After Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Thailand, will Norway be the next to be seduced by self-propelled artillery bearing the “Nexter Systems” stamp? As confirmed by the French company this morning, the Scandinavian nation has just down-selected the Caesar mobile artillery system. Three other systems were also down-selected to replace the 18 self-propelled M109A3GNs currently in service in the Norwegian army: the South Korean K9 Thunder by Samsung Techwin, the German PzH 2000 by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall, and the Swiss modernised version of the M109 Paladin by RUAG. Ever since Norway disengaged in 2013 from the Archer self-propelled howitzer programme it had launched with Sweden, which took delivery on 1st February of the first four BAE Systems’ Archers, it has been seeking to procure between 18-24 artillery systems for a budget that has yet to be fixed by the defence ministry.
From 11-30 January the Caesar was in Rena, south-east Norway, where it undertook 30 tests on elements ranging from mobility to maintenance via the fire control system. Naturally these tests were undertaken in isolation from the competitors.
Just like any other military vehicle, the Caesar has been developed for use on the most hostile terrains. It has already proved its robustness on the high plateaux of Afghanistan where it was successfully used by the 93rd Artillery Mountain Regiment in temperatures of about -20˚C. The lessons learned there were useful for Nexter which borrowed one of the French Army’s Caesars for the series of tests in Norway where temperatures plunged to -35˚C. These extreme temperatures necessitated some adaptations such as a change of some of the hydraulic oils.
Even if the results of these tests are secret, “for its first prolonged outing in extreme cold and in a severe test environment, the Caesar met all our expectations,” explained Didier Rampal, Nexter’s marketing director for the Caesar. “The performances of the Caesar agreeably surprised the Norwegian military … [the wheels are] a cultural novelty for a country that has operated nothing but tracked artillery for the past 50 years,” he added. For Nexter, convincing an army that is not at all familiar with the concept of using wheeled vehicles was one of the principal challenges. But the French group was from the outset “serene vis-à-vis the Caesar’s performances,” Rampal said.
The Norwegian Defence Material Agency and the army now have a year in which to analyse all the test data. The announcement of the winner and the signature of the contract are expected for 2017, with final deliveries of the system chosen in 2020. Whichever company wins could enjoy a double-whammy as Norway and Denmark may agree on a bulk purchase to achieve a discount.
The only one of the four contestants to be wheeled, the Caesar is competing against the K9 Thunder, developed and manufactured by Samsung Techwin, a subsidiary of South Korea’s Samsung group. The K9 Thunder has been sold to Turkey, which has renamed its built under licence version the T-1555 Firtina, and will serve as a basis for India’s K9 VJARA-T, a variant specially designed in collaboration with Larsen & Toubro for desert environments.
The Panzerhaubitze 2000, or PzH 2000, was developed by KMW and Rheinmetall for the German army which has bought 154 of them. It has also been procured by Croatia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Qatar.
Finally RUAG Land Systems is proposing a modular modernisation kit for the M109 Paladin which would, amongst other things, increase the howitzer’s range by 36km, give it a faster firing rate, improve its mobility and enable it to operate at night.