were fired to targets 24 kilometres away, and hit within 10 metres of their targets - an unprecedented circular error probable (CEP) for cannon artillery. Conventional artillery shells have a CEP around 70 to 100 metres at 10 kilometres, 200 to 300 metres at 30 kilometres.
The so-called Guided Series-6 test of the "Excalibur” Block 1a-2 consisted of two inert rounds configured with tactical base and live base bleed. Base bleed is a solid fuel that burns in the base of the projectile, expelling gas that reduces drag in order to extend range. The primary test objectives were to demonstrate the navigational functionality throughout the flight with live base bleed and to verify base-bleed performance, according to Raytheon.
The shells were fired from gun barrels pointed 15 degrees away from the target, testing their ability to steer themselves in flight. The rounds totally changed course, adjusting their ballistic trajectory towards the target.
The Block 1a-2 tests included full system performance testing, including shots from the "Archer”, and were conducted in parallel with Block 1a-1 urgent fielding in early 2007 to be used in Iraq. The ground forces have had to rely on aircraft with their laser- or GPS-guided bombs.
"Excalibur” became the first GPS-guided artillery round ever to be used in combat.
The combat experience with "Excalibur” in Iraq, since its first combat-firings in May 2008, has been very favourable, and the records show that at least 90 percent of the rounds landed within three to four meters of their targets. This good performance has resulted in the U.S. Army increasing its order volume for "Excalibur” rounds. The U.S. Army has indicated it may procure up to 62,000 projectiles.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, the "Excalibur” is fired from U.S. Army "Paladin” and LW155mm howitzers and from U.S. Marine Corps and Canadian LW155 155mm howitzers. The "Excalibur” artillery rounds were hitting targets up to 30 kilometres away, bringing the kind of precision fires to land forces that had previously belonged only to aircraft, and promising to reduce the logistical needs of artillery forces. In order to hit a target at 40 kilometres distance, one usually needs to fire off around 200 shots. With the "Excalibur”, one is enough. This has also the advantage of minimizing the likelihood of injuries to any innocent civilians. The Swedish Armed Forces plans to use the "Excalibur” projectiles in its "Archers”, when the all terrain-vehicle-mounted mobile howitzer comes into service in 2011.
The field artillery "Archer” howitzer gun system provides unprecedented responsiveness and lethality to support the Unit of Action (UA) commander. The cannon provides extended-range targeting, and precision attack of point and area targets in support of the UA with a suite of munitions that include special purpose capabilities. "Archer” provides sustained fires for close support and destructive fires for tactical standoff engagement. The system requires minimum manpower operation. One person can do the work alone, but in order to achieve the maximum effect of the system, three operators are recommended. When sitting inside the cabin, the gun crew are protected from splinters, mines, NBC and the gun’s emergent properties like noise and pressure.
The "Archer” system incorporates technologies that include conventional rounds and smart submunitions, and Fire and Forget Seeker technology ("Excalibur”). On the roof the "Archer” also has a Self Protection Weapon (Kongsberg "Protector” - see photo on p. 230).
The "Archer” system will be able to move rapidly, stop quickly, and deliver lethal first round effects on targets in record time, and move out rapidly (shoot and scout). Significant features are good all-terrain mobility, transportability by rail, sea and air, excellent protection, great weapon capability due to range, precision and methods, interoperable with Western artillery standards and very low operational and maintenance costs.
Author: Walter Christian Håland, Maj (rtd.) NOR-A