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Czechs hail Caesar with certain misgivings

21st September 2021 - 15:26 GMT | by Flavia Camargos Pereira in Kansas City

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Nexter Caesar 8x8 artillery systems should be delivered to the Czech Republic from 2024 to 2026. (Photo: Nexter)

The Czech MoD intends to sign a contract imminently with Nexter for the supply of 52 units of the Caesar artillery system. It will replace the obsolete DANA howitzer which has a 70s design and is in service with the Army for over 40 years.

Aiming to update the artillery capabilities of the army, the Czech MoD has announced its intention to sign a CZK8.5 billion ($391.6 million) contract by 30 September with Nexter for 52 units of the self-propelled 155mm NATO Caesar self-propelled howitzer (SPH).

The new 8x8 system is planned to be delivered from 2024 to 2026 and will replace the obsolete DANA howitzer, which was originally acquired by Czechoslovakia. This Cold War-era design has been in service with the Czechoslovak (now Czech) army for more than 40 years.

The first four Caesar cannons will be manufactured in France, while the remaining 48 pieces will be assembled locally by Czech companies, according to a press release from the MoD. The platforms will have a Tatra heavy wheeled chassis with an 8x8 axle and armoured cabin.

Czech Minister of Defence Lubomír Metnar claimed that the participation of national industry has been crucial in the process, and its workshare will equate to 40% of the contract value.

‘It means a high level of security of supply for the state and the army, and great new opportunities for the domestic industry,’ Metnar stressed.

This Caesar 8x8 acquisition is also 'an important step because it is part of NATO's commitment to build a modern heavy brigade by 2025', the Czech Army noted in the MoD press release.

The final price of the systems is approximately CZK1 billion ($46 million) lower than the initial offer from Nexter.

The total cost includes tests; initial supplies of ammunition and spare parts; delivery of a training simulator system; training army specialists and instructors, a two-year warranty; and incidental costs related to the introduction of any new equipment.

The main unit to employ the new artillery will be the 131st and 132nd Artillery Battalions in the 13th Artillery Regiment. These two battalions are currently equipped with 48 Dana 152mm self-propelled cannons.

The 152mm Dana system was originally acquired by Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. (Photo: Czech MoD)

Caesar can fire more shots per minute than Dana (six versus four). The new SPH requires fewer crew members (four versus five with Dana), while it is also capable of manoeuvring into a firing position in five minutes (ten minutes faster than Dana).

The Nexter system can hit targets more than 40km away, whereas the maximum range of the Dana howitzer is limited by the length of the barrel to about 20km.

Other advantages pointed out by the MoD are the use of NATO-standard 155mm ammunition and the possibility to fire modern self-burning propellant cartridges or programmable precision-guided GPS and laser-guided ammunition, instead of expensive and heavy shells.

However, one Czech defence analyst explained to Shephard that, although Caesar will be a major upgrade in terms of range and availability of advanced ammunition, the decision to procure it has attracted criticism.

The French equipment ‘will certainly be cheaper to procure and operate’, the analyst said, but ‘the Czech military would likely prefer the PzH2000 system’ as being potentially more suitable against Russian equipment.

Caesar has certain limitations, the analyst added. For instance, it does not feature a fully automated loading system and lacks an armoured cabin/turret for crew manning the gun during firing. There is also no CBRN protection.

These are problems that are solvable by a ‘different doctrine of employment, or likely [a] faster cycle of getting into firing position before the salvo and getting moving again afterwards,’ according to the Czech analyst.

It appears that discussions on replacing the Dana system began in the early 2010s, and it was clear for many years that the artillery system would need to be replaced or substantively modernised.

The analyst added that geopolitical events helped to motivate an accelerated approach. For many years before the Russian annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, conventional land warfare systems such as artillery were generally not a priority for European militaries.

‘Especially after the financial crisis of 2008, the [Czech] defence budget was under major pressure, and artillery modernisation was presumably not a priority,’ the analyst remarked.

Shephard Defence Insight notes that Denmark is currently the only confirmed user of the Caesar 8x8 variant. The first two systems were handed over to the Danish Army in January 2020.

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