France Scrambles to Do Damage Control After Scathing Ukrainian 155mm Caesar Gun Review

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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

In September 2023, Hanna Malyar, the Deputy Minister of Defence for Ukraine, praised the French CAESAr (Truck equipped with an artillery system).  

In his telegram channel, he boasted, “The rules of engagement were altered with the introduction of CAESAR. This 155mm French howitzer was a disaster for the Russians, who could only dream of firing distances of this magnitude. It had a range of up to 40 kilometers and up to 50 km when utilizing “smart” Excalibur bullets. In one of the initial engagements, Ukrainian CAESAR units destroyed two hostile tanks, a BMP and a BTR, and their crews.”

“Using their technological superiority over their Russian counterparts, CAESARs track down enemy artillery. A digital fire control system ensures the howitzer’s automatic targeting, allowing it to rapidly discharge up to six rounds per minute and change its firing position. This was the circumstance during the one-of-a-kind operation to free Snake Island, in which CAESARs also took part,” he added.

He continued, “The Russians have such a deep-seated hatred for French CAESAR SPHs at this point that they send hostile kamikaze drones like the “Lancet” to regularly target them. However, the “French’s” rate of fire, mobility, and maneuverability not only helped them survive on the battlefield but also allowed them to effectively complete their primary duty: defeat the Russian occupiers and bring Ukraine closer to victory.”

But in December 2023, Colonel Yan Iatsychen, the commander of the 56th motorized infantry brigade of the Ukrainian army expressed some criticisms about the CAESAr in the French newspaper “Le Monde”.

“It fires very quickly and with pinpoint accuracy. But I use it very little because it is very vulnerable and poorly suited to the realities of war,” the officer said. “If I take it out in the open to fire, it becomes the target of counter-battery fire within three to four minutes. While with the M777 (US light howitzer), I can fire an average of 300 rounds per day. With the Caesar, if I fire five, it’s good. The M777 is easy to conceal, and I can install a metal frame around it to protect it from the Lancet (Russian drone),” he added.

As per the French, it takes a CAESAr only one minute to fire six rounds at a target forty kilometers distant, and it only takes two minutes to deploy and withdraw from the area. Because of this, Colonel Iatsychen’s remarks came as a surprise. The French can blame him for not understanding how to use the gun.

But that was not all. The CAESAr “loves cleanliness too much. Its operators are like surgeons, always with gloves and shoe covers, forced to sleep inside to keep it clean,” he added.

He also said he could not “hide the CAESAr” to avoid “degrading its satellite link, without which it becomes impossible to guide the fire.” He said, “Either manual fire guidance should be possible, or the satellite antenna should be detachable.” (However, the firing parameters are provided by an inertial guidance system.)

As a damage control, in a statement published by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the CAESAr was praised for its high efficacy and excellent precision in combat. In addition, it was claimed that efforts would be made to enhance its firing control through artificial intelligence to reduce the use of 155mm shells by thirty percent. 

According to the French Defence-focused portal Opex 360, Colonel Iatsychen’s criticisms incited some apprehension. However, the French Minister of Armed Forces assuaged these concerns in response to a written query from deputy Caroline Colombier following Le Monde’s broadcast of the report. 

“The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has repeatedly expressed its full satisfaction with the CAESAr artillery system used in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Given this frontline experience feedback, Ukraine acquired an additional 6 CAESAr cannons at the end of 2023 and expressed a significant new need for several CAESAr,” he said before challenging each of Colonel Iatsychen’s allegations.

“Thanks to its mobility, the CAESAr is less vulnerable to enemy artillery fire than fixed cannons. Equipped with an inertial navigation and gun pointing system, the CAESAr does not need a permanent satellite link to fire its ammunition,” the Ministry of Armed Forces said.

It also emphasized that the CAESAr “has also demonstrated a good level of robustness, especially compared to automated tracked artillery systems supplied by other Western countries to Ukraine,” such as the German PzH2000 and the American M109.

However, as the Ministry of Armed Forces acknowledged, the limitation of the CAESAr delivered to the Ukrainian army lies in their Operational Condition Maintenance, considering their use on the front line.

“The intensive use of this system by the Ukrainian armed forces requires particularly effective maintenance and leads the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to regularly order the tools, spare parts, and services necessary for its maintenance from Nexter,” it admitted. This is why components of the CAESAr will be produced in Ukraine to speed up the maintenance. 

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