1. I have recently been asked by a serving army officer with regards to my preference for either a wheeled or a track self-propelled howitzer in the Malaysian scenario. I hastened in providing him a quick answer because I am not an artillery trained officer. Hence, I cannot claim to be anything near an expert on gunnery. I know that the questioner does not expect a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer from me, but an answer that has to have depth of reasoning and rationalization.
2. This question certainly interest me because the country’s physical terrain has certain peculiarities that favors the deployment and employment of military assets, and from another standpoint, it can also be a serious impediment to a successful military operations. This is the reason way, in any military operations, the knowledge of the environment and terrain of the battle area is given high emphasis.
3. The howitzer, or what is generally referred to as the gun, has an important role during war. It is an ‘area weapon’ which simply means that it is effective over large areas to ‘soften up’ enemy resistance before the full brunt of an assault by other elements of the assaulting force. Guns are either towed or mounted on vehicles; the latter also serves as the firing platform for the gun , and this is referred to as a self-propelled howitzer.
4. The Malaysian Army today has in its inventory the 105 mm Pack Howitzer that has been in service for more than 40 years. Most world armies today have discarded this gun because of its limited range. In terms of the larger caliber guns, the Malaysian Army is equipped with the FH 70 and G5 which are both of 155 mm caliber guns; the former being of UK product, and the latter being of South African product. Both these guns are towed guns and are of second generation make developed during the 70’s.
5. I believe the Malaysian Army is in the midst of acquiring a recent generation of artillery gun system that will meet future challenges of the army; either to augment its existing gun system or as a replacement. The procurement of new weapon system and equipment is a natural process of upgrading and modernization for all armies, and the move by the Malaysian Army to go for new artillery gun systems has to be viewed at in that light.
6. The self-propelled howitzer is somewhat an obvious choice for consideration for most armies; the major plus factor being speed and mobility of deployment against towed guns, and without least compromising the weight of fire power to be delivered onto assigned targets.
7. There are basically two types of self-propelled howitzer, i.e. wheeled and track, each with its own strength and weakness. And I tend to believe that there is already an on-going evaluation being made by the Malaysian Army to determine which of the two self-propelled howitzer system suites the army.
8. Let me now reasoned out the strength and weaknesses of both the wheeled and track self-propelled howitzer, based on my reading of the systems and from the experts within and outside the military service. Basically, my reasoning hinges upon four critical factors as follows:
a.Mobility. Both wheeled and track does provide mobility i.e the ability to move freely and speedily along roads and cross country. However, track self-propelled howitzer has limited mobility when required to move over long distances. It has to be transported on low loaders or transporters, and this will result in a combined weight in excess of 65 tons, against a weight of less than 30 tons for the wheeled self-propelled howitzer. With such massive weight, mobility is restricted to certain roads only, and some of our bridges are incapable of taking such a load. In this regards, wheeled self-propelled howitzer can traverse over long distances without the requirement to be loaded onto transporters, and being much lighter in weight, it can be easily air transported by medium lift aircraft.
b.Logistics. Based on the experience of advance armies around the world, it was found that the maintenance cost of a track self-propelled howitzer is 10 times that of a wheeled self-propelled howitzer. Coupled with the expected high cost of maintenance, the Malaysian Army have rather limited experience in maintaining track vehicles which will in itself pose added problems to the user. Wheeled vehicles are comparatively much easier to maintain beside lower cost, and certainly the army does not lack the experience in maintaining wheeled vehicles.
c.Speed. With mobility, speed in deployment is enhanced. Speed in this context also refers to the efficiency at which the guns are prepared, loaded and readied to engage targets. Wheeled self-propelled howitzers definitely has an edge in speed in deployment over track self-propelled howitzer simply because of the requirement of transporters for the latter. A loaded transporter is certainly no match in speed to a wheeled vehicle that can reached a speed of 70-80 km/hour on the highway. And speed of deployment is paramount in battle to achieve success.
d.Economic/Cost Factor. It is a recognized fact that track self-propelled howitzer cost almost twice, if not more than that of the wheeled self-propelled howitzer. And on top of that, track self-propelled howitzer will require transporters for reasons described in sub-paragraph 8.a. above which accounts for added cost. Track vehicles that a generally heavier than wheeled vehicles obviously consumes more fuel.
9. The above clearly gives the wheeled self-propelled howitzer the advantage over track self-propelled howitzer and reportedly, it is for the above stated reasons that armies today have sought greater preference for the wheeled self-propelled howitzer.
10. I have been made to understand that there has been some ‘unprofessional’ remarks by those outside the military circle that says “since the tanks are track, so has the self-propelled howitzers”. Such remark amazed me, and the person not having been trained a soldier, must be forgiven for passing such ridiculous remarks.
11. But to a professional soldier, guns being supporting elements are never deployed alongside the assaulting tanks or the infantry. It has to deployed at the rear, and only fools would want to have the guns charging along with the tanks and infantry in the battle area.
12. Now, that the Malaysian Army is serious about wanting to acquire the self-propelled howitzer, it has therefore to decide wisely whether it is going to be wheeled or a track self-propelled howitzer. As army professionals, the choice is not a difficult one to make, and let not ‘political consideration’ takes the better off the professionals in making that final decision. I would like to be blunt here, that civilians are in no way competent to make capital procurement purchase decisions for the Armed Forces.
13. There has been far too many ‘errors in procurement’ for the Malaysian Army in the past years, and it is the user that will finally takes the brunt, besides the millions that is lost through bad procurement decisions.
14. Finally, to answer the question posed to me by the serving army officer earlier and based upon the discussions presented above, my final preference would certainly be a wheeled self-propelled howitzer. Now, will the Malaysian Army make a similar decision as mine?
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION
Posted at 23.30pm Jan 30, 2009.