The UK has moved to fill some of the gaps resulting from ongoing equipment grants to Ukraine with the announced acquisition of the Archer 155mm mobile artillery piece, which will backfill capability lost following the provision of AS90 self-propelled howitzers to Kyiv.
As recently reported by Army Technology, the UK had been seeking an interim artillery system to bridge the gap between the outgoing and ageing AS90 systems and a new platform, deliverable under the Mobile Fires Platform programme, which is due to enter service later this decade.
According to a 16 March release from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), the first 14 Archer 155mm artillery systems will have ownership transferred to the British Army later in March and be fully operational by April 2024, forming an interim replacement for the 32 AS90 artillery systems the UK “gifted” to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
It is understood that the correct terminology for the provision of system to Ukraine is ‘granted’, rather than gifted.
The UK MoD stated that the agreement was reached in the space of two months, with the government-to-government sale being negotiated by Defence Equipment & Support – the UK MoD’s procurement arm – and the final contract will be signed with its Swedish counterparts, FMV, shortly.
Designed and built by BAE Systems Bofors in Sweden, Archer has greater operational mobility and availability than the AS90 and reduced time into action, according to the MoD. Operated by a crew of up to four, it has a lower requirement for personnel than the AS90’s five, and benefits from a higher top speed of 70km/h compared to the current 53km/h.
The wheeled Archer 6×6 is equipped with an automated, self-propelled 155mm main gun designed for rapid deployment, with a firing range of 50km using extended range ammunition – doubling the AS90’s 25km range.
Loading and firing of Archer is handled from inside the armoured cabin, with the unit able to be deployed into action in 20 seconds and is ready to move after firing in the same amount of time.
Archer can fire a number of types of 155mm artillery ammunition, including extended range and precision anti-armour shells. It can also fire eight rounds a minute and four rounds in a simultaneous impact-mode, meaning several shells are fired in succession with different trajectories so they hit the same target at the same time.
Ukraine driving change in the British Army
The need to provide Ukraine with viable artillery systems in its war against Russia saw the provision of a range of military equipment by the UK to Kyiv, including 32 of its remaining 80-90 AS90 platforms, as well as a handful of M270 multiple launch rocket systems.
In addition, a further 64 artillery guns have been granted to Ukraine, comprised of 28 M109 155mm self-propelled guns, and 36 L119 105mm guns and ammunition.
With the provision of such quantities of indirect fires to Ukraine, much of which was in UK service, the British Army had been left with glaring holes in its battleline, prompting the decision to acquire the Archer 155m artillery system as an interim solution.
While the artillery gap has been partially filled, there remain significant gaps in the mobility and armour inventory of the British Army as a result of grants to Ukraine, which will reach a combined total value of £4.6bn by 2024.
Most notably, the UK will provide nearly 10% of its operational Challenger 2 tank fleet to Ukraine, with 14 vehicles granted from a total of just 157 available.