April 9, 2010:
Saudi Arabia has received the first four (of 76) French Caesar truck mounted 155mm artillery systems. This is a big deal for the French manufacturer, who bet their own money on the success of Caesar. A decade ago, the French Army agreed to buy a single battery of the novel new Caesar vehicles. Developed by GIAT as a private venture in the 1990s. Caesar is a 155mm howitzer mounted on the back of a heavy truck. Before being fired, the gun was backed off the rear of the truck, onto the ground. This took less than a minute. It was a marvelous system, but Caesar was having a difficult time attracting export customers. It was believed that having even one battery in service with the French Army would help attract export sales. Once they got to use it, the French army liked Caesar so much that they eventually bought 72 of them. This led to export sales. Caesar vehicles cost about $5.5 million each.
Caesar uses a 52 caliber 155mm howitzer mounted on the back of a 6x6 ten ton truck. While it is self-propelled, it only has light armor in the driver/crew cab up front. Caesar only weighs 18 tons and will fit into a C-130 transport, something that traditional tracked self-propelled artillery cannot do. Caesar's long barrel enables it to fire shells up to 42 kilometers. With on-board GPS, it can be ready to fire in minutes. The truck carries the crew of six in an air-conditioned compartment. A 12.7mm machine-gun can be mounted, in a ring turret, on top of the cab.
Last year, France sent eight of its Caesar howitzers to Afghanistan. The roads in Afghanistan are pretty bad, and wheeled combat vehicles have a hard time of it. But Caesar was built to handle cross country operations. Afghanistan was the first time Caesar has served in combat. While Saudi Arabia is noted for lots of sand, it also has lots of desert that is hard ground, and Saudis have found it's easy to move wheeled vehicles around on it.
Caesar is no longer unique, it now has competition. Sweden and Norway recently agreed to each buy 24 Archer truck mounted artillery systems. Both nations had funded a $150 million, 14 year, development effort to create Archer. BAE will manufacture the systems. Archer is an FH77 155mm/L52 howitzer mounted on a modified Volvo 6x6 dump truck. The vehicle, with the howitzer on board, weighs 30 tons. L52 means the barrel is 52 times the caliber (8 meters/25 feet). The crew compartment is armored and has chemical warfare protection. The truck is articulated, making it easier for such a heavy vehicle to move cross country. The gun has an auto-loader, which is why it has such a small crew (four men). Archer also has a remote controlled gun turret (for a machine-gun) on the top of the cab.
When the vehicle halts, the four man crew can extend the metal braces in the rear, raise the barrel, and being firing within minutes. After firing, the vehicle can be moving in less than a minute. Archer uses the Excalibur GPS guided round, which means Archer and an ammo vehicle can supply lots of effective firepower without the need for constant resupply. Each Archer vehicle costs about $4.2 million.