Artillery: May 10, 2003


: Based on their experience in the Second Chechen War, the Russians are shifting their design emphasis from the heavy and expensive tracked artillery (meant for a more conventional battlefield) to towed ordnance. They point out that the self-propelled 2S19 "Msta-S" 152-mm howitzers' deployment was a good example of the irrational use of combat equipment. Based on the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, the Russian artillerists feel that the liquidation of regimental and mountain artillery in the 1950s-60s was one of the biggest mistakes on the part of the military leadership. 

The Russian gunners now figure that over the next 10-15 years, towed artillery systems will play the dominant role in regional conflicts (or 'brushfire wars'), since towed guns are cheaper (by a factor of 3-5) and lighter (helicopters generally having only a cargo capacity of 5-10 tons), as well as smaller (and less vulnerable to RPG fire). Towed guns are also easier to maintain and require a lower level of qualifications from the gun crews.

Their studies show that in local conflicts, over 80 percent of missions are fired at a range less than 5 km. The very nature of 'brushfire' war is without a clear-cut front line, often in mountainous or otherwise hard-to-access areas, as well as in populated areas, against fleeting enemies. Fire support needs to be fast (since the guns will only get off 2 or 3 shots), yet make a big enough "boom" that the targets will be eliminated. The Russians also seem to be finally grasping the concept of collateral damage and that it is, in fact, a bad thing. 

The existing fire support alternatives just weren't cutting it, as far as the Russians were concerned. Free-falling aerial bombs and unguided air-launch missiles have poor accuracy and are not suitable against pinpoint targets. Precision-guided munitions are just too damned expensive for the Russians and the cost of a single combat aircraft is comparable to the cost of a thousand howitzers. Mortars, recoilless rifles and multiple rocket launchers all have their own shortcomings, which is why this new school of thought puts so much faith in tube artillery.

The gunners also figure on pushing single guns or sections out as far as possible. While giving a platoon it's own artillery is still considered a debatable issue, they feel that companies and battalions should have their own guns. Napoleon would feel right at home.

The 2B16 Nona-K towed cannon/mortar was originally conceived as an infantry (or regimental) cannon but during the development process, someone had the afterthought of giving it the dual role of an anti-tank weapon. As a result, the weight of the cannon increased to 2,600 lbs (thanks mostly to a large muzzle brake) and the cannon ceased to be light enough for regimental use. The Nona-K a maximum range of fire 8,800 m for HE fragmentation projectiles and 12,800 m for HE fragmentation rocket-assisted projectiles, a rate of fire of 8 rounds/min and a HE fragmentation projectile weight of 38 lbs. Very close in parameters to what the Russians want, but just too heavy. 

At the request of the State Duma Defense Committee Chairman, the Bauman Moscow State Technical University is currently working up mockups and mathematical models for a "Tver"-series of cannons; a 100-mm company cannon, a 120-mm battalion cannon, and a 152-mm regimental cannon. The weights of the cannons are 660, 1150 and 2,300 lbs, respectively. Reduction of the gun weight can be achieved through the use of new powders providing optimal burning times, barrels made of high-strength steels, gun carriages made of titanium and aluminum alloys and reduced weight projectiles. 

The 152-mm regimental cannon is the most promising, since the weight of the explosive in this caliber's round is around 25lbs, which will make it possible to hit solitary targets (a sniper and RPGist) or small group targets with one or two shots. A self-propelled version of this howitzer has also been developed, mounted on the chassis of the BTR-80 armored personnel carrier with an ammunition load of 20 rounds. 

Ironically, the Russians had a template of this gun system in their hands almost 70 years ago, with the 150mm Rheinmetall-developed Infantry Gun. It weighed 2,500 lbs and had a firing range of just under 5,000 meters. It was adopted for service with rifle regiments during the 1933 - 1937 period but Stalin's "unreasonable solutions" (ie: purges, particularly of any foreign influence) led to the removal of this gun from the inventory. At the same time the German version was employed with telling effect during World War II . - Adam Geibel 

Nona-K image, online at: 


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