Murphy's Law: The Archer War


June 29, 2014: The armed forces of Norway and Sweden are at war, in the courts. This began in late 2013, six years after Norway and Sweden agreed to work together to create a new 155mm artillery system both would use, when Norway pulled out of the deal citing Swedish failure to perform. This headed for court because unless Norway can prove Sweden has violated the contract Norway will be subject to expensive cancellation penalties. Norway’s main complaint is that Sweden failed to deliver 24 Archer artillery systems by the end of 2013. The Swedish Army did get some Archer systems by the end of 2013 and Sweden is trying to negotiate a compromise with Norway. If that is not possible then the Swedes indicate they will take it to court, as there is a chance of collecting the cancellation fees.

The Swedish problem is that without the Norwegian purchase of 24 systems Archer will be too expensive for the Swedish Army and if it comes to that everyone is a loser.  Archer is 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 buy it, somewhat more if only Sweden does.

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 on 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. The Odin equipment will cost $16 million and was installed by 2012. 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 suggest that if Norway backs out of the Archer deal future cooperation on procurement between the two countries is much less likely.

At the same time Archer is 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.



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