By Paolo Valpolini
Following the announcement of the selection of its ATMOS Iron Sabre for the US Army 155 mm Mobile Howitzer Shoot-Off Evaluation, Elbit Systems of America organised a conference call allowing us to talk to Dave Rogers, Senior Director of Precision Weapon Systems Ground Combat & Precision Targeting Solutions.
He first underlined that the system is currently in use with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), deliveries continuing, and that the howitzer to be used at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, is in the same configuration of that used by the IDF, with a 155/52 barrel, the mount being fitted with a semi-automatic loader and installed on an 8×8 truck chassis. “The automatic loading system is reaching the full development stage, has been demonstrated in a fielding relevant environment in the past couple of years, and is now almost ready for delivery to the IDF,” Rogers said. He made a very interesting comment at the end of the meeting, revealing that the fully automatic loading system has been shown to the US Army Long Range Precision Fires (LRPF) team, and discussions are ongoing on a possible cooperation. The LRPF will start delivering the ERCA (Extended Range Cannon Artillery) in FY 23, fitted with a semi-automatic loading system, however the plan is to develop a version with an autoloading system in due time.
The US Army aim being that of fielding a more mobile, lethal, and survivable 155 mm system to replace its current fleet of towed howitzers, Rogers stated that the semi-automatic loader exceeds the service requirement, being able to shoot the first round in less than 30 seconds from stop, shooting five more, and being out of action within 110 second to avoid counter-battery fire. The system installed also allows reducing the howitzer crew beyond requirements. Exact figures on recoil forces were not provided, but it was made clear that the ATMOS is not a fully compensated howitzer, thus it requires at least a 6×6 truck. “We mostly focused on reliability, thus minimised complexities generated by full automation as well as complex gas recuperation systems,” Rogers clarified. As for the mass of the system itself, he underlined that the amount of ammunition to be carried represents a good share of the payload, thus much depends on the configuration chosen. The ATMOS Iron Sabre can be transported on board a C-17 Globemaster III, “and is designed to cope with the European rail carriage system as well as with European and International bridge crossing,” Rogers explained.
The shoot-off will probably consist of different phases, Rogers expecting to shoot “hundreds of rounds”, Elbit Systems of America personnel providing necessary training on the system to US Army and Government evaluation teams representatives, who will then carry out the trials themselves. The howitzer that is about to be deployed at Yuma Proving Ground is fitted with the standard fire control system in use with the IDF, EDR On-Line understanding that the requirement calls for a possible integration into existing and future US Army FCS/BMS. The Elbit Systems representative also stated that if the US Army will require additional configurations the company is ready to do so. Currently the ATMOS is mostly produced in Israel, but Elbit Systems has put in place a multi-year programme to facilitate its production in the United States, identifying the supply chain.
Elbit does not know yet when its firings will take place, the shoot-off programme being established in these days, another competitor having been announced today for this first testing, the NORA B-52 by the Serbian Yugoimport, the actual contract having been assigned to Global Military Products, Inc. (GMP), a subsidiary of Global Ordnance LLC. However many more systems are lining up for trials, BAE Systems Archer and Nexter Caesar being definitely two of them, although the US Army has not yet announced their participation in the trials.
Photo courtesy Elbit Systems