Military & Aerospace

British Artillery Struggling: Any light at the end of the tunnel?  
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 26 Apr , 2024

Not unlike the Royal Navy, whose operational ships have become few and far between in recent years, and the nuclear deterrence force which is currently the object of much doubt, the British army’s capacities are uneven, and shortcomings are sometimes hastily addressed. Artillery is among the most concerning subjects, when it comes to how credible a force our conventional units are, but a few solutions are at hand. Making those choices is all that’s left to do.  

Beyond the matter of recruitment, which has caused much chatter lately regarding Royal Marines, lies the matter of equipment procurement. The mismanaged Future Rapid Effect System – Utility Version(FRES-UV) program, which led to disqualifying the ARTEC Boxer ten years ago, only to select it recently, illustrates how the UK fumbles with the acquisition of materiel it urgently needs. Boxer is a multi-role armoured fighting vehicle designed by an international consortium to accomplish a number of operations through the use of installable mission modules. 

British artillery is also emblematic of the hesitation and confusion in this regard. The invasion of Ukraine abruptly has reminded all nations of the importance of accurate, long-range, and plentiful firepower, both in available shells and operational “tubes”, at any given moment.  

Catering to Ukraine’s needs was an obvious necessity. Moreover, handing over a few outdated AS-90s (known officially as Gun Equipment 155mm L131, an armoured self-propelledartillery) was hardly taking a risk, and even those are hardly seen on the Ukrainian front. This being stated, the relevance of replacing those with BAE Systems Bofors Archers can raise questions. Here again, the inherent quality of the acquired equipment matters less than the volume ordered: why is the decision being hastily made of acquiring a handful of units, which will require their specific supply chain for as long as they last? The British Army is becoming a patchwork army, cobbling together expensive and complex platforms, when needs should be defined differently.  

Ukraine is, in this regard, a lab view into what war really means. Several factors indicate the need for a highly armoured, automated, and preferably tracked solution: their mobility, survivability and reduced crew would offer the flexibility the British Army is currently facing with human resources. The Swedish Archer and the French Caesar have proven excellent capacities as wheeled platforms but tracked system remain the reference in terms of tactical mobility and crew protection. 

Based on the light shed by Ukrainian feedback, one could wonder why the Boxer RCH 155 would be favoured. The Boxer boasts an excellent platform and makes for a good “battlefield taxi”, but the RCH 155 version (with the automated turret and specs comparable to the PZH2000) has yet to prove itself in terms of reliability. Sources of concern are plenty, with chassis durability, mechanical reliability (a plague shared by the PZH2000 in Ukraine) and mobility on uneven or muddy terrain. A 10×10 Swiss version was recently spotted; an unusual configuration which suggests the 8×8 version is insufficiently robust. To these technical considerations, one must add industrial ones: Germany will not prioritize a vehicle it will not build. Additionally, orders are piling up: Germany and, more recently, Australia, have placed large orders. In these conditions, it is unlikely production priority would be given to partners over clients.   

With all these considerations in mind, the most efficient choice would be a proven platform such as the Polish Krab, whose early versions mounted a British AS-90 Braveheart turret. The chassis was shared with the South Korean K9 Thunder, from the industrial giant Hanwha Land Systems, a choice which would be rational and pragmatic today. More and more countries are adopting it, such as Poland, Romania, Estonia and Finland, and other countries such as Turkey building it under license. With sabres rattling on the eastern edges of Europe, planners are ever more pressed for interoperability, to counter the industrial capacities of Russia and its allies.  

The UK, for too long, has been entangled in equipment acquisition procedures which have proven far too complex and costly – with nonsensical hesitations, such as the rejected-then-chosen Boxer, occurring sometimes. All the while, armed forces pay the price of incompetence, and it is high time the UK made a clear and definitive choice for its artillery, given how pressing the need is. 

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