While there is an increasing number of 155 mm/52-calibre self-propelled howitzer (SPH) platforms – such as the Yugoimport-SDPR Aleksandar and Aselsan Kamyona Monteli Obius (KMO) – to provide armies with inherently mobile but hard-hitting artillery capabilities, the market is also seeing the entry of lightweight howitzers to ease or enable the use of artillery in remote or inaccessible areas.
Of lightweight guns, the BAE Systems M777A 155 mm/39-calibre gun is arguably the most well-known as it enables armies to use 155 mm shells through a gun that has the weight and size footprint of smaller 105 mm weapons. However, new 105 mm howitzers have also exhibited clear advances in weight reduction, enabling a larger assortment of transport platforms to carry these guns.
Although transporting howitzers by air has been a major objective for armies (as shown with the M777A), new – and lighter-weight – 105 mm howitzers will also enable for highly mobile SPH. This will provide armies with another rapidly deployable assault asset, but with a small logistical footprint. The AM General Hawkeye/HMMWV is among the designs being proposed as a lightweight SPH solution.
In October 2016, AM General unveiled a lightweight SPH combining a Mandus Hawkeye Mobile Weapon System (MWS) to AM General’s M1151A2 High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
The Mandus Hawkeye, also designated as the M20, is a 105 mm/33-calibre gun weighing a total of 1,120 kg (1,156 kg with digital fire control system). This is roughly a quarter of the weight of the M777A (4,200 kg) and its analogous Chinese competitor the NORINCO AH4 (4,500 kg). The SPH requires a crew of four personnel to operate it, but in “extreme conditions” it can function with only two personnel.
The M20 has a firing range of 11.6 km using high-explosive M1 rounds and 19.5 km with M913 rocket-assisted projectiles (RAP). It can fire three rounds per minute sustained (and eight rounds per minute for three minutes at maximum). The M20 does not include a muzzle break (to dampen the recoil effects of firing), AM General says an “optional diffuser” weighing 36 kg is available upon customer request.
The AM General HUMMWV is a mainstay light-armoured 4×4 utility vehicle, one benefitting from immense scale and adoption, which provides a large pool of available spare parts. The M1151A2 can carry a payload of 1,500 to 2,300 kg depending on configuration and armour. One of the key features of the HUMMWV is that it can travel off-road and in multiple terrain types, providing a mobility advantage to the Hawkeye in terms of “shoot-and-scoot” usage (i.e. firing and then moving to another location) to avoid counter-fire.
Although mobility is a key advantage of the Hawkeye, there are apparent caveats, the most glaring being the number of rounds that a single vehicle can carry. Besides limitations in carriage space, the SPH would also need to be lightweight in order to sustain a brisk shoot-and-scoot deployment. However, a defensive force could maintain hidden ammunition stores that could serve as re-supply points for these SPHs. Upon resupplying, the SPHs could move on to new locations, thereby ensuring that the stores remain hidden from return enemy fire. Alternatively, a supply vehicle could accompany the SPH and – where appropriate – the SPH team could call upon helicopters to deliver supplies by air.
Certain offensive operations, such as counterinsurgency (COIN), could see the Hawkeye SPH deployed in ways to mitigate enemy rocket, artillery and mortar (RAM) fire. For example, if accompanied by a sensor unit akin to the Aselsan Serhat, a counter-mortar radar with a detection range of 10 km, the Hawkeye could stop and fire at RAM sources. Upon completing the attack, it could resume moving in the combat area with the sensor unit, searching for other RAM threats.
Besides the M20, analogous 105 mm howitzers are also under development in Turkey and South Africa. At the 2017 International Defence Industry Fair in May in Istanbul, Aselsan announced that it completed two Boran Air Transportable Light Towed Howitzer (ATLTH) prototypes. The Boran ATLTH is a 105 mm/30-calibre gun weighing 1,710 kg. It can fire HE projectiles to a range of up to 17 km. In South Africa, Denel Land Systems is hoping to secure partners to finish developing the G7, a 3,800 kg gun that – while heavier than the M20 and Boran – Denel claims has the range and terminal velocity of a 155 mm gun (the 155 mm Denel T5-52 can fire standard HE rounds to a range of up to 42.5 km).
Complete specifications of the Hawkeye MWS/M20 can be found on AM General’s official website.
Specifications of the Hawkeye MWS/M20 (via AM General)