DANA 77 SpGH upgrade (not only) for Active Reserves: Options, prospects.
The Czech Army priority is to buy new self-propelled gun howitzers NATO 155 mm calibre. However, it does not mean that it shall forfeit its present weaponry. In the same way act our foreign partners who keep using, upgrade or plan to upgrade the Czechoslovak howitzers from 1970s, the first of its kind mounted at wheeled chassis.
DANA 152 mm howitzers mounted at an excellent Tatra chassis were manufactured since 1979 and there were produced 750 pcs in total. It means that this was one of the most successful heavy arms products of the Czechoslovakia (sic, there were manufactured 2800 pcs of L-39 Albatros, to draw a comparison). Let´s mention that it was the first serial production of self-propelled wheeled artillery system in the world, still comparable to dominant tracked systems in the off-road capability.
The Slovak way - finally a new NATO calibre compatible barrel
Slovakia upgraded DANA model to version ZUZANA model 2000, calibre 155mm and between 1998 and 2000 they got 16 pcs of these howitzers. Greek army at Cyprus has the use of another 16 pcs of these howitzers. One year ago, Slovaks ordered for the price of 172 million EUR 25 pcs of ZUZANA 2 model which will be delivered between 2020-2022. Their barrels (8200 mm long) are also manufactured in Slovakia, maximum range of fire is over 40 km. The Slovak manufacturer KONŠTRUKTA will deliver 155 mm artillery ammunition, spare parts and a simulator as well.
Consequently, the question arises why the Czech Ministry of Defence does not demand the ZUZANA 2 self-propelled howitzers in direct intergovernmental acquisition as well? Namely not in the way of a reserve weapon, but as a complete substitute of so far used and only DANA 77 SpGH. Yet, the Ministry is getting also other offers - from foreign and home producers. The leader of home market is Excalibur Army (or rather Czechoslovak Group, into holding of which belongs also Tatra Trucks).
The Czech way - an old barrel as a solution for the reserves?
This is how DANA M1 CZ, that keeps 152 mm calibre with the firing range of approx. 25 km, was presented at first in 2012. The upgrades consisted of the off-road capability, fire accuracy and operation comfort. That was far from enough to fulfilment of requirements to new main weapon of Czech artillery, still it would, for sure, be fast and cheap solution for reserves.
The development continued and DANA M2 was presented to audience in June 2018. Other Czech and Slovak arms factories joined the development. RETIA, for instance, developed a software, ZVS Dubnica nad Vahom and MSM Group manufactured the ammunition with a longer fire range. There were again improved comfort and protection of the crew, the motor and the chassis are above reproach. However, there are still persisting main hindrances to the howitzer acceptance as the new main artillery weapon - 152 mm calibre and only 25,5 km maximum fire range.
So, the question is, why are the Czech manufacturers reluctant to exchange the barrel. Slovaks have done that and even developed their own barrel and ammunition. There is an alternative to this in a way of integration of a barrel produced abroad and purchasing of whatever NATO ammunition. After all, this is the point - our self-propelled howitzers should be compatible with ammunition of our western allies.
The Army of Czech Republic needs both types
Should the Czech arms industry not want to go this way (probably out of economic reasons), does not mean its existing progresses be left without any response. Once the Czech Army buys new howitzers of 155 mm calibre (whoever from, about 30 pcs), there will be still left many SpGH DANA 77 howitzers in its stores. The Active reserves (civil volunteers) artillery unit is since 2018 trained exactly in operation of this system.
Therefore, it is natural to upgrade the present howitzers, but it is necessary to decide either on "small" upgrade (performed by Czech manufacturers as DANA M2) or on "large" one (performed by Slovak manufacturers as ZUZANA 2) The exchange of calibre is, of course, reflected in higher price, so we can suppose reserves to be equipped with 152mm calibre howitzers. Why not? There is ammunition, logistics and the know-how. Should options be still available, it will be necessary to buy such artillery fire-control system which would be compatible with old as well as new systems (as it was successfully managed for instance in Poland).