French Firm Seeks to Fill Gap in U.S. Fire Support

By Sandra I. Erwin

The absence of self-propelled artillery platforms in the U.S. Army’s newly-formed brigades has prompted a French manufacturer to offer a 155 mm truck-mounted artillery gun as a possible alternative. The system also is being marketed to the U.S. Marine Corps and the Royal Malaysian Army.

Called Caesar, the weapon was designed to provide rapid fire support for a battalion-size unit, without the hassles associated with towed howitzers, said Woodson A. Sadler Jr., a retired U.S. Marine colonel and a consultant to Giat Industries, the manufacturer of Caesar. Five systems were sold to the French Army last year, and they are expected to be delivered next month.

"It’s a French design, but we are looking at American companies to help with the production," Woodson said in an interview. If U.S. military agencies decided to buy Caesar, "it would be produced partly in the United States."

The primary role of Caesar is to provide hit-and-run artillery fire on a platform that can move fast (about 65 mph) and keep up with the light armored vehicles in the unit, said William Sidgwick, manager of business development at Giat Industries. "You can get the artillery in position fast, fire six rounds and leave, all in less than three minutes," he said.

Caesar can operate autonomously, with its own inertial navigation unit, ballistic computer and muzzle velocity radar, Sidgwick said. The system comes with a 155 mm, 52-caliber barrel and can maintain a firing rate of six to eight rounds per minute in sustained fire, or three rounds in 15 seconds in rapid fire. Sidgwick noted that the 52-caliber size is the NATO standard, but that Caesar also can fire 39-caliber rounds.

The weapon has an automatic hydraulic laying system and the loading mechanism is semi-automatic.

According to Giat, a unit of eight Caesar self-propelled artillery vehicles can dispense, in less than one minute, more than one ton of projectiles, 1,500 bomblets or 48 smart anti-tank munitions on targets at ranges up to 24 miles.

The platform is a 7-ton Daimler-Benz Unimog 6 x 6 chassis. It can travel un-refueled up to 360 miles. The whole system weighs 18 tons. Excluding its crew and ammunition supply, Caesar can be carried in a single load of a C-130 Hercules transporter. If Caesar were purchased for the U.S. military, existing Army or Marine trucks could be adapted as platforms, Sidgwick said.

In the current configuration, he added, each system costs about $2 million and can be produced in 12 months.

The French Army, he said, decided to buy five systems for testing. It is not clear whether Caesar ultimately would replace or supplement towed artillery, Sidgwick said. "That is still a question of debate in the French Army. They will use the initial batch of Caesars to ascertain whether in the future they will replace the towed system or not."

Giat has discussed with the U.S. Army the possibility of using Caesar in the so-called brigade combat teams, six or seven of which will be stood up during the next decade. There is no self-propelled artillery assigned to the BCTs yet. The only system available today for these units is a towed howitzer. Sadler said he believes that Caesar could be an attractive option for the BCTs as an indirect fire platform, to supplement the 105 mm mobile gun system that already was selected.

"For raid operations, Caesar can keep up with [light armored vehicles] LAVs," said Sadler.

Brigade Combat Teams
The BCTs plan to acquire a truck-mounted rocket artillery system, the HIMARS. But that system will not be ready to deploy for several more years, so Caesar could fill the gap for the near term, he said. Sadler cautioned, however, that Caesar and HIMARS are different weapons designed for different missions, so they should not be viewed as competitors. In simple terms, one is a gun and the other is a missile.

HIMARS, which stands for high mobility artillery rocket system, is a truck-based, lighter variant of the Army’s multiple launch rocket system, made by Lockheed Martin Corp. The platform is a 5-ton Army truck made by Stewart & Stevenson Corp., in Sealy, Texas. The first operational systems are scheduled for 2005. The U.S. Marine Corps also has placed an order for 45 HIMARS.

Unlike Caesar, HIMARS is a large-area weapon designed to be a division commander’s asset, Sadler explained. Caesar is intended for precision artillery at the battalion level, to support a regiment.

"Caesar is not replacing an existing system," he said.

The Marine Corps is an ideal customer for Caesar, Sadler said, because the vehicles could roll off the landing craft air-cushioned and, "as soon as they hit the beach, they are ready to fire." With towed artillery, he said, "you have to stop, unload, take it off the truck and fire."

Giat officials are optimistic about the prospect of selling Caesar to the U.S. military. However, they face an uphill battle, according to an industry source who asked to not be quoted by name.

The biggest obstacle, he said, is that Caesar was not conceived or designed in the United States.

In an attempt to satisfy legislation that requires that U.S. weapons be made domestically, Giat is actively seeking potential partnership deals with U.S. firms. The companies that are being approached about the program include truck manufacturers Oshkosh Truck Corp. and Stewart & Stevenson, for the production of the Caesar platform, as well as systems integrators, such as General Dynamics Land Systems and United Defense LP.

Another hurdle confronting Giat is the perception that Caesar would be competing against an ongoing artillery program—the Army and Marine Corps lightweight 155 mm towed howitzer. The system, made by BAE Systems, is in development and scheduled to begin production in 2003 or 2004. This weapon will replace the current M198 towed howitzer, which is too heavy and fails to satisfy the mobility requirements of the Army’s medium brigades and the Marine Corps expeditionary units.

Both the Army and the Marine Corps have committed significant funding for the lightweight towed howitzer program, so Giat officials are concerned about "being perceived as a threat," said the industry source. Caesar rather offers "an interim enhancement to expeditionary fire support" until the lightweight towed howitzer is deployed, he said.

Within the Marine Corps, Caesar also would be competing for artillery dollars against the mobile fire-support system, a rifled 120 mm mortar, which still is in development.

It is unclear yet who will become Giat’s U.S. partners if the program moves forward. Paul Justice, spokesman for Stewart & Stevenson, said the company "has had conversations" with Giat officials about the Caesar project, but could not provide specifics.

John Stoddart, vice president of Oshkosh Truck Corp., said that the Caesar system would be a natural fit for the 8-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle-Replacement, which Oshkosh is building for the Marine Corps. "MTVR was designed as an artillery carrier and tower," Stoddart said. Platforms such as the MTVR, he added, offer "tremendous flexibility to do things off the back of the truck.

"We have a long-standing relationship with Giat. We’ve had some discussions with them over the past year," he added.

The integration of a truck with a 155 mm howitzer is not "terribly difficult," Stoddart said. "We need to see how interested the Army is." The real issue, he added, is whether the United States really has a requirement for this system.

Topics: Armaments, Munitions Technology, International

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