Sunday, September 25, 2022

Meet Panzerhaubitze 2000 – The “Heavy-Duty Monster” That Ukraine Could Get To Battle Invading Russian Forces

The Netherlands plans to hand over its German-made 155 mm PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, while Germany will supply with 155-mm ammunition and offer training for heavy artillery, according to an unnamed German official cited by Bloomberg.

The training could be provided in Poland or Germany. In addition to that, the German government is also in talks with Eastern European countries to negotiate the supply of tanks to Ukraine. Germany could provide modern tanks to these countries if they are willing to send their Soviet-era equipment to Ukraine.

In its first month of invasion in Ukraine, Russia had its armored columns run into lethally effective ambushes in the woods and suburbs around Kyiv by Ukrainian infantry equipped with portable anti-tank weapons.

However, now the Russian military has directed its troops towards the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine which is a relatively open terrain where Ukrainian infantry with portable missiles cannot alone defeat Russian mechanized battalions.

The Ukrainian armed forces would now need more tanks and mobile artillery to strike targets without exposing personnel on foot to Russia’s massive firepower.

Therefore, the PzH-2000s can certainly help Ukraine to mount an effective counteroffensive against Russian forces in its Donbas region.

Laser-Hardened Barrel

The PzH-2000 is a 155-mm closed-type gun on a crawler chassis, built based on components and units of the “Leopard-2” tank. The 12-meter-long vehicle is powered by the 986 horsepower MTU 881 diesel engine that can provide a speed of 41-miles per hour.

Panzerhaubitze 2000 - Wikipedia
Panzerhaubitze 2000 – Wikipedia

Its main armament is a long barrel rifle 52-caliber 155-mm gun which is loaded with shells by an ornate auto-loading system that involves the human loader only needing to insert appropriate strength changes before firing, although the gun can be completed manually loaded if the auto-loader malfunctions. A total of 60 shells can be stored, typically including smoke and illumination rounds as well as high explosives.

The barrel of the gun is laser hardened and lined with chromium which provided substantial heat tolerance thus allowing high rates of fire that could otherwise rapidly overheat the barrel requiring lengthy cool-downs.

The war fought on Donbas’ front will involve attrition warfare in which the main goal is to cause unacceptable or unsustainable levels of losses for the opponent while limiting one’s gradual losses to affordable levels.

Therefore, rapid-fire attacks are essential to cause a large number of enemy casualties in the initial minutes of bombardment when the enemy personnel are surprised and exposed and have yet to take cover. So, firing 20 shells in 1-2 minutes would be more effective than 20 shells in 10 minutes.

Furthermore, rapid high-volume fires enhance survival, allowing artillery to quickly complete their fire missions and reposition to avoid counter-battery attacks from opposing artillery.

NSPA | NSPA delivers PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer to the Lithuanian Armed Forces
File Image – PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer

Maximum Range Of 22 Miles

The PzH-2000 can rapidly fire 3 shells in just nine seconds, tolerate around 20 rounds in 2 minutes, or maintain 8 rounds per minute long-term.

Moreover, its fire control system can execute Multiple Release Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) strikes in which it discharges up to 5 or 6 rounds in succession with variable strength charges that can all land at the same target at roughly the same time, thereby ensuring a vicious initial strike before troops can make it into cover.

The maximum range of the Pzh 2000 is 22 miles for ordinary DM121 shells which can be increased to 29 miles using more expensive base-bleed shells and 35-42 miles using DM702A1 rocket-assisted projectiles.

The Panzerhaubitze features an elaborate fire control system informed by a suite of sensors, including a weather sensor to gauge climate factors, a combination of GPS and international navigation to precisely gauge the howitzer’s position and inclination; and even a phased array radar to gauge the speed and trajectory of the shell upon firing, and use that data to correct aim for subsequent rounds.

These data points are all calculated by a fire control computer to generate a firing solution.

While, more accuracy can be achieved using guided shells such as American 155-millimeter munitions like the relatively cheap M1156 PGK GPS-guidance kit or the German SMArt 155 shell, which floats down on a parachute. Leveraging an inbuilt Infrared sensor, it scans for tanks below and discharges an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) into the thin top armor of armored vehicles detected.

The Pzh 2000 has a welded steel armor thick enough to repel 152-millimeter artillery fragments and 14.5-millimeter machine gun rounds used by Russian armored personnel carriers. The crew can also optionally fit add-on top armor to protect against mortars and cluster submunitions.

Also, the ammunition is stored in separate compartments from the crew to enhance the chances of survival if the vehicle is penetrated, plus there are blast vents in the ceiling to allow some of the explosive pressure of a penetrating blast to “leak out” the vehicle.

The Pzh 2000 saw combat for the first time in 2006 in Afghanistan where the Dutch fielded this armored howitzer in Deh Rawood and Tarin Kowt to support the Canadian Operation Medusa offensive west of Kandahar.

The Bundeswehr had received a total of 185 Pzh 2000s through 2002, of which 108 remain active in four German artillery battalions today. Another 37 ex-Bundeswehr Pzhs were sold to Croatia and Lithuania, suggesting around 40 more inactive PzH 2000s remain in Germany’s reserve inventory.

Major Shift In Policy

The Netherlands also acquired 39 factory-fresh Pzh-2000s, of which only 18-24 remain active in the Royal Netherlands Army’s 41st Artillery battalion. So, the Netherlands could theoretically send 15-21 Pzh 2000s to Ukraine, roughly enough to form one artillery battalion or 2-3 batteries.

If Germany supplies SMArt-155 guided shells, those guns could bring potent anti-armored vehicle capabilities too.

Initially, the NATO states were hesitant to send such heavy weapons fearing they could prove too provocative for Russia, however, by mid-April, as the shift in Russian operations to the East Ukraine front became more apparent, so did the need for evolution of the arms supply to cater for the changing operational realities.

Now the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, the UK, and even the US are sending tanks and heavy artillery to Ukraine.

The 155 mm Zuzana 2 self-propelled Howitzer in action (militaryleak.com)

Donations from NATO already include BM-21 rocket launchers from Poland and the Czech Republic, Dana and Zuzana self-propelled howitzers from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and 155-millimeter towed howitzers from the U.S.

The procurement of the Zuzana and American howitzers will also involve creating supply lines of 155-millimeter shells that are compatible with the Pzh 2000 as well.

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