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Fiery Flowers: The New Russian Self Propelled Guns

Drok

The Russian army has relied on its Soviet-era artillery systems, that have been modernized with new communications and fire control equipment and refined ammunition. The only system that is currently under production is the very capable 152 mm MSTA-SM2, that is based on the chassis of the T-80 MBT. The biggest issue with MSTA-S variants is its complexity and weight. At 42 tons it has some logistical challenges and it’s not exactly cheap to manufacture either. Its proposed successor the T-90/Armata based 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV isn’t exactly cheaper, nor lighter.

SV-Koalitsiya on a T-90 chassis

The lighter and cheaper SPGs in Russian service, like the 152 mm 2S3 Akatsiya and 122 mm 2S1 Gvozdika are basically sixties technology and they have reached the end of their life-cycle. The Russian army has been painfully aware of this and there has been several programs to replace the ageing systems that bridge the gap between the mortars/122 mm towed guns and the top tier MSTA-S. 

The Russian army has finalized designs for three new artillery systems. These systems are supposed to be field tested and in limited service by 2021. Unlike the more ambitious programs like the Armata and Su-57, these SPGs are based on the automotive components of tried and tested vehicles, so the schedule might actually be realistic.

The smallest of the trio is the “Drok” or genista in English. It’s an 82 mm breech loading, turret mounted mortar on a 4x4 chassis. It’s primarily intended for the VDV airborne formations and it’s based on the Typhoon VDV wheeled IFV. The 82mm mortar, while short ranged, allows the VDV formations to have a true SPG that can also provide direct fire support against targets the 30mm autocannon armed Typhoon VDV and the BMD-series airborne IFVs aren’t very effective, such as strong-points. The currently used 82 mm towed Vasiliyek automatic mortar, while surprisingly powerful, lacks the tactical mobility of a 4x4 mounted system.

Phlox

The most interesting one of the troika is the “Phlox”, a 120 mm gun-mortar mounted on a Ural-4320 6x6 truck with an armored “crew cab”. capable of operating as both a mortar and a field gun out to 13000m with a fire rate of 10 rnds per minute. The Phlox is a cost efficient way to modernize the artillery batteries of the motorized rifle units with a SPG that can keep up with the BTR and Typhoon series IFVs and MRAPs. While the Phlox shares the look of the recent western truck mounted SPGs like the Archer and Caesar, it’s significantly less capable and lighter than the two.

The third one of the new flowers is the “Magnolia”, it will be a 120 mm gun/mortar similar to the Phlox but mounted on a Vityaz ATV. The tracked Vityaz has exceptional cross-country mobility, especially in the snow and marshlands. It’s also fully amphibious and thus well suited for the arctic units and the Russian Naval Infantry. 

The Magnolia can bring firepower to places other systems simply can’t. The prototype of the Magnolia seems to have a turret and it puts the system into another league when compared to the arctic ATV based mortar systems fielded by Finland and Sweden. The Finnish system for example is basically an 120 mm muzzle loading mortar in an open topped ATV.

Magnolia on a trailer

These systems will not be game changers. However, they allow the Russian forces to cost efficiently replace aging SPGs and towed systems with new SPGs that seamlessly integrate into the C3I systems of the Russian armed forces. They are also significantly less maintenance intensive than the Soviet era vehicles. The upgrade paths into Magnolia, Phlox and Drok are feasible and they offer both operational and economic improvements. 

Unlike the recent MBT and IFV upgrade programs that put emphasis into short term bang, the new artillery look like a part of a thought out long term development strategy.


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