ARTILLERY: Evolve Faster or Die
Ukraine has purchased 26 used DANA-M2 8×8 armored self-propelled 152mm artillery vehicles from the Czech Republic for $1.54 million each. This wheeled type artillery system was developed by the Czechs late in the Cold War and entered service in 1981. In the 1990s Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The original 23-ton DANA was designed and manufactured by ZTS, an artillery and ammunition manufacturer in Slovakia. Since many of the people who worked on the DANA were Czech, in 1995 a new Czech firm, Excalibur Army, was established to develop new artillery systems and manufacture a Czech version of the DANA. ZTS and Excalibur Army each offer their own versions of the DANA vehicle and now the system is available on several different chassis. There is even a version that travels on tank tracks.
Since 1981 over 800 DANA 152mm systems have been produced and there is a lot of demand for upgrades of older DANA systems. Armored self-propelled artillery on wheels is another new development made possible by improved automotive technology and new artillery fire-control and guidance systems that enable fewer guns to deliver firepower more quickly and accurately than a larger number of the older, tracked self-propelled artillery systems. The wheeled systems also made a lot of the older towed, by heavy trucks, artillery, obsolete.
Ukraine, still at war with Russia since 2014, found all that combat experience gave their army a chance to see up close what modern combat was like and make some realistic decisions on how to eliminate a lot of obsolete Cold War era systems and replace them with fewer more modern ones. Ukraine has long been a major developer and manufacturer of weapons. This was exploited by the communists during the Cold War when Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union. Much of the early work was destroyed during World War II but that was rebuilt and expanded from the 1950s on. When Ukraine gained its independence and freedom from the communists in 1991 it became a major manufacturer and exporter of weapons. Those defense industries played a major role in stalemating the Russian 2014 invasion and fighting the Russians. Seeing that, there followed support from NATO countries like the U.S. and Poland. At this point the Ukrainians realized that it was worth replacing most of the Cold War era weapons with more modern designs than even Russia had.
A good example of this was the realization that Ukraine doesn’t need all the Russian-type artillery systems it had since 1991. Most of the thousands of Russian artillery systems Ukraine inherited were offered for export at very competitive prices. Ukraine also offered better tech support, including cheaper spare parts and better upgrades than Russia could or would supply. Russia didn’t make a big deal about this because they needed Ukraine as a supplier of critical weapons and military systems components. Russia lost Ukraine as a supplier after 2014 and now has the Ukrainians demonstrating how a nation with a lot of Russian Cold War equipment is better off without a lot of that stuff. It is more effective to replace the older gear with fewer of the more modern and effective designs. That was the main reason for replacing hundreds of Russian towed 122mm and 152mm artillery weapons with far fewer truck mounted or wheeled self-propelled models like DANA.
Russia itself is still absorbing these lessons. An example of that occurred in mid-2020 when a Russian manufacturer delivered eight of their new 2S35 152mm self-propelled guns to the Russian army for further testing by different types of ground combat units. The 2S35, also known as the Koalitsiya-SV (Coalition SV) has been in development for over a decade as a replacement for the current 2S19 152mm self-propelled gun that entered service in 1989. The 2S19 was in production from 1988 to 2019 with over 1,100 built. A thousand were delivered to Russian forces while over a hundred were exported to seven countries. Russia has been discovering that export customers are less interested in tracked systems like the new 2S35 or older 2S19 and are more inclined to buy wheeled systems, with or without armor.
Initially, the 2S35 was built as the latest upgrade of the 2S19 but after 2010 it was decided to design a highly automated version of the 2S19. This design turned out to be so different that it was given a new designation; 2S35. This automated turret was intended for use with the new Armata chassis plus key components of the highly automated T-14 tank and T-15 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). The prototype 2S35 was first shown publicly during a 2015 military parade, but with the new turret, details were hidden. This version appeared to be using the T-90 tank chassis. In 2016 the first 2S35 prototypes were delivered, still using the T-90 chassis and revealing the larger size of the turret containing the longer 2A88 152mm (or 155mm for export) gun. The 2020 version has more of the automation features and that is what is apparently meant to be tested under realistic conditions.
The automation is meant to reduce the crew to two or three men with the ammo-selection and loading fully automated. There is also a 12.7mm RWS (remote weapons system) on top of the gun compartment. The 2A88 gun can fire guided (current laser or future GPS) shells at targets up to 80 kilometers distant. Unguided shells can be fired up to 40 kilometers. The 2S35 fire control system has a digital communications system that enables a 2S35 to be operated remotely to speed up delivery of fire from several 2S25s at once.
The main problem with the 2S35 is cost, especially with the highly automated Armata chassis. Another problem is how many self-propelled 152mm guns are actually needed. Of the thousand 2S19 vehicles delivered to the Russian army by the late 1990s, 270 are in storage. Hundreds of the late-model 2S19s were upgraded versions like the 2S19M1 and 2S19M2 that incorporated many of the features now standard in the 2S35. It is already understood that the 2S35 would complement, not replace, the 2S19.
The problem is how many of these heavy 42-ton 2S19s or 50-ton 2S35s are really needed? With so many guided rockets available, fired from cheaper trucks using modern fire control systems, is there really much need for a highly automated self-propelled gun firing guided shells that the Russian military cannot afford? The GPS guided rockets are cheaper and have longer ranges. Western armies, especially the Americans, have decided not to develop a new self-propelled gun like the 2S35. The Americans just kept upgrading their 1960s M109 self-propelled 155mm system and reduced the number in service. That has been found to be cheaper and more effective, especially since the U.S. artillery uses GPS guided shells most of the time and depends a lot more on GPS guided rockets as well as air delivered smart bombs and guided missiles. All these GPS guided weapons have a jam-proof INS backup guidance system.
Russia discovered how entrenched this new attitude was when they tried to market the 2S19 to export customers after 2004. That was the same time the American GPS guided shells and rockets were entering service. Most potential export customers saw the future and it was not the 2S19 or proposed 2S35. The 2S19 offered for export was basically a T-80 tank chassis, with a much larger turret and the 152mm artillery piece installed. This vehicle weighs 43 tons, has a five-man crew and carries fifty rounds of ammo with it. Equipped with GPS and other modern electronics, the 2S19 sells for much less (often half) than what Western firms are asking for similar systems. Russian tanks and are artillery have a good reputation for reliability and getting the job done. The Russians have a wide array of modern 152 munitions available, including the laser-guided Krasnopol round. The vehicle has an auxiliary power unit, so the 2S19 can sit in one place, ready to fire on short notice. The gun can fire up to eight rounds a minute and is capable of “shoot and scoot” (stopping quickly, firing off a few rounds at a distant target, then moving on quickly before anyone can fire back.) Depending on the type of ammo fired, max range is up to 30 kilometers (or more.) The 2S19 entered service in 1989, just in time for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the era of no-money-for-new-equipment. This means that few have been sold, even to the Russian army. But after 2000, factories were ready to produce the system for both the Russian forces and foreign customers. The customers, including the Russian Army, have not been enthusiastic. The 2S35 project continues because there are still industry and military proponents of the Armata system and its promise of highly automated armored combat vehicles. The T-14 tank and T-15 IFV are ready for service but no one, not even the Russian Army, can afford them. The 2S35 on an Armata chassis appears to be headed in the same direction.
Ukraine and other Eastern European nations that were, until 1990, occupied by Russian troops and run by local communists who did what Russia told them, have an incentive to stay ahead of Russia when it comes to weapons tech. The wheeled DANA and the continued Russian reliance on systems like the 2S35 are an example of how you survive as neighbors of Russia; you evolve faster than you larger aggressive local bully.