French CAESAR combat proven solution for US self-propelled howitzer program

The United States has launched a consultation for self-propelled howitzers for U.S. forces deployed in Europe. This is an emergency procurement program open to competition. Among the competitors, the French CAESAR developed and manufactured by Nexter has got strong arguments.
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French soldiers conduct a live-fire exercise, with their Nexter Systems Caesar 155mm self-propelled howitzer mounted on a 6x6 truck chassis outside of Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Picture source US. DoD)

As a reminder, a self-propelled howitzer is an artillery system fitted with its own propulsion system. The key advantage of the self-propelled artillery over towed artillery is can be deployed into action much faster, independently from a tractor vehicle. Actually, there are three main classes of mobile artillery systems: towed howitzers, self-propelled howitzers based on a tracked armored vehicle, and self-propelled howitzers mounted on military truck chassis or wheeled armored vehicle in 8x8 or 6x6 configuration. The main manufacturers are Nexter, AM General, BAE Systems, Rheinmetall, KMW, Elbit Systems, Leonardo, etc.

The U.S. Army in Europe expressed an urgent need for a self-propelled howitzer to be deployed in Europe in replacement of the towed (and indisputably excellent) M777A2 manufactured by BAE Systems, so enabling the artillery units to get rid of their towing vehicles.

On July 8, 2020, it was announced that the U.S. Army Contracting Command – New Jersey (CCNJ), Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, on behalf of Project Manager Towed Artillery Systems (PM TAS) intends to solicit, negotiate, and award multiple Firm-Fixed-Price (FFP) contracts in support of the 155mm Mobile Howitzer Shoot-Off Evaluation. The requirement is for vendors to participate in a Shoot-Off Evaluation at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in Q2 FY2021. Each vendor will be responsible for transporting a qualifying 155mm mobile howitzer system and providing support during the evaluation period. The U.S. Government will select for award the proposals that are the most advantageous and represent the best value to the Government.

So, among the SPHs competing for this important market, the most combat-proven one is the CAESAR 155mm self-propelled howitzer manufactured by the French company Nexter. This SPH has been in service since the end of the 2000s. Dedicated to long-range fire support for front-line troops and counter-battery fire, it has proved its value in numerous external operations. Many countries have chosen this weapon system. Nearly 300 CAESARs have been sold to French, South-East Asian and Middle Eastern armies.

The CAESAR 6x6 has equipped the French army since 2008 and participated in France's main engagements abroad (Afghanistan, Lebanon, Mali, Iraq). In Iraq in particular, Task Force Wagram supported the troops deployed on the ground against Daesh alongside American and Iraqi artillery units. Then, the CAESAR's qualities in terms of mobility and firepower drew the attention of the U.S. Army. Engaged in harsh conditions and on particularly abrasive terrain, it stood out both for its high level of reliability and its technical performance.

Mobility is one of CAESAR's major assets. This mobility is first and foremost strategic. It can be airlifted and can therefore be easily deployed to any theater of operations.

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Nexter CAESAR 8x8 155mm self-propelled howitzer during firing test.  (Picture source: Army Recognition)

The CAESAR is available in two versions: a 6-wheel drive version (6x6) and an 8-wheel drive version (8x8). This second version meets the need of some countries for a heavier weapon system with an extended range. Particularly suited to high-intensity combat, its chassis allows for greater load-carrying capacity (up to 30 rounds compared to 18 rounds for the 6x6 version) and its adapted automatic loading system reduces operator fatigue. The 8x8 version is fitted with a semi-automatic ammo loader. In addition, the gun can be mounted on different types of vehicles (Arquus, Mercedes, Tatra, etc.). This flexibility offers client States the possibility of positive spin-offs for their local industries while benefiting from French know-how.

In 2017, Denmark selected the CAESAR 8x8 artillery system to replace their old M109 tracked armored self-propelled howitzers that have been in service since 1965.

The CAESAR can fire a wide range of 155mm/52-caliber conventional ammunition: all NATO-standard ammunition (high explosive (HE) ammunition, modular explosive shells, light and smoke shells). The CAESAR also fires smart ammunition, such as the BONUS anti-tank shell that is already used by the U.S. Army. Recently, successful tests were conducted with the M982 Excalibur ammunition.

The CAESAR can easily be maintained by its manufacturer. The maintenance in operational conditions includes the management and delivery of spare parts, documentation, technical control, assistance to regiments, and tool maintenance.