Dark Horse! China’s NORINCO SH15 Joins CAESAr, ATMOS 2000, Zuzana 2 in Brazil’s VBCOAP 155 mm artillery Tender

Brazil's VBCOAP put out a bid for 36 new 155mm self-propelled howitzers worth US $186 million. Nexter's CAESAR and Elbit's ATMOS were in the running, but NORINCO's SH15 from China came in as a surprise competitor.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The Brazilian army’s [Exército Brasileiro] equipment includes almost 60 multiple rocket launchers, Astros II/Astros 2020, capable of firing 127mm and 450mm ammunition, as well as around 130 155mm self-propelled howitzers M109A3/A5, some of which have been modernised but have seen better days. Hence, the VBCOAP programme [Viatura Blindada de Combate Obus Autopropulsada or Self-Propelled Howitzer Armored Combat Vehicle].

The programme was initially identified in early 2022. The Brazilian army’s logistical department [Comando Logístico —COLOG] issued a combined request for proposal (RFP) and request for tender (RFT) in August 2023. As per the requirements, the new howitzers must be installed on a high-mobility 6×6 or 8×8 wheeled chassis, capable of carrying up to six crew members, and have a range of over 500 km. The proposed weapons also feature a mounted 52 calibre NATO standard cannon, roof-mounted smoke grenade launchers, and a machine gun mount. The programme aimed to modernise and improve the armed services’ long-range artillery capability.

The VBCOAP programme calls for an investment of around 167 million euros to buy the 36 artillery pieces alone. Delivery of the new howitzers is scheduled to commence in 2025.

According to the Brazilian press, the list of finalists may be surprising. The list includes the SH15 6×6 developed by China North Industries Corporation [NORINCO], the ATMOS 2000 from Israeli company Elbit Systems, the Zuzana 2 8X8, defended by Czech Excalibur on behalf of the Slovak Konštrukta Defence, and the CAESAr 6×6 [Truck equipped with an artillery system] from Nexter [or KNDS France].

Let’s look at the selected finalists for Brazil’s VBCOAP programme, considering Brazil’s need for a mobile and powerful self-propelled howitzer.

Nexter CAESAR 6×6 (France): This challenger uses a proven 6×6 wheeled chassis recognised for durability and off-road prowess. It carries a 155mm L52 calibre gun with a shooting range of over 40 kilometres, perhaps meeting the Brazilian requirement. The CAESAR protects against small weapons fire and shell fragments, increasing crew survivability.

Caesar self-propelled gun
Caesar self-propelled gun. Image: French MoD

It has a good operational range and can keep up with mechanised units. However, it can only carry a crew of four, implying that Brazil may require two additional crew member to meet its needs of up to six.

Elbit Systems ATMOS 6×6 (Israel): Like the CAESAR, the ATMOS has a 6×6 wheeled chassis for easy manoeuvrability. It has a powerful 155mm L52 calibre gun with a shooting range of almost 40 kilometres, meeting Brazilian requirements. The armour protection is similar to that of the CAESAR.

Elbit Systems ATMOS
Elbit Systems ATMOS

The ATMOS has a strong operational range and good off-road capability. It can accommodate a crew of five, with one additional crew member needed per Brazil’s needs.

Norinco SH15 6×6 (China): This challenger has a Shaanxi 6×6 wheeled chassis. Equipped with a 155mm/52 calibre cannon, the SH-15 is compatible with various ammunition, such as high-explosive, armour-piercing, and smoke rounds. Furthermore, it can use indigenously developed precision-guided munitions, including the GP155 and GP1, and is fully compatible with standard 155mm NATO ammunition. When using standard ammunition, the howitzer is capable of projectiles with a range of 20 to 30 kilometres; when employing rocket-assisted artillery, its range can extend to 53 kilometres.

Norinco SH15 6×6
Norinco SH15 6×6

By virtue of its semi-automatic loading mechanism, the SH-15 can eject a maximum of six cartridges per minute. Up to 30 rounds of ammunition can be stored aboard the platform; additional rounds may be transported in a separate ammunition vehicle. For self-defence, the SH-15 is outfitted with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun mounted on the roof. The armoured cabin safeguards its six-member crew against artillery projectile splinters and small arms fire by virtue of its two large bulletproof windows in the front and two doors on each side. The discharge control system of the SH-15 consists of a laser rangefinder, GPS, and digital ballistic computer, which enable precise targeting and adaptations to environmental conditions, including wind and temperature. The SH-15, propelled by a 520hp diesel engine, has an estimated range of 500 kilometres and a maximum speed of 90 kilometres per hour.  

Excalibur International/Konštrukta Defence Zuzana 2 (Slovakia/Czech Republic): The Zuzana 2’s 8×8 wheeled chassis may provide better off-road performance than 6×6 alternatives. It carries a 155mm L52 calibre gun with a range of over 40 kilometres, meeting Brazilian requirements. The Zuzana 2 offers effective protection against small weapons fire and shell fragments.

155 mm Howitzer zuzana 2
155 mm Howitzer zuzana 2.

The 8×8 chassis may provide a higher operational range and challenging terrain handling capabilities. However, fuel efficiency may be a factor. It can accommodate a crew of five, possibly adding one more to meet Brazil’s maximum of six.

The COLOG will hear these four producers separately from March 18 to 21. This will be followed by a deliberation period, after which a decision will be published.

Given the NATO-type specifications, the NORINCO SH15’s appearance on this list may come as a surprise. 

ATMOS 2000 may also surprise some, especially given the controversy generated by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s recent remarks regarding Israel. However, according to CNN Brasil, COLOG has stated that this issue will have “no detrimental influence on Elbit Systems’ participation” in this process, which includes technological transfers and industrial compensation as part of a long-term partnership.

Considering Brazil’s criteria, all contestants provide 155mm L52 calibre weapons that meet the firepower requirement. The Nexter CAESAR and Elbit Systems ATMOS have reliable chassis and good mobility. The Zuzana 2’s 8×8 chassis may be useful for tough terrain, but its operational range and crew capacity require additional assessment. More information on the Norinco SH15’s mobility and armour is required for an accurate assessment. 

Overall, the Nexter CAESAR and Elbit Systems ATMOS appear to be in close competition due to their proven platforms and mobility. The Zuzana 2’s 8×8 chassis may be appealing, but its operational range and crew capacity must be weighed against Brazil’s requirements. NORONCO SH-15 operates in Pakistan and Ethiopia, but its performance is not known.


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