Self-propelled artillery

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British AS-90s firing in Basra, Iraq, 2006. AS-90 self-propelled artillery.JPG
British AS-90s firing in Basra, Iraq, 2006.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 of the German Army arriving in Afghanistan PzH2000 in Afghanistan.jpg
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 of the German Army arriving in Afghanistan
A 2S19M2 Msta-S of the Russian Army AlabinoTraining0904-34.jpg
A 2S19M2 Msta-S of the Russian Army

Self-propelled artillery (also called mobile artillery or locomotive artillery) is artillery equipped with its own propulsion system to move towards its target. Within the terminology are the self-propelled gun, self-propelled howitzer, self-propelled mortar, and rocket artillery. They are high mobility vehicles, usually based on continuous tracks carrying either a large field gun, howitzer, mortar, or some form of rocket/missile launcher. They are usually used for long-range indirect bombardment support on the battlefield.

Artillery class of weapons which fires munitions beyond the range and power of personal weapons

Artillery is a class of heavy military ranged weapons built to launch munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry's small arms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach defensive walls and fortifications during sieges, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines. As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery cannons developed for battlefield use. This development continues today; modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility providing the large share of an army's total firepower.

Self-propelled gun combat vehicle type

A self-propelled gun (SPG) is a form of self-propelled artillery, and in modern use is usually used to refer to artillery pieces such as howitzers.

Rocket artillery class of rockets used as artillery

Rocket artillery is a type of artillery equipped with rocket launchers instead of the more conventional guns, howitzers, or mortars. Types of rocket artillery pieces include multiple rocket launchers.


In the past, self-propelled artillery has included direct-fire vehicles, such as assault guns and tank destroyers. These have been heavily armoured vehicles, the former providing close fire-support for infantry and the latter acting as specialized anti-tank vehicles.

Assault gun

An assault gun is a form of self-propelled artillery which uses an infantry support gun mounted on a motorized chassis, normally an armored fighting vehicle. Assault guns are designed to provide direct fire support for infantry attacks, especially against other infantry or fortified positions. The term is a literal translation of the German word Sturmgeschütz, which was applied to the first purpose-built assault gun, the StuG III, in 1940.

Tank destroyer type of armored fighting vehicle

A tank destroyer or tank hunter is a type of armoured fighting vehicle, armed with a direct-fire artillery gun or missile launcher, with limited operational capacities and designed specifically to engage enemy tanks.

Modern self-propelled artillery vehicles may superficially resemble tanks, but they are generally lightly armoured, too lightly to survive in direct-fire combat. However, they protect their crews against shrapnel and small arms and are therefore usually included as armoured fighting vehicles. Many are equipped with machine guns for defense against enemy infantry.

Shrapnel shell anti-personnel artillery shell which carried a large number of individual bullets

Shrapnel shells were anti-personnel artillery munitions which carried a large number of individual bullets close to the target and then ejected them to allow them to continue along the shell's trajectory and strike the target individually. They relied almost entirely on the shell's velocity for their lethality. The munition has been obsolete since the end of World War I for anti-personnel use, when it was superseded by high-explosive shells for that role. The functioning and principles behind Shrapnel shells are fundamentally different from high-explosive shell fragmentation. Shrapnel is named after Major-General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), a British artillery officer, whose experiments, initially conducted on his own time and at his own expense, culminated in the design and development of a new type of artillery shell.

Armoured fighting vehicle combat vehicle designed with both armament and armored protection

An armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) is an armed combat vehicle protected by armour, generally combining operational mobility with offensive and defensive capabilities. AFVs can be wheeled or tracked. Main battle tanks, armoured cars, armoured self-propelled guns, and armoured personnel carriers are all examples of AFVs.

Machine gun fully automatic mounted or portable firearm

A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm designed to fire rifle cartridges in rapid succession from an ammunition belt or magazine for the purpose of suppressive fire. Not all fully automatic firearms are machine guns. Submachine guns, rifles, assault rifles, battle rifles, shotguns, pistols or cannons may be capable of fully automatic fire, but are not designed for sustained fire. As a class of military rapid-fire guns, machine guns are fully automatic weapons designed to be used as support weapons and generally used when attached to a mount- or fired from the ground on a bipod or tripod. Many machine guns also use belt feeding and open bolt operation, features not normally found on rifles.

The key advantage of self-propelled over towed artillery is that it can be brought into action much faster. Before the towed artillery can be used, it has to stop, unlimber and set up the guns. To move position, the guns must be limbered up again and brought—usually towed—to the new location. By comparison, self-propelled artillery can stop at a chosen location and begin firing almost immediately, then quickly move on to a new position. This shoot-and-scoot ability is very useful in a mobile conflict and particularly on the advance. [1]


Shoot-and-scoot is an artillery tactic of firing at a target and then immediately moving away from the location from where the shots were fired to avoid counter-battery fire.

Conversely, towed artillery was and remains cheaper to build and maintain. It is also lighter and can be taken to places that self-propelled guns cannot reach. Since the Vietnam War, heavy transport helicopters have also been used for rapid artillery deployment. So, despite the advantages of the self-propelled artillery, towed guns remain in the arsenals of many modern armies. [1]

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975.

Arsenal place for arms and ammunition

An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition are made, maintained and repaired, stored, or issued, in any combination, whether privately or publicly owned. Arsenal and armoury or armory are mostly regarded as synonyms, although subtle differences in usage exist.



Zamburaks were swivel guns mounted atop camels to provide swift-moving artillery during the early to mid-eighteenth century in west Asian military cultures. They saw extensive use during the Naderian Wars. Camel artillery iran.JPG
Zamburaks were swivel guns mounted atop camels to provide swift-moving artillery during the early to mid-eighteenth century in west Asian military cultures. They saw extensive use during the Naderian Wars.
A lifesize model of a Swedish 1850s horse artillery team towing a light artillery piece at full gallop on display at the Army Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. Horse artillery rear.jpg
A lifesize model of a Swedish 1850s horse artillery team towing a light artillery piece at full gallop on display at the Army Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

During the Thirty Years' War, early 17th century experiments were made with early types of horse artillery. Batteries towed light field guns where most or all of the crew rode horses into battle. The gunners were trained to quickly dismount, deploy the guns and provide instant fire support to cavalry, and act as a flexible reserve. The Russian army organized small units of horse artillery that were distributed among their cavalry formations in the early 18th century. While not forming large batteries and employing only lighter 2- and 3-pound guns, they were still effective and inflicted serious losses to Prussian units in the Seven Years' War. This inspired Frederick the Great to organize the first regular horse artillery unit in 1759. Other nations quickly realized the capability of the new arm and by the start of French Revolutionary Wars in 1790s Austria, Hannover, Portugal, Russia, France, Great Britain and Sweden had all formed regular units of horse artillery. The arm was employed throughout the Napoleonic Wars and remained in use throughout the entire 19th century and into the first half of the 20th century, when advances in weapons technology finally made it obsolete. [2]

Thirty Years War War between 1618 and 1648; with over 8 million fatalities

The Thirty Years' War was a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the most destructive conflicts in human history, it resulted in eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine, and plague. Casualties were overwhelmingly and disproportionately inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire, most of the rest being battle deaths from various foreign armies. In terms of proportional German casualties and destruction, it was surpassed only by the period January to May 1945; one of its enduring results was 19th-century Pan-Germanism, when it served as an example of the dangers of a divided Germany and became a key justification for the 1871 creation of the German Empire.

Horse artillery military branch specialized in employing mobile artillery moved by horse teams

Horse artillery was a type of light, fast-moving, and fast-firing artillery which provided highly mobile fire support, especially to cavalry units. Horse artillery units existed in armies in Europe, the Americas, and some Asian countries, from the 17th to the early 20th century. A precursor of modern self-propelled artillery, it consisted of light cannons or howitzers attached to light but sturdy two-wheeled carriages called caissons or limbers, with the individual crewmen riding on horses. This was in contrast to the rest of the field artillery, which were also horse-drawn but whose gunners were normally transported seated on the gun carriage, wagons or limbers.

Seven Years War Global conflict between 1756 and 1763

The Seven Years' War was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, South Asia, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions: one was led by the Kingdom of Great Britain and included the Kingdom of Prussia, the Kingdom of Portugal, the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and other small German states; while the other was led by the Kingdom of France and included the Austrian-led Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Swedish Empire. Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal.

World War I

British Gun Carrier Mark I (60 pdr). British Gun Carrier Mark I - 60 pdr.jpg
British Gun Carrier Mark I (60 pdr).

The British Gun Carrier Mark I was the first example of a self-propelled gun, fielded in 1917 during World War I. It was based on the first tank, the British Mark I and carried a heavy field gun. The gun could either be fired from the vehicle, or removed and set up as normal. In effect, the carrier replaced the use of a separate horse team or internal combustion engine powered artillery tractor, and allowed a new way for the gun to be used.

Between the wars

The next major advance can be seen in the Birch gun developed by the British for their motorised warfare experimental brigade (the Experimental Mechanized Force) after the end of the War. This mounted a field gun, capable of both the usual artillery trajectories and high angle anti-aircraft fire, on a tank style chassis. It was designed and built as part of a general approach to warfare where all arms, infantry and artillery included, would be able to operate over the same terrain as tanks. The Red Army also experimented with truck- and tank-mounted artillery, but produced none in quantity.

World War II

Disabled German Wespe 105 mm self-propelled artillery vehicle. Destroyed german self-propelled gun carriage.jpg
Disabled German Wespe 105 mm self-propelled artillery vehicle.
Soviet ISU-152 heavy assault gun. ISU-152-latrun-2.jpg
Soviet ISU-152 heavy assault gun.

At the outbreak of World War II, virtually all artillery was still being moved around by artillery tractors or horses. While the German Blitzkrieg doctrine called for combined-arms action, which required fire support for armoured units, during the invasion of Poland and France this was provided by the Luftwaffe using Stuka dive-bombers effectively acting as artillery. Conventional towed howitzers followed.

As the war progressed, most nations developed self-propelled artillery. Some early attempts were often no more than a field gun or anti-tank gun mounted on a truck—a technique known in the British Army as carrying portee . These were mobile, but lacked protection for the crew. The next step was to mount the guns on a tracked chassis (often that of an obsolete or superseded tank) and provide an armoured superstructure to protect the gun and its crew. Many of the early designs were improvised and the lessons learned led to better designs later in the war. For example, the first British design, "Bishop", carried the 25 pdr gun-howitzer, but in a mounting that severely limited the gun's performance. It was replaced by the more effective Sexton.

The Germans were particularly prolific with designs. They created many examples of lightly armored self-propelled anti-tank guns using captured French equipment (example Marder I), their own obsolete light tank chassis (Marder II), or ex-Czech chassis (Marder III). These led to better-protected Assault guns or Sturmgeschütz with fully enclosed casemates, built on medium tank chassis such as the Jagdpanzer IV and Jagdpanther. Some designs were based on existing chassis (such as the Brummbär), leftover chassis from cancelled programs (Elefant and Sturer Emil); others were converted from battle-damaged tanks (Sturmtiger). The single most-produced armored fighting vehicle design for Germany in WW II, the Sturmgeschütz III (StuG III) assault gun, in 1936–37 pioneered the later casemate-style fully enclosed armor that would be used on almost all late-war German self-propelled artillery and Jagdpanzer -format tank destroyers.

The Soviets experimented with truck-and tank-based self-propelled weapons, producing a few Komsomoletz tractor-mounted 57-mm ZiS-2 guns early in the war. By 1943, the series of Samokhodnaya Ustanovka casemate-armored vehicles had started to appear at the front, starting with the SU-85, and by late 1944 the SU-100, which mounted powerful guns on modern chassis adopting the full-casemate enclosure of the crew compartment as the Germans had done with the StuG III. These had the advantage of being relatively cheap to build and mounting a larger gun compared to the conventional tank that they were derived from, but at the expense of flexibility.

Heavily armoured assault guns were designed to provide direct-fire support to infantry in the face of enemy defenses. Although often similar to tank destroyers, they carried larger caliber guns with weaker anti-armor performance but capable of firing powerful HE projectiles. The German 105mm howitzer-armed StuH 42 based on the StuG III, and the immense 152mm howitzer-armed, Soviet ISU-152, both fully casemated in their design, are examples of this type of self-propelled artillery.

All major nations developed self-propelled artillery that would be able to provide indirect support while keeping pace with advancing armoured formations. These were usually lightly armoured vehicles with an open-topped hull; the US M7 Priest, British Sexton (25 pdr) and German Wespe and Hummel being typical examples. A different route was chosen by the Soviets, who did not develop a specialized indirect fire vehicle, but following a tradition of dual-purpose towed artillery, built a series of versatile assault guns with indirect fire capabilities (example ISU-152). A related and novel program was the development of the Soviet Katyusha self-propelled multiple rocket launchers, which were unarmored trucks with a simple rocket rack on the back, a cheap and crushingly effective weapon, provided area saturation was called for rather than accurate fire.

After the end of World War II, the assault gun fell from use with a general trend towards a single heavy gun-equipped vehicle, the main battle tank, although some wheeled AFV's such as the South African Rooikat, the Maneuver Combat Vehicle of the JGSDF, and the US M1128 MGS, among others, are still developed with large-caliber, direct fire weapons. Self-propelled indirect-fire artillery remains important and continues to develop alongside the general purpose field gun.


IDF Makmat 160 mm mortar (see postwar Sherman tanks). Makmat-160.jpg
IDF Makmat 160 mm mortar (see postwar Sherman tanks).

Many vehicles have used ancillary smoke mortar s for local defense, which project one or more smoke grenades in a pattern that allows them to lay down a smoke screen some distance in order to conceal the vehicle from enemy observers. Mortar carriers are vehicles which carry a mortar as a primary weapon. Numerous vehicles have been used to mount mortars, from improvised civilian trucks used by insurgents, to modified IFV's, such as variants of the M3 half track and M113 APC, to vehicles specifically intended to carry a mortar, such as the 2S31 Vena. The Israeli Makmat is a mortar carrier based on the M4 Sherman tank chassis.

The Russian army uses a 2S4 Tyulpan (Tulip) self-propelled 240 mm heavy mortar. Patria Hägglunds, a joint venture between Finnish Patria and Swedish BAE Systems Hägglunds manufactures AMOS (Advanced Mortar System), which is a 120 mm automatic twin barrelled, breech loaded mortar turret. There are also numerous AFV's and even MBT's that can be equipped with a mortar, either outside or inside of the cabin. The Israeli Merkava MBT carried a 60mm mortar in the small troop compartment in the rear, which fired through an opening in the roof, allowing the crew to remain protected. This was useful for fighting nearby infantry, as a mortar is shorter ranged and cheaper to shoot than the large main gun, as well as being better suited to wounding enemy infantry taking cover behind objects. However, since the mortar is only a secondary weapon in this case, the Merkava is not considered a mortar carrier.

Howitzers and guns

Slovak Self-propelled 155mm Howitzer model 2000 Zuzana 155mm Skh Zuzana.jpg
Slovak Self-propelled 155mm Howitzer model 2000 Zuzana
A Swedish Bandkanon 1 Bandkanon 1.jpg
A Swedish Bandkanon 1

Self-propelled artillery remains important in the equipment of many modern armies. It saw a significant role throughout the Cold War era conflicts and in the recent Gulf Wars.

Modern SP artillery is highly computerized with the ability to self survey firing positions using systems such as GPS and inertial navigation systems. This, in conjunction with digital fire control/ballistic computers and digital communications, allows individual guns to disperse over a wide area and still deliver rounds on target simultaneously with the other guns in their battery.

These capabilities also increase survivability many fold as modern SP artillery can displace and avoid counterbattery fire much more quickly and effectively and, if desired, more frequently than previously possible. In conjunction with modern logistic systems (where the SP gun's systems can track and report on ammunition consumption and levels) with similar navigation systems and palletized load dropping/lifting capabilities mean that the rapid displacement can occur without significant disruption to actually firing missions as it is possible for the ammunition to keep up with the guns.

A modern battery of six guns, each firing 43 kg projectiles with a burst firing speed of four rounds per minute, can deliver over a metric tonne of ordnance per minute for up to four minutes. This is an immense weight of fire, which can be delivered with very high accuracy.

One example of the increased firepower provided by modern mobile howitzers is the latest version, the G6-52, of the 155 mm G6 howitzer. It can fire up to six rounds in quick succession that will land nearly simultaneously. This is achieved by firing the shells at different trajectories so that the first round has the longest flight time and the last round the shortest. This is an improvement of the concept of MRSI (Multiple Rounds Simultaneous Impact), itself an enhancement of the earlier TOT (Time On Target) concept. The necessary rapid reloading is made possible by an automated ammunition feed system. [3]

Rockets and missiles

U.S. M270 MLRS Army mlrs 1982 02.jpg
U.S. M270 MLRS

Rockets have greater ranges and carry much more complex "shells" than guns since there is less of a restriction on size (calibre). The MLRS can be used to saturate a large area with sub-munitions.

See also

M109A2 self-propelled howitzers of 4th Battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Division (FWD) conduct artillery strikes on Iraqi positions during the 1st Gulf War. 4-3 FA was the primary fire support battalion for Task Force 1-41 Infantry during the 1st Gulf War, February 1991. DS1991.jpg
M109A2 self-propelled howitzers of 4th Battalion of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Division (FWD) conduct artillery strikes on Iraqi positions during the 1st Gulf War. 4-3 FA was the primary fire support battalion for Task Force 1-41 Infantry during the 1st Gulf War, February 1991.


  1. 1 2 Bailey, Johnathan B. A., Field Artillery and Firepower, Naval Institute Press, 2004, p.6
  2. Hedberg 1987, pp. 11–13.
  3. John Pike. "G6-52 155mm Self-Propelled Gun-Howitzer". Retrieved 2010-03-08.


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