The Fate of 152mm DANA Howitzers: First Modernization, Now Write-Off. The Turn was Caused by a Tender for a Fire Control System

 21. 08. 2020      category: Army of the Czech Republic

The marketing motto of the Army of the Czech Republic is "we know what we want. It was well thought out, and it would be really great if the military finally knew what it wanted. Or rather if external influences did not always talk into what the army wanted in a way that turned the original intention completely upside down ... and then stored it away. This is likely to happen to the self-propelled DANA howitzers as well. We recently wrote that after the rearmament, the army would want to keep DANA howitzers in modernization reserves and continue to use them for the Active Reserves, which had been training with these howitzers for years and could control them perfectly. It is also a fact that these particular weapons continue to be used by neighbouring Allied armies. In the Czech Republic, however, this matter has been on a hook for a long time.

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Picture: DANA 77 self-propelled gun howitzer | 13th Artillery Regiment "Jaselský"

The army currently has 89 self-propelled gun howitzers DANA model 77 of 152mm caliber. It was not so long ago, at the beginning of 2017, when the same army wanted to modernize part of its old howitzers, 33 pieces, and add seventeen new 155mm caliber systems, which would meet the requirement of direct and general fire support of troops at a distance of 40 km defined in the Czech Armed Forces Development Concept 2025 from 2015. 

Despite the much more generous number of modern French CAESAR systems that will be purchased in the near future, the DANA gun howitzers have not yet exhausted their potential, not only because of the large stockpile of 152mm ammunition. "If we have tens of thousands of functional cartridges, it is not pointless to get some of DANA's howitzers to a state where they could serve for another fifteen or twenty years, all that for relatively affordable price," said Daniel Koštoval, the then Deputy Minister for Acquisitions, in 2016. And in addition to ammunition, this is of course also an opportunity for the Czech defence industry. DANA howitzers have already undergone two modernization processes carried out on the initiative of several companies (Tatra Trucks, Excalibur Army, RETIA), and STV Group has experience with the modernization of Polish howitzers.

But what stands in the way of further use of DANA howitzers is a boulder in the form of the ODIN artillery fire control system, which has been preferred since mid-2017. If at the beginning of 2017 there was talk about the modernization of 33 DANA howitzers, in June 2017 everything was different. The Ministry of Defence commissioned a marketing study that assessed AFATDS fire control systems by the American company Raytheon, ODIN by the Norwegian Köngsberg represented here by OMNIPOL, and TOPAZ by the Polish WB Electronics represented by RETIA. The result of the study was the most favourable to the Norwegian solution, and since then it has only gone downhill for the DANA howitzers: Western fire control systems "are not able to" control the artillery caliber of the former Warsaw Pact. The marketing study mentions this feature as an advantage of the Polish TOPAZ system - the Polish army has 85 modernized DANA-T systems, which use this fire-control system.

And already in May 2018, the then Minister of Defence Karla Šlechtová responded to the query of the Member of Parliament and Chair of the Defence Committee Jana Černochová, who asked whether the ACR would require the involvement of the existing 152mm cannons in the newly acquired system: "In connection with finishing the modernization of the 152mm self-propelled gun howitzers model 77 in favour of the acquisition of 155mm self-propelled guns (NATO cannon), the system will not be integrated into the existing 152mm self-propelled gun howitzers model 77. The main reason for this procedure is the direct dependence of fire-control systems (FCS) functionality, i.e. data reception and distribution, on their use of modern digital radio stations, the purchase of which is not planned for existing cannons, because it would be very costly, time-consuming and highly problematic, if not impossible to install (technical and safety point of view)." The ODIN system was then considered a done deal, and no matter which system ultimately succeeds (ODIN is preferred by the Ministry of Defence and VTÚ today, as well as ADLER III from Germany and THOR from Denmark), DANA howitzers are out of the game.

According to the Ministry of Defence, the existing self-propelled gun howitzers model 77 will be "stored and will retain their existing ability to calculate elements. This means that weapons that the army no longer counts on will be stored in warehouses at the army's expense, and any future deployment of them is virtually impossible. Not involving these effective weapons in the fire control system and lack of integration into other command and control systems will mean, among other things, that even our own units, let alone Allied units, would not be aware of their firing.

The question then is why they should actually be stored, why they not sell them. In the warehouses, they will gradually lose the last remnants of their value, and then they will be written off and scrapped. A very short time has passed from the time when they were described as modernizable and capable of service for another 15-20 years, to a situation where they are completely unpromising. The concept of artillery armament thus changed in a wink, without it being clear what motivated such a change - maybe it was the "certainty" that the Norwegian fire control system, deployed only by the Norwegian army, is the most suitable for the Czech Army and its French cannons.

 Author: Jakub Samek