Self-propelled artillery got its start in World War I, about the same time as the tank. It was intended to provide a much more mobile source of fire support, available at any time in any weather. Artillery is one of the most reliable means to support armor and infantry in offensive or defensive operations. Nothing can decoy or intercept an incoming artillery shell. Which is the best of the current self-propelled artillery among the major powers?
Most of these howitzers are 152mm or 155mm howitzers. These shells weigh anywhere from 96 to 100 pounds. These self-propelled systems are usually on tracked vehicles, to provide the ability to operate on all forms of terrain.
Russia has three 152mm self-propelled howitzers: The 2S3, the 2S5, and the 2S19. The 2S3 is a self-propelled version of the D-20 towed howitzer (the howitzer is simply mounted in a turret). It hurls its 96-pound shells as far as 17 kilometers (or 30 kilometers with a rocket-propelled shell). It has a top speed of 50 kilometers an hour, and can travel 450 kilometers before needing to refuel. The 2S5 is a purpose-built self-propelled gun that was intended to replace the 130mm towed guns as a long-range fire-support system. The 2S5 can fire nuclear rounds, as well as chemical and conventional rounds as far as 28.5 kilometers, and can fire rocket-assisted projectiles 40 kilometers. It can go as fast as 63 kilometers per hour and travel 500 kilometers. The 2S19 is the newest Russian self-propelled 152mm howitzer. This used a T-72 tank chassis, and carries its 152mm gun in a turret. This was intended to replace all of the other 122mm and 152mm self-propelled howitzers, but budgetary restraints make this unlikely. It fires its shells as far as 29 kilometers.
Several Western European countries have 155mm howitzers. Germany has a 155mm self-propelled howitzer in the PzH2000, which has a top speed of 60 kilometers per hour and can travel 420 kilometers. It fires its shells 30 kilometers (40 with rocket assistance). The United Kingdom operates the AS90, which has a top speed of 53 kilometers per hour and
can travel 420 kilometers. Its early version fired shells 24.7 kilometers, while the current version with a longer barrel fires its shells 30 kilometers. France operates the AUF-1, which has a top speed of 60 kilometers per hour, and can fire normal shells 23.5 kilometers, with extended-range shells being fired 30 kilometers. France is also developing a new self-propelled gun called CAESAR, which has a longer barrel (52 calibers as opposed to the 39 calibers on the AUF-1). CAESAR uses a UNIMOG truck chassis with six wheels, and can be carried by a C-130, which is very rare for a self-propelled howitzer.
The United States currently uses the M109A6 Paladin howitzer. The Paladin has a top speed of 61 kilometers per hour, and can travel 299 kilometers. Its gun can fire conventional shells 22 kilometers, while rocket-assisted shells can be fired at targets as far as 30 kilometers away. The Paladin, though, weighs 32 tons, and the basic M109 design is nearly 50 years old. The United States was looking for something new. The Crusader had been planned to fill this role, going 67 kilometers per hour, with a cruise range of 404 kilometers. It was also intended to be capable of firing at targets as far as 50 kilometers away, and it had an impressive fire-control system. The Crusader had a problem though. At 55 tons, it was heavy, and the resupply vehicle was another 50 tons. In the post-9/11 world, this was a morbidly obese system, and it was cancelled in 2002. The Army still needed a new system, and so the Non-Line-Of-Sight-Cannon (NLOS-C) was begun. Using the lightweight M777 howitzer in a tracked vehicle using a hybrid diesel-electric drive, it comes in at 23 tons (and the goal is to get it slimmed down to 20 tons), making it C-130-transportable. Its M777 howitzer can fire normal shells 30 kilometers, and rocket-assisted shells can be fired 40 kilometers. It has taken advantage of a lot of the Crusaders technology (mostly in fire-control).
When NLOS-C comes into service, it will be the most capable system in the world easily transported anywhere in the world, with a long range comparable to other, larger self-propelled howitzers, and capable of handling terrain due to its tracks. Currently, though, the best of these systems is the German PzH2000, due to its long-range firepower. Its 55-ton weight, though, will limit its deployability. Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)