A while back I got a chance to get a tour and demonstration of the both of these selfpropelled 155 mm howitzers and I thought I would share my thoughts on them and what I was told by their respective crews.
First on the PanzerHaubits. The German army's new macho toy
I got a "dry" demonstration of it's advanced automated shell loading system and was quite impressed. It seemed fast, robust and is reliable according to the crew. Naturally you can load it manually as well in case the automated system is damaged. The system works so that you put the rounds in a cradle on the outside aft part of the vehicle and punch a couple of buttons, what kind of grenade it is etc and anter. The grenade is then "sucked inside" and put in a storage rack with impressive speed. When you want to fire later on you specify the grenade type on a touch screen and the computer remembers where those are in the racks and loads it.
The vehicle also seemed well thought out and the aft compartment was pretty spacious so you could move around with ease, very important in order for the crew to function at their best.
Another good feature is the consol for angaging targets directly which is located pretty far forward in the vehicle. This consol, normally unmanned, had a screen, some buttons and a, from the looks of it, pretty advanced joystick.
I also took a good look around inside and noted that everything seemed robust and sturdy, even wiring and electric equipment for which notoriously civilian standards are used. Not here, good solid military style.
The driver place was likewise a place where functionality had taken the upper hand. Comfortable with a high tech steering wheel and vehicle control panel.
It also has got attachment points for add-on armour on the outside which shows there has been some planning ahead done.
So all in all I liked this very much and so did the crew, they had yet to manage to get it to break down or get stuck somewhere despite their best tries. The 1000hp engine does a good job albeit a bit loud.
Now to the AS 90 Braveheart. The British army's new howitzer.
This design is a few years older than that of the Panzerhaubitz and I was naturally prepared on that it would seem slightly older to the eye but I had some surprises in store for me, both good and bad.
But more on that later on. First let me tell you on my first impression of it. When I first got inside the first you think is "this is much smaller". My best estimate is that there was only half as much crewspace as in the PzH. I got the feel that this was less well thought out as well and even the seats felt uncomfortable (and I was used to riding around in a very archaic terrain vehicle with less comfort than a Willy's Jeep).
What is also striking is also the fact that it has no automated loading system so everything is done manually. This is cheaper and less space consuming but also slower than an automated system despite what some people thinks about those. The electronic consols seemed more modern than I had anticipated but the rest of the vehicle lived up to my imagination and in one case shocked me. That is, I can swear that NBC system consol must have been salvaged from a Centurion tank from the fifties. It was simply as WWII as you can get today. I asked a guy in the crew about it and he said "you know, I've been thinking the same thing myself".
The paint coats on the metal parts on the inside was thick and with the kind of paint you see on old industry equipment which gave it an archaic feeling. I asked about how durable the vehicle was on the inside and was told that below kneelevel you could spray the dirt off with a high-pressure water wash but above that the equipment was sensitive which I had already suspected seeing the thin and obviously week wiring much more "civilian" in standard than on the PzH.
The engine is quiter on the AS90 for a simple reason. It has got 400 hp less than the PzH despite just beeing a few tonnes lighter. This 600 hp engine is thus insufficient and besides the lower speed the crew had managed to get this vehicle stuck a few times.
No attachment points for add-on armour here.
So to summarise I was a bit disappointed by it.
However, in all fairness it should be mentioned that one AS90 Braveheart costs about half of what one PanzerHaubits costs. I do think the extra cost is justified though.
Comments from anyone?