Archer is typical of Swedish innovation – both in the field of indirect fire and according to the homespun method of making use of whatever lies to hand.
A fundamental premiss of the project was the stipulation that as much as possible be recycled from the classic howitzer model 77 B – which as many as 20,000 national service personnel have been trained to use since the days of the Cold War and which has been a major export success for BAE Systems Bofors AB (who can't recall the incident in India?)
The resulting assignment was to construct something unique in the world – able to fire at long-distance with extreme precision, preferably within five metres of the target over a range of forty kilometres ...
What's more, it should be self-propelled, able to motor along country roads or roam cross-country without the need for a towing vehicle.
Any further requirements? Just that the system should be operable by twenty year old national service personnel. And that normal service can be done at an equally normal civilian workshop.
For the manufacturers, BAE Systems Bofors AB, and for the end-users in Boden (A9), these requirements are met by: Archer (also known, at various stages of its development, as “15.5 cm haub 77 BD”, ”155 mm FH 77 BW” and/or ”REMO 77B”.
Forestry and construction vehicle
Archer is a 30 tonne heavy, 14 metres long creation, reminiscent of a dumper of the type used in road construction or as a forestry carrier.
And that's not odd at all. To save time and money the engineers at Bofors looked around at what was available on the civilian market. And there they found Volvo's articulated hauler A30D.
"Why should we reinvent the wheel?", Jan Nee, a project leader at the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV), remarks.
The Volvo hauler soon showed itself to be a perfect artillery platform. The path to a near ready self-propelling howitzer still took more than ten years to tread, however, with many re-starts and changes of direction.
A long political decision-making process has drawn out over time. But this has allowed for the product to go through a series of refinements, both on the drawing board and on the ground. Not least when it comes to tactical developments and increased protection of personnel.
"Soldiers don't even need to leave the cabin to operate the weapons' system", Hans Pettersson, another project leader from BAE Systems Bofors AB, reports
The driver's cabin of the Archer is somewhat larger than that of the civilian dumper, and is reinforced to provide protection from shrapnel and mines.
"Archer is designed to survive the blast of driving over a six kilo anti-tank mine", remarks Major Björn Isaksson, of the A9 artillery regiment stationed in Boden – which plans to take delivery of the first four artillery pieces in good time for training to begin during the 2010 term start. Serial production should then begin in earnest the following year.
Twenty-four artillery pieces are planned in total for the Swedish Armed Forces and at least 18 for the Norwegians. The Swedish decision to invest in Archer was only recently finalised. The Government gave its go ahead for Sweden's new artillery as late as 28th August. The project is on time with only a few minor adjustments to schedule required.
It has been clear for a long time that Sweden, in the field of indirect fire, has been in need of a replacement for the 77B howitzer. Many foreign systems have been considered, only to be rejected for a variety of reasons - often too dear, too immobile, too expensive to run and maintain, too lacking in precision or too personnel intense.
The crew of an Archer unit consists in four persons. The equivalent crew of a conventional howitzer, for example the 77 B, numbers at least ten per artillery piece, possibly twelve.
"When the list of requirements was read out, I'm sure that many manufacturers shook their heads", says Jan Nee of FMV.
"Sweden is no great power, our resources are limited. For this reason the assignment was to re-use as much as possible of our inheritance, our current howitzer, the 77B."
Major Björn Isaksson takes the present writer on the most remarkable test run he has ever experienced, despite ten years as a motor journalist and test driver.
Straight on to the E 18 and the traffic of Karlskoga. A thirty ton, 14 meter long howitzer. I can guarantee that we passed a fair number of surprised faces.
Just two touches of a button
The passengers surprise was hardly lessened, when Major Isaksson, after pulling over to the side of the highway with a braking motion that was as smooth as it was sudden, with two touches of a button transformed the road vehicle into a fully functioning artillery piece:
Press twice. Rear supporting legs fall into place. The gun chamber is lifted from its cradle and extends to full length, from its highly compressed transport position, in a matter of seconds. Target position data is read off from the Swedish weapons localisation system, ARTHUR .. ready for firing! The whole process, from pulling over to final firing position, under 30 seconds.
"In addition to accessibility and precision, speed has always been a critical factor. Speed in transportation, a rapid transition to firing position and being able to make a quick withdrawal", says Jan Nee.
"Speed is quite simply the best defence we have, and it means that we require relatively few pieces in comparison to traditional artillery. Archer roams over large areas both on the road and cross country, and can pull up and be ready to fire within seconds - and can depart the scene just as quickly!"
Archer's gun barrel at 8.08 m is two metres longer than the classic 77, giving a wider range of fire. The gun barrel is new, but otherwise the firing mechanism, the ammunition holder, cradle and muzzle brake, are all taken from the old 77 - in principle, all the parts that could be reused and were not too worn.
Two trial units, earlier versions of the Archer, have been in operation since 2006. More than a thousand shots have been released. The most attention was attracted by a "long shot" over a distance of over 40 km that got within ten metres of a precisely defined target. The shell used was a Swedish/American Excalibur which is guided to its target by GPS. The heat-seeking Bonus is another variety of intelligent ammunition that can be used by Archer (more on intelligent ammunition in the next issue of Mission&Defence).
Denmark was a partner for a long period in the life of project Archer, which has to date cost just over SEK 200 million in "on-going costs" for the two test artillery pieces. A lot of money, to be sure, but international comparisons show that it is, nonetheless, a small amount for a project of this size.
A new start thanks to Norway
The Danish decision to withdraw seemed to extinguish all hopes of the project being allowed to continue. It was unreasonable to imagine that Sweden could alone take on the task of developing such an advanced system when its national requirements added up to so few units.
Salvation was found in the West. When, barely two years ago, Norway came on board, the project was infused with new energy and purpose. The Norwegian representative in the Archer project's inner circle is Lieutenant Colonel Stig Mikalsen:
"Norway and Sweden share similar needs and requirements regarding indirect fire. Basically, small autonomous units, with great mobility and extreme accuracy. The latter quality is especially important if the artillery is to be able to contribute to international missions."
"We are neighbours, we have nearly the same language, we share geographical conditions, not least up in the north, have the same technical and tactical background, so why shouldn't we cooperate on a project like this?"
There are, of course, aspects of Archer that can't easily be adapted to the requirements of both countries. That applies especially to radio and communications systems, but, at the same time, the pace of progress in other areas, which had previously been slow, increased greatly with Norway's involvement in the project.
"The remote controlled weapon's platform Protector is one such Norwegian contribution, enabling the operator to operate the close range 12.7 mm machine gun. The Norwegians also contributed sensors and other equipment for signals interception, observation and targeting", Björn Isaksson relates before leaving Bofors for Boden.
Joint exercises in the north
In Boden it's high time to be putting the finishing touches on the preparations for the joint exercise with their Norwegian counterparts, Nordic Artillery Exercise (NAX), which is to take place in October. One of the aims of the exercise is to test the tactical application of indirect fire in multi-national missions abroad.
The first serial produced Archer units are to be delivered to the Swedish Armed Forces during 2010. Norway will have to wait until the following year - at the same time as the first Archer is to be assigned to a Swedish unit on stand-by for international missions. NBG 2011 (Nordic Battlegroup) is another possible deployment for Archer, when Sweden's turn to form and lead the EU's rapid reaction force next comes around.
The ARCHER system includes, in addition to the main artillery piece with hauler:
- Ammunition re-supply vehicle
- Maintenance system
- Newly developed ammunition
History of the project:
Early technical studies regarding REMO (renovation/modification) of howitzer 77AD – the D stands for dumper.
Technical study REMO 15.5 cm howitzer 77B.
Denmark leaves the project. Norway joins. Two Archer units, ”test rigs” are run through practical tests.
Preparation of serial production and manufacture of prototypes.
ARCHER goes into production and is delivered to the Armed Forces of Sweden and Norway.
First military unit trained on Archer is ready for active service.
The system's capacities:
- Rapid re-deployment between various offensive and defensive positions.
- Is ready to give fire, out of march formation, directly after coming to a halt on the road, as well as when travelling cross country.
- Engages both stationary and mobile targets on land and at sea (the last mentioned under development).
- Precision engagement of armoured targets with intelligent ammunition (BONUS and Excalibur).
- Rapid firing rate and MRSI (Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact) capability, which means that several shells are released in succession but hit the target simultaneously.
- Reinforced for ballistic and mine protection for crew, vital components and ammunition.
- Remote-controlled secondary armament and the option for direct fire with main armament.
Crew of 3-4 men, consisting in one driver and two to three operators. The gun system can be manned, if necessary, by one driver and one operator.
- Gun barrel: calibre 155 mm, gun barrel length L52 (= 52 x calibre, i.e. 8.06 m).
- Maximum range of fire: 30-50 km (standard ammunition - 30 km, base bleed shells - 40 km, precision guided shells (e.g. Excalibur) - 50 km.
- Cyclic rate of fire: 8-9 rounds/min.
- Magazine: 21 projectiles (the magazine handles all 155 mm projectiles with a length of maximum 1000 mm and a weight of maximum 50 kg).
- Type of vehicle: Volvo A30D 6x6 (All Wheel Drive)
- Category: Heavy terrain hauler
- Total length: 14.3 m
- Weight with ammunition and optional protection 33.5 ton
- Engine performance: 340 HP
- Top speed: 70 km/h
- Radius of action: 500 km
- Terrain driving capability: same as equivalent forestry carrier.
- Emergency driving: all wheels - emergency driving equipment (Hutchinson AMVFI) makes it possible to drive with all wheels punctured; it also provides greater protection if the vehicle hits a blast-pressure mine - the same system is used on the all-terrain vehicle Sisu.
Communications equipment (Swedish version):
SLB, a battalion level C2I (Command, Control and Intelligence) system equipped with TDRS, Tactical Data Radio System. Radio equipment for external communication; RA 180M plus TDRS. Internal communication: each member of the crew is equipped with a wireless technology allowing for communication both inside the armoured cabin and outside at a range of about 200 m.