FH 77 155 mm Field Howitzer System
The FH 77 [Field howitzer 77] is a towed 155 mm artillery piece. Two versions A and B. The FH 77 B has a longer maximum range and can fire standard NATO artillery rounds. The Bofors FH 77 is still one of the world's most revolutionary towed field artillery systems. It has an on-mount auxiliary power unit (APU) that gives the system its self-propelled capability and supplies power to the hydraulically supported operations, making it easy to handle. It also has the unique advantage of having a fully integrated land navigation system that gives the coordinates of the gun position and automatic alignment of the barrel.
The cross-country mobility of the FH77 is excellent. The new family of military vehicles made by Saab, one of which is the prime mover for FH77, is something to behold. This is not just an ordinary general purpose 5-ton vehicle, but is one of a family of heavy trucks that give the artillery section mobility, protection, and excellent cargo carrying capacity. The use of hydraulics to assist in operations backed up by a manual, silent operation feature allows for virtually every contingency. Bofors has had considerable experience in hydraulic systems including their S-tank (STRIDSVAGN) which had been in service nearly 15 years.
The auxiliary Volvo engine allows for easy emplacement of the howitzer in treelines, thus enhancing survivability. One man can perform the entire operation to include unlimbering the howitzer from the prime mover, driving it into positions several hundred meters away in the roughest terrain, and finally spreading trails and laying the piece. A high rate of fire is an important military characteristic designed into the weapon. It follows on the heels of the rapid fire capability built into the self-propelled 155 that the Swedes fielded in the 1950s and is an extremely important element in their tactics. Six rounds in 20 to 25 seconds and a sustained rate of three rounds per minute for 20 minutes is not bad in my book. The US interest in increased rates/volume of fires to offset enemy artillery superiority was clear. The FH77 cannisters or cartridge cases are cheap and light. They may be reused several times or thrown away as the situation permits.
During REFORGER 76, it was discovered that lightweight howitzers were desirable in an air assault environment from a logistical viewpoint, but NATO needed more muscle, crew protection, longer range, and self-propelled mobility to survive against potential 3 to 1 artillery odds in Europe. Shoot and scoot, lone guns, and jump capabilities were in. What was not in, however, was to be dropped within 10 to 20 kilometers of the enemy by Chinooks with all their attendant noise signature and then watch the adversary armor close at 35 kilometers per hour while the supporting Chinooks flew off to another mission.
Bofors delivered 410 FH-77BS towed howitzers to India from 1986 to 1990 but, following allegations of kickbacks, India froze plans to put the weapon into production and blacklisted the company. Under the $1.3 billion Bofors gun deal signed by the Rajiv Gandhi government on 24 March 1986, the Swedish armaments company was to supply 410 field howitzers, spare parts, ammunition of six types, fire-control equipment, and technical literature to India. The Indian government imposed an embargo on Bofors after it was revealed that the Swedish company had paid $50 million in kickbacks to secure the 1986 howitzer deal. The purchase led to a scandal of pay offs involving the Bofors Agent Win Chaddha, involvement of the Hinduja brothers of the UK and Italian businessman Ottavio Quatrochhi, who absconded to Malaysia. The allegations of kickbacks associated with the gun deal ripped apart the Congress and created a major political storm in India that has lasted over a decade.
The stock of ammunition that India received along with the 410 Bofors guns was exhausted by 1988. In 1988 the Indian Army tried to resurrect the guns for operational use by marrying an indigenously built barrel with the howitzer's chassis. But the attempt failed as it was found that no reverse engineering could be done on the guns. In October 1998 the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government decided to reopen negotiations with the Swedish firm A.B. Bofors, to ensure transfer of technology and spare parts to the 410 field howitzers lying unused in the India army's artillery units.
The performance of the weapon system came in for praise during the Kargil conflict during the summer of 1999, following which the ban was lifted and Celcius Ab, which now makes the gun, offered to send the improved FH-77AD chassis-mounted version of the howitzer for field trials.
The FH77 B is now integrated with a 6x6 all-terrain vehicle making it an extremely powerful, highly mobile artillery system. It's into-action time is less than 50 s. An artillery sequence: into action; fire 8 rounds; out of action and move 500 m takes less than 3 minutes. The gun has a range of 30 km, it can fire 3 rounds within 13 s and a has sustained rate of fire of 8 rounds/minute. On the move the gun crew is transported in an armoured cabin. The on-mount ammunition boxes, in effect magazines, have the same level of protection as the crew compartment. The FH77 B has its own land navigation system, eliminating surveying and alignment and the complete system has very low LCC.
The Fh-77 BD is a further development of the prototype system, which mounts the elevating mechanism of the earlier version, Fh-77B 155 mm towed artillery system on a commercial 6X6 articulated all-terrain chassis. This was originally developed as a private venture but was subsequently funded by the Swedish Defence Material Administration with two versions developed and tested by the Swedish Artillery School.
In March 2000 it was reported that the latest version of 155 mm Bofors guns would be sent to India for extensive field trials on "no-cost, no-commitment" basis in May 2000s. The Indian defence ministry accepted Bofors Weapons Systems' offer to send the 45-calibre FH-77 BD, the towed version of which is already in use with the Indian army, for trials. India invited a number of companies to demonstrate their 155 mm artillery systems in a bid to finalise its choice to meet the army's requirement of about 200 more field howitzers. The FH-77 BD 6x6 self-propelled artillery system and French Giat Industries Caesar 6x6 155mm 52-calibre systems are seen as possible alternatives to the towed weapon systems. Compared with conventional full-tracked self-propelled artillery systems, these weapons would be cheaper to procure and maintain and offer greater strategic mobility.
In early October 2001 it was reported that the Indian government wanted to buy around 3,000 additional FH-77 howitzers. A self-propelled artillery competition -- pitting the Celsius (Bofors) FH-77AD against the Denel LIW T-6 -- is underway as part of its Field Artillery Rationalization Plan. The main advantages that the Celsius FH-77AD offers over the Denel T-6 is that it is based on a proven and easy to maintain 6X6 Volvo truck chassis. The Arjun tank chassis to be used by the Denel T-6, in contrast, has yet to enter full service.
The FH-77AD vehicle is a modified FH-77 towed howitzer on all-terrain truck chassis. Spades are lowered at the rear of the vehicle before firing the howitzer. The cab of the FH-77AD is armored, and the armor applies to all angles of fire against the cab, instead of just fire originating from the front of the vehicle. This vehicle was designed to quickly lead to more mobile artillery.
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