The much-hyped French CAESAR self-propelled howitzer has already proven to be very effective in the Russia-Ukraine War.
Despite the high-tech weapons that have accompanied the combatants in Russia’s 2022 invasion against the neighbouring Ukraine, artillery—whether from cannons, howitzers, or the tanks whose own big guns supplement them—has been crucial to the conflict’s outcome and is largely to blame for the suffering of the civilians caught between the two sides.
Despite having a larger population than the Russians overall, the Ukrainians have proven to be remarkably efficient at making the most of what they have and what they receive from Western countries that support them. A recent addition to the battlefield has stood out, both for its virtues as a weapon and as a symbol of France’s dedication to the Ukrainian cause, in what frequently appears to be a struggle of quantity vs quality.
The CAESAR was created by GIAT (now Nexter) Industries in Versailles with support from Lohr Industries and originally made public in 1994. Testing commenced in 1998. By breaking down the Latinate acronym “CAmion Equipé d’un Système d’ARtillerie,” its function is made clear (truck equipped with an artillery system).
This fully computerised, semi-automatic system is designed to fire six to eight rounds per minute at a range of 26 miles with extended range full-bore shells or more than 31 miles with rocket-assisted shells using a variety of 155 mm, 52 calibre shells that meet North Atlantic Treaty Organization standards. The actual weapon was 12 feet, 2 inches tall, 8 feet, 4 inches broad, and 32 feet, 10 inches long.
It was installed on a Mercedes-Benz Unimog U2450L six-wheel, six-wheel drive chassis when the French army accepted it in 2003. Later, it was modified for the six-by-six Renault Sherpa 5 chassis. Both vehicles could transport 18 shells as well as the five to six soldiers who typically man the gun—although three soldiers could do so in an emergency.
The gun proved to be equally adaptable to the Tatra 815-7T3RCI eight-by-eight chassis with 410-hp engine as NATO and other nations started placing orders for CAESARs. In fact, France ordered 32 CAESARs on the Tatra chassis in 2008, with the order expected to be fulfilled by 2030. The Czech Republic later purchased 52 Tatra-mounted CAESARs for 200 million euros on September 16, 2015. In addition to being a self-propelled gun with adaptability,The C-130 or the Airbus A400M Atlas are both capable of carrying the CAESAR.
The CAESAR has seen action since it replaced the TRF-1 in France’s artillery arsenal. The 68e Régiment d’Artillerie d’Afrique, which was CAESAR-equipped, assisted Malian government forces in their victory over Salafist jihadists in the Battle of Ifoghas from February 18 to March 31, 2009, during Operation Serval in Mali from 2012 to 2014. During the Battle of Baghuz Fawqani, which took place from November 8, 2018, to April 2019, CAESARs helped the Syrian Democratic Forces decisively defeat the Islamic State forces. In 2013, the French sent eight CAESARs to support their troops in Afghanistan.
From the lessons learned during these wars, Nexter created an armoured cab to shield the crew from enemy shells and missiles, roadside bombs, and IEDs. Although somewhat effective, the armour increased the overall weight by 880 pounds and the cost by 4 to 5 percent. Nexter unveiled a new 460-horsepower artillery system in February 2022, which is powered by a new 460-horsepower engine that is still in the development and testing stages as of this writing.
CAESAR Against Russia
The CAESAR entered a new conflict on April 22, 2022, when French President Emmanuel Macron stated that Ukraine would receive 12 of the artillery systems as a gift and that 40 Ukrainian service members would travel to France to get training. Soon after, the first six CAESARs, mounted on Renault Sherpa 5 chassis made by Arquus, along with their freshly trained crews, were assigned to the 55th Artillery Brigade in Zaporizhia, one of Ukraine’s oldest regiments that first engaged the Germans in combat in 1942.
On May 28, the Ukrainian government said that the first CAESARs were in use and claimed that with just five rounds fired in 55 seconds at a distance of 22,110 metres, the guns had destroyed two Russian tanks, two BMD airborne infantry combat vehicles, and some trucks (over 13.7 miles). Although additional sources have not yet verified that assertion, from the perspective of the Ukrainians, it is a promising beginning. Whether or not the Ukrainians have cause to praise CAESAR will probably depend on how the war plays out in the coming months.