Norway and Sweden have settled their disagreement over who would pay for a new 155mm artillery system both had earlier agreed to buy. Norway backed out of the deal and this was very embarrassing for Sweden, which prides itself on developing and building innovative and reliable modern weapons. Sweden recently announced that it would buy the 24 new Archer artillery systems meant for Norway. Twelve of these would be put in reserve for emergencies (or future sale) while the other twelve would be offered for sale, at a discount, right away.
There is still some disagreement over how well this was handled but Sweden saw this solution as preferable to years of litigation and the resulting bad publicity over what really was a minor disagreement.
It all began in 2013 when Norway pulled out of the Archer deal citing Swedish failure to perform. At first the issue seemed headed for court because Norway could be compelled to prove Sweden had violated the contract in order to collect the large contract cancellation penalties. Norway’s main complaint was that Sweden failed to deliver 24 Archer artillery systems by the end of 2013. Becaue the Swedish Army did get some Archer systems by the end of 2013 Sweden through they could use that to negotiate a compromise with Norway. Otherwise the Swedes indicated they would take it to court if there was still a chance of collecting the cancellation fees. For a while the Swedes believed that without the Norwegian purchase of 24 systems Archer would be too expensive for the Swedish Army and if it comes to that everyone is a loser. But eventually it was found that many current and potential customers for Swedish weapons were siding with the Norwegian argument and the Swedes realized that the best policy is “the customer is always right, even if the seller believes otherwise.”
Then there was the fact that Archer was not an exotic piece of technology. It 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). When the vehicle halts, the four man crew can extend the metal braces in the rear, raise the barrel, and be firing within minutes. After firing, the vehicle can be moving in less than a minute. Archer can use 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 if both Sweden and Norway bought it, somewhat more if only Sweden does. Actually, the final cost to Sweden depends on future export sales.
In addition to the original Archer deal, in 2010 Sweden and Norway announced further cooperation with both nations agreeing to buy the Norwegian (Kongsberg) ODIN Artillery Fire System for Archer. ODIN's main function is to integrate the communications between artillery systems and all sorts of headquarters and the units that call for artillery fire. With both nations using ODIN it will be much easier for artillery from one nation to provide support for ground units of the other. ODIN turned out to be a more successful new product than Archer and Sweden did not want to make difficult to undertake future cooperative development programs.
Both nations had funded a $150 million, 14 year, development effort to create Archer and by 2010 each nation had agreed to buy 24 Archer vehicles. The Swedes also suggested that if Norway backed out of the Archer deal future cooperation on procurement between the two countries is much less likely. That proved to be decisive, but for Norway and not Sweden. When the Swedes did the math they realized that in this category of weapons (artillery, fire control systems and radars) Norway had an edge and both countries would be losers if future collaboration was put in danger.
At the same time Archer was not the first weapon of this type, but is a heavier and more modern one. About the time Archer development began in 1995 a French firm was already developing a similar system (Caesar). In 2009 France sent eight of its Caesar, truck mounted 155mm 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. This experience encouraged Norway and Sweden about the ability of Archer to operate in the vast rural areas of both nations. Some parts of rural Norway and Sweden are similar to Afghanistan, but worse (more swamps). There are also similar systems available from South Africa and Israel.
Sweden and Norway have a long, complicated and often contentious history and settling the Archer dispute amicably is in everyone’s interest. If the past is any guide this dispute will not end well, just like so many before it.
Sweden is putting its first twelve Archer systems into service by the end of 2016 and the other twelve in 2017.
Sweden and Norway have long been political, military, economic and cultural rivals. Usually Sweden is out front and that has an impact on situations like this.