In November 2019, at the request of the British Ministry of Defence, the think tank Royal United Services Institute drew up a vitriolic observation about the means at the disposal of the British Army, in particular in the field of artillery. Indeed, at that date, it only fielded 2 artillery regiments each equipped with 24 self-propelled guns of 155mm/39 caliber AS90 out of the 89 in the park, as well as 2 batteries of 6 light towed guns L118 of 105 mm assigned to the 16th Air Assault Brigade. As for the 26th Regiment Royal Artillery, it fielded 35 of the 44 non-modernized GMLRS multiple rocket launchers, which the think tank then considered obsolete and very vulnerable to enemy jamming. For British experts, the lack of mobility, firepower and range of British artillery risked being paid for by very many losses if a major conflict were to arise.
Despite Boris Johnson's many spectacular announcements regarding Britain's defense ambitions from 2020, it took until January 2023 for Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to actually address the subject in a parliamentary speech, while the war in Ukraine had highlighted the crucial role of artillery in modern very high intensity conflicts, but also the decisive added value of modern systems represented by the German Pzh-2000, the Polish Krab and especially the French Caesar, in order to provide the firepower, the extension and the precision essential to support the forces but also to compensate for the numerical superiority of the Russian artillery. During this speech, Ben Wallace promised to run the Mobile Fires Platform program, which was originally intended to replace the AS90s and L118s by 2032, over the current decade, especially since London had promised Kyiv the next delivery of 30 AS90s. In addition, 29 of the 44 GMLRS would be modernized by 2025 to implement new rockets capable of reaching a range of 150 km (against 80 km) and resistant to jamming.
However, faced with operational pressure and growing tensions, in Europe facing Russia, but also in the Pacific facing China, the situation of the British Army became critical. And so there is nothing surprising in the announcement made yesterday by the Ministry of Defense, about the emergency acquisition of 14 self-supporting 155mm Archer artillery systems, designed by Sweden's Bofors between 1995 and 2009, especially since the Swedish company was bought out by BAe in 2005 to become BAe Systems AB, as an interim solution for short-term British Army capacity building, pending final arbitrations of the Mobile Fires Platform program which should take place in the coming months. According to the British ministry, the transfer of ownership of the 14 systems will have been completed by the end of March, and the 14 systems will be effectively in service in Great Britain from the coming April.
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