The 2006 Saudi Shopping Spree: Hail the Caesar Light Mobile Artillery!
Developed as a private venture by France’s Giat Industries (now Nexter), the CAESAR system is based around a light 155mm/52 caliber howitzer, mounted on a 6×6 truck chassis fitted with an armored cab. The air-portable mobile howitzer system has been sold to France and Thailand, but its export history had not been as successful as Giat had hoped – and it has a very interesting history in the USA.
In July 2006, Giat Industries announced an export contract for 76 of its CAESAR artillery systems, mounted on a Soframe-Unimog truck chasis. While Giat would not confirm the customer, Agence-France Presse reported that they were destined for Saudi Arabia. This certainly fit expectations in the wake of the July 21/06 defense cooperation agreement it signed with France.
Since then, a number of French deals to Saudi Arabia have fallen through or been delayed indefinitely. A recent Jane’s report adds credence to the AFP reports, however, and indicates that the Caesar sale is moving ahead.
National Defense Magazine’s August 2006 issue has a story covering foreign defense companies in the American defense market, which notes that:
“France’s Giat Industries pursued a partnership with United Defense Industries Inc., in 2004 to help market CAESAR, its 155 mm 52-caliber wheeled self-propelled howitzer, to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. However, when the United Kingdom-based BAE Systems acquired United Defense the following year, the CAESAR program rammed heads with an artillery system being offered by BAE Systems. Rather than have two howitzers competing against each other, BAE Systems focused on its homegrown project, which subsequently won the joint Army-Marine Corps contract.
Pierre-Andre Moreau, managing director for Giat’s artillery sector, says the company is frustrated over the lost opportunity for CAESAR in the U.S. military. “This system could have been key for U.S. forces,” he says.”
It might have. CAESAR can fire a six-round salvo with a firing range of about 40 km, and come out of action in less than 2 minutes in order to evade counter-battery fire. Because it is truck-mounted, the system can be carried in a single load in a C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, and can be used by rapid-deployment units as well as regular sustaining forces. The Caesar artillery system has already been ordered by the French and Thai armies, using a version based on a Renault Trucks Defense chassis instead of the Saudis’ chosen Mercedes Unimog platform.
So, what did the USA order instead? BAE’s The M777 ultra-light towed howitzer. It doesn’t have the CAESAR’s independent ground mobility, but trades off greater air mobility thanks to titanium construction that allows it to be lifted by many helicopters and even the V-22 Osprey. Britain and Canada have also ordered the M777, and the Canadians in particular are using them in Afghanistan.
GIAT will get another export chance in Australia’s LAND 17 competition, however, where it will face BAE’s truck-mounted FH77 Archer and probably its old nemesis the M777, among others. Light self-propelled howitzers are a growing category, with BAE-Bofors’ FH77 Archer and Soltam’s Atmos-2000 and Rascal SPWH 2052 following Giat into the same space, and the Singapore’s SLWH Pegasus offering a different take on the requirement. Clearly, as rapid deployment forces become more important in Europe, America, and beyond, the need for some kind of light, transportable mobile artillery system will accompany these initiatives.
As South Africa proved long ago with its G5 and G6 long-range howitzers, the operational environment may also dictate a need for lighter platforms. While Saudi Arabia does not possess a significant air-mobility option for its new CAESARs, the system’s superior ground mobility and light weight will be significant assets. Saudi Arabia is an environment where roads are a necessary option for transport, and off-road activities often require lighter vehicles rather than standard tank-like carriers.
With this new contract, the total number of CAESAR systems ordered to date by all customers is 160. With the Saudi order in hand, growing instability in a lucrative export region, and growth in its category as a whole, Giat’s CAESAR may finally be positioned for a run at the top.
Of course, there are always competitors, and their pencils have been known to be quite sharp. The global market for new artillery systems has been slow since the 2006 announcement, and so Nexter’s Caesar has no additional successes to report. Aside from a few export orders to Canada for the M777, neither do Caesar’s competitors…
April 18/08: Aviation Week’s Ares reports:
“At the moment, a total of 163 of the wheeled light self-propelled 155-mm. howitzers have been ordered by three countries: 77 for France, six for Thailand and 80 “for a Middle East country,” says Evelyne Montet, Nexter’s artillery systems business manager.
That Middle East country is widely reported to be Saudi Arabia, which will assemble its Caesars locally for delivery in 2009, 2010 and 2011″
DID has since been able to confirm that Saudi Arabia was the buyer, via sources that wish to remain anonymous.
April 11/08: Jane’s Defence Weekly reports:
“The Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) is to form three regiments of Nexter Systems’ CAESAR (CAmion Equipe d’un Système d’ARtillerie) 155 mm, 52-calibre, 6 x 6 self-propelled (SP) artillery systems, Jane’s understands. Although it has never been confirmed by Nexter Systems, the SANG has ordered a total of 80 CAESAR SP artillery systems, with six to be held in reserve and two allocated to the Saudi Arabian field artillery school for training purposes.”
Additional Readings & Sources
- Army Technology – Caesar 155mm Self Propelled Artillery System, France
- Giat Industries – Focus Ceasar mini site.
- Defense-Aerospace.com (July 21/06) – Caesar Artillery Systems Go On With Export Success
- Giat Industries (April 3/06) – First export contract for CAESAR artillery systems. Thailand buys 6 systems.
- National Defense Magazine (August 2006) – Overseas Companies Adapting to U.S. Market Needs
- The Penninsula of Qatar (July 24/06) – Saudi raises defence spending
- Tribune-Libanaise (June 22/06) – The Geopolitics of Weapons Procurement in the Gulf States. Excellent analysis. A must-read.