The 32 British Army AS90 155 mm self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) being gifted to Ukraine will be replaced by Archer 155 mm 6×6 wheeled artillery systems built by BAE Systems Bofors, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 16 March 2023.
The government-to-government sale is being negotiated by the UK MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support procurement arm and Sweden’s Defence Materiel Adminstration (FMV), with a final contract due to be signed imminently.
According to an MoD press release, “The first 14 Archer artillery systems will have ownership transferred to the British Army this month and be fully operational by next April.”
The MoD did not specify in its press release how many Archer systems might be procured beyond the initial 14, but noted that the procurement “enables the UK to quickly replace AS90 until the long-term Mobile Fires Platform delivers later this decade as part of the Future Soldier modernisation programme”.
Manned by a crew of three or four personnel compared to the five-man crew of the AS90, the Archer system has a range of 50 km using extended-range ammunition: twice the 25 km range of the AS90, according to the MoD. It has a rate of fire of eight rounds per minute and can fire four rounds in a simultaneous-impact mode. As well as using conventional artillery ammunition, the Archer system can fire BONUS anti-armour rounds and Excalibur precision-guided munitions.
The Archer system has been in service with the Swedish Army since 2016, while on 16 March – the same day the UK MoD announced its Archer purchase – the Swedish government announced that it would send eight Archer systems to Ukraine.
“While continuing to double down on our unwavering support for Ukraine, it’s imperative we simultaneously replenish our capabilities at home,” UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was quoted as saying in the MoD press release. “Archer artillery systems are powerful, protective and can be rapidly deployed. This agreement with a close European ally will sustain the British Army’s requirements until the longer-term Mobile Fires Platform comes into service – a programme we are working hard to accelerate.”
Lieutenant General Sharon Nesmith, the British Army’s Deputy Chief of the General Staff, was quoted as saying, “Archer is a potent, modern artillery system procured at a speed previously unseen in Defence. Today’s agreement took only eight weeks to secure and the guns will be in service with the British Army by next Spring.
“Archer fires further and faster than any artillery system previously in service with the British Army; it is a step change in capability and fills a gap left by UK support to Ukraine.”
The MoD additionally noted that the UK and Sweden have also agreed to collaborate on bringing together efforts for repair and maintenance of vehicles granted in kind to Ukraine.
The British Army originally received 179 AS90 systems from 1992, but currently has only 89 systems in service. The out-of-service date for these systems had slipped from 2030 to 2032, but procurement of a new UK artillery system to replace them under the Mobile Fires Platform programme is being accelerated so that the system can enter service around 2027. Archer is among the systems vying to fulfil this requirement.