Artillery: Never Give Up

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January 5, 2017: At the end of 2016 Poland ordered $1.1 billion of weapons, vehicles and other equipment to equip four 155mm self-propelled artillery regiments (“squadron” in Polish). The order included 96 KRAB 155mm self-propelled howitzers together with 12 command staff vehicles, 32 command post vehicles, 24 ammunition supply vehicles, and 4 mobile armament and electronics workshop vehicles. Spare parts and all necessary crew training are also included in this price and delivery will be completed by 2024. The delivery date marks a decade since Poland finally found the right combination of technology and design to make a Polish designed and made KRAB possible. In 2014 Poland signed a deal to build under license the South Korean K-9 Thunder chassis. This deal was needed to keep the Polish KRAB self-propelled 155mm howitzer program going after more than two decades of wrong turns and general frustration. The K-9 Thunder chassis was already used for a South Korean self-propelled artillery vehicle and was found to be suitable for a Polish one as well. Initially, 36 chassis will be built in South Korea. The remaining 86 chassis will be built in Poland and the result will be 120 KRAB self-propelled howitzers. The first 24 KRAB systems are already on the way, which will eventually give Poland five KRAB regiments.

KRAB is a Polish 48 ton self-propelled howitzer operated by a crew of five and using a NATO standard 155mm gun. Its origin dates back to 1991 when Polish military leaders began working on developing a new artillery system. This eventually evolved into the KRAB system which included new command, communications and fire control subsystems. “KRAB” was designed to have longer (40 kilometer) range than the existing Russian 122mm and 152mm artillery systems used by Polish forces. Poland eliminated a lot of development time and expense arranged to build it under license, a complete turret system is based on the British AS-90/52 Braveheart. Initially, the chassis was to be designed and built in Poland. But by 2003 only two prototypes (rather than six) had been built. These two had gone through intensive testing before the program was frozen due financial problems. By 2008 these problems were fixed and another 6 howitzers were ordered. Then in 2010 micro cracks were detected in metal used in KRAB chassis. Investigators found out that subcontractor had used some old steel which was not of the quality required for the job. Around the same time the company providing the engine found they could not do so. Designers then sought to use a German engine but found this would require a hull redesign which, it was later discovered would produce engine overheating problems.

After five years of unsuccessful efforts to fix these problems, the manufacturer admitted defeat and withdrew from the effort to create a Polish made chassis. As a result in later 2014, it was decided to try the K9 Thunder chassis. The South Koreans were eager for export business and had already established a track record for rapidly developing a domestic arms industry that produced consistent results. Since then the development effort has rapidly accelerated and in 2015 the first new KRABs were introduced into first “Regina” artillery regiment. This follow on purchase closes the polish development of modern NATO standard artillery for its army. After all these delays Poland can finally replace some now outdated artillery systems with a much more effective solution that is built in Poland. --- Przemysław Juraszek

 


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