Full speed ahead for A9 in Boden

For at least a decade the future of the artillery has been more or less written off. The classic Swedish howitzer 77B is not only worn out, but has also been made obsolete in the field of indirect fire. But, all of a sudden, circumstances change and Sweden's last remaining artillery regiment, the A 9 in Boden, is busy preparing for new challenges.

The classic Howitzer 77, after just over 30 years of service in both its A and B versions, is ready for retirement.

The transformative moment came with a memo from the government to the Ministry of Defence. A long awaited memo, according to A9's deputy commander, Thomas Lindell.
The document in question bears the headline: ”Decision regarding continued development and procurement of REMO Howitzer 77B”. The abbreviation REMO stands for renovation and modification.
 Quite simply, it's all about a Swedish invention. A howitzer, with parts coming from the 77B, mounted on to a dumper, equipped with a longer barrel, reinforced against shrapnel and extremely mobile - and, what's more, fit for international service.
“The alternatives of overseas acquisition or further prolonging the active life of the 77B by more traditional methods seemed to slip further and further away as the year's went by”, Thomas Lindell observes.
“It's just a relief to be able, finally, to plan for the future. We're talking about a registered stand-by unit consisting in  four artillery pieces plus attached personnel ready to take part in international missions by 2011 and able to contribute to any Swedish led Battle Group that same year.”

A small regiment

A9, which moved from Kristinehamn to Boden in the autumn of 2005 together with ArtSS, Army Artillery School, is a small regiment – despite the fact that it is Sweden's only remaining artillery unit: only 150 officers, ten civilian employees and barely 400 soldiers.
 The Regiment lives its life, if not exactly in the shadow of, at least to the side of the more than twice as large I 19, home to garrison commander Jan Mörtberg. A9 have moved into the newly renovated barracks of the former S3 regiment. Colonel Torbjörn Larsson, recently returned from Afghanistan where he headed up the Swedish contingent, is regimental commander.
“I have served in Afghanistan myself, commanding ISAF Operations during a period of snow storms and other meteorological difficulties”, Thomas Lindell says.
“Whenever I requested air support in some form or another, I would get a negative response on two occasions out of three. Artillery, on the other hand, works round the clock, whatever the weather.”
The Netherlands and Canada provide artillery forces in Afghanistan.
“The Canadians, by themselves, discharged 20,000 projectiles over the course of a single year. The vast majority if these were smoke shells or illuminating flares. Only in highly exceptional cases were high explosive shells deployed.”
“Illuminating flare shells are extremely useful, not least as a warning signal: we can see what you are up to, cease and desist! It's also about being able to respond when your own troops are exposed to indirect fire. It's a show of muscle that's meant to deter.“

”… within five metres”

The artillery of yesterday (which is almost certainly still the dominating form across the globe), was, and is, deployed in struggles over territory, rapidly using up ammunition at an express rate, where precision and accuracy were clearly lower priorities than the powerful impression given by a massive explosive effect.
“Today's parameters are quite different. A range of between forty and fifty kilometres, and our explosive shells reach within five metres of target. Damage to the surrounding area is minimised, and at best is rendered insignificant.”
“The most up to date artillery shells, like the Swedish-American Excalibur, guided by GPS, via an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or via a fire direction group on the ground, can with a direct hit take out individual outposts. The Swedish Bonus, for its part, can seek out sources of heat, such as the engine of a combat vehicle.”
The equally Swedish artillery radar Arthur adds an ability to localise enemy guns only seconds after firing. A precision guided shell is on its way in the opposite direction even before the original target has been reached. Arthur is an export success for the Swedish defence industry and is in use in more than twenty countries, including several great powers.

Next year's intake

The first example of the Archer for training purposes is due to be delivered to A 9 in the early spring of 2010. This means that those National Service men and women who join A 9 for their basic training in the summer of 2009 will learn the principles of artillery on the 77B and then receive additional training in the Archer system. The goal is for these soldiers to be ready for service in the Archer stand-by unit to be formed in 2011.
 The Nordic Artillery Exercise, NAX, centred on Boden, will be performed at the end of October. The gunnery range Lomben is also to be employed. Those participating include around 120 gunners from Norway and circa 40 more from Finland.
“Through cooperation with Noway we become acquainted with NATO methodology in a natural way. Joint exercises improve prospects for cooperation on artillery on joint international missions. I can easily envisage us going further in the future, coordinating training of both officers and men across our borders,up here in the North.”

Footnote: Former artillery regiment A8, abolished following the year 2000's Parliamentary resolution on defence, was stationed in Boden. Eight Swedish artillery regiments were in existence during the 1970's.

By Sven-Åke Haglund
Photo by Niklas Ehlén, Försvarets bildbyrå