Artillery: Ambitious Anachronism


July 1, 2020: In mid-2020, a Russian manufacturer delivered eight of the new 2S35 152mm self-propelled guns to the army for further field testing with different types of ground combat units. The 2S35, also known as the Koalitsiya-SV (Coalition SV) has been in development for over a decade as a replacement for the current 2S19 152mm self-propelled gun that entered service in 1989. The 2S19 was in production from 1988 to 2019 with over 1,100 built. A thousand were delivered to Russian forces while over a hundred were exported to seven countries.

Initially, the 2S35 was built as the latest upgrade of the 2S19 but after 2010 it was decided to design a highly automated version of the 2S19. This design turned out to be so different that it was given a new designation; 2S35. This automated turret was intended for use with the new Armata chassis plus key components of the highly automated T-14 tank and T-15 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). The prototype 2S35 was first shown publicly during a 2015 military parade, but with the new turret, details hidden. This version appeared to be using the T-90 tank chassis.

In 2016 the first 2S35 prototypes were delivered, still using the T-90 chassis and revealing the larger size of the turret containing the longer 2A88 152mm (or 155mm for export) gun. The final configuration of the automated turret and what chassis would be used were still not decided. It was expected these matters would be settled by 2020 but the recent prototypes do not necessarily represent the final design. The 2020 version has more of the automation features and that is what is apparently meant to be tested under realistic conditions. The new turret carries 60 shells and propellant charges, which are selected and loaded separately by the automated loading system. An armored resupply vehicle can automatically load another 60 rounds into the 2S35 in less than 15 minutes.

The automation is meant to reduce the crew to two or three men with the ammo-selection and loading fully automated. There is also a 12.7mm RWS (remote weapons system) on top of the gun compartment. The 2A88 gun can fire guided (current laser or future GPS) shells at targets up to 80 kilometers distant. Unguided shells can be fired up to 40 kilometers. The 2S35 fire control system has a digital communications system that enables a 2S35 to be operated remotely to speed up delivery of fire from several 2S25s at once.

The main problem with the 2S35 is cost, especially with the highly automated Armata chassis. Another problem is how many self-propelled 152mm guns are actually needed. Of the thousand 2S19 vehicles delivered to the Russian army by the late 1990s, 270 are in storage. Hundreds of the late-model 2S19s were upgraded versions like the 2S19M1 and 2S19M2 that incorporated many of the features now standard in the 2S35. It is already understood that the 2S35 would complement, not replace, the 2S19.

The problem is how many of these heavy 42-ton 2S19s or 50-ton 2S35s are really needed. With so many guided rockets available, fired from cheaper trucks using modern fire control systems, is there really much need for a highly automated self-propelled gun firing guided shells that the Russian military cannot afford? The GPS guided rockets are cheaper and have longer ranges. Western armies, especially the Americans, have decided not to develop a new self-propelled gun like the 2S35. The Americans just kept upgrading their 1960s M109 self-propelled 155mm system and reduced the number in service. That has been found to be cheaper and more effective especially since the U.S. artillery uses GPS guided shells most of the time and depends a lot more on GPS guided rockets as well as air delivered smart bombs and guided missiles. All these GPS guided weapons have a jam-proof INS backup guidance system.

Russia discovered how entrenched this new attitude was when they tried to market the 2S19 to export customers after 2004. That was the same time the American GPS guided shells and rockets were entering service. Most potential export customers saw the future and it was not the 2S19 or proposed 2S35. The 2S19 offered for export was basically a T-80 tank chassis, with a much larger turret and the 152mm artillery piece installed. This vehicle weighs 43 tons, has a five-man crew and carries fifty rounds of ammo with it. Equipped with GPS and other modern electronics, the 2S19 sells for much less (often half) than what Western firms are asking for similar systems. Russian tanks and are artillery have a good reputation for reliability and getting the job done. The Russians have a wide array of modern 152 munitions available, including the laser-guided Krasnopol round. The vehicle has an auxiliary power unit, so the 2S19 can sit in one place, ready to fire on short notice. The gun can fire up to eight rounds a minute and is capable of "shoot and scoot" (stopping quickly, firing off a few rounds at a distant target, then moving on quickly before anyone can fire back.) Depending on the type of ammo fired, max range is up to 30 kilometers (or more.) The 2S19 entered service in 1989, just in time for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the era of no-money-for-new-equipment. This means that few have been sold, even to the Russian army. But after 2000 factories were ready to produce the system for both the Russian forces and foreign customers. The customers, including the Russian Army, have not been enthusiastic. The 2S35 project continues because there are still industry and military proponents of the Armata system and its promise of highly automated armored combat vehicles. The T-14 tank and T-15 IFV are ready for service but no one, not even the Russian Army, can afford them. The 2S35 on an Armata chassis appears to be headed in the same direction.




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