By Shaun Connors
BAE Systems’ Archer 155 mm 52-cal self-propelled artillery system is totally unique in its choice of vehicle platform…
In March of this year the Swedish arm of the UK’s BAE Systems announced that after many years of developmental and trials work it had finally been awarded a production contract for its FH77 BW L52 Archer self-propelled artillery system.
The award, made jointly by the Norwegian and Swedish armies, calls for 48 guns and a similar quantity of associated containerised truck-transportable ammunition handling systems. The contract award, which involves 24 complete systems for each country, is valued at around £135 million.
Delivery of the Archer system has origins that trace back to 1987 and an emerging Swedish Army requirement for a next-generation artillery system. The in-depth study that looked at this requirement became known as APS 2000 and it encompassed all areas of artillery capability, including the question of how best to deliver the gun; towed by truck or mounted (turreted or fixed), and on a wheeled or tracked platform.
As part of the APS 2000 project the then Bofors Weapons Systems AB examined two turretless self-propelled solutions, one mounted on a stretched CV90 (Combat Vehicle 90) tracked chassis, the other on a piece of construction equipment – a commercially available Volvo A25C articulated hauler wheeled chassis. The wheeled turretless self-propelled option was selected by Bofors, the key arguments for this being that to mount a gun on an articulated hauler chassis would have a procurement cost of approximately half that of a tracked vehicle chassis, and that any tactical or strategic disadvantages of such a wheeled option would easily be out-weighed by its advantages.
The basic running and through life costs of an articulated hauler would clearly be much less than those of a purpose-designed armoured vehicle, however, the primary advantage of a wheeled solution in modern ‘deployable’ conflict scenarios is seen as its ability to deploy over long distances, at reasonable speed, and without the need for a transporting vehicle. Additionally, over shorter distances a wheeled solution will have the distinct advantage of being both quicker and quieter.
It is accepted that in terrain extremes a tracked platform will generally have mobility advantages over any comparable wheeled platform, however, the articulated hauler has mobility levels far closer to those of a tracked platform that any conventional wheeled vehicle or truck will do.
The topography of Sweden and its neighbouring countries, plus a desire for true global operating capabilities, are the primary reasons that Archer is articulated hauler and not truck-based as is the case with potential competitors that are now emerging. Clearly more capable than a truck-based solution in difficult conditions, the compromise here for an articulated hauler-based design is that at around 70 km/h max, Archer will be slightly slower on roads and prepared tracks than a truck-based solution – for example the TATRA-based Dana’s max. speed is quoted as 80 km/h.
Quite simply the limiting factor for an articulated hauler-based design is suspension. Articulated haulers (which are primarily designed for site work) do now feature a sprung front axle, however, the rear walking beam-type bogie remains unsprung, this the single major factor in limiting their speed.
Work on the first automotive prototype of what would eventually mature to become Archer began in 1992, this known as FH-77 AD and featuring a 30-calibre barrel and breech block. By 1993 a second prototype (FH-77 BD) was under development, this featuring a longer 39-calibre barrel and screw breech mechanism.
Around this time Bofors was also under contract to develop articulated hauler platforms that met potential Swedish Army requirements for the mounting of 40 mm anti-aircraft weapons (Trika) and a 120 mm Karin costal artillery gun (Karelin