Heavy SPAAGs for the 2020s?

I wrote about the overlap between artillery, battlefield air defences and C-RAM before, but this time I'd like to focus on a tiny special case:

There's "SPG" (self-propelled gun) in "SPAAG" (self-propelled anti-air gun), maybe there's "SPAAG" in "SPG" as well?

Back last year I wrote in the table "potential" in the cell for "AGM (155 mm)" and "anti-air".

I did so because AGM had reportedly successfully been tested in the C-RAM role, that is shooting down some munition in the air. Well, if it can do so it would be able to hit some aircraft as well, right?

155 mm L/52 AGM, mounted on 8x8 Boxer vehicle

Modern 155 mm L/52 howitzers have about the same muzzle velocities as rifled cannons, so there's certainly no ballistic weakness. The heaviest and mostly prototype-like AAA (anti air artillery) of the Second World War was at around 150 mm calibre, but found not worthwhile compared to 76-128 mm guns. Heavy AAA went away after the 1950s because its projectiles weren't guided, and fast jet aircraft easily dodged the shots with minimal manoeuvres.

Well, nowadays guided projectiles have reached 155 mm howitzers, so that limitation was overcome. Heavy AAA can again hit aircraft at useful distances - though aircraft can easily fly higher.
There is now the possibility that artillery might - assuming dedicated fire control and ammunition - provide ShoRAD (short range air defence), and especially so past the effective ceiling of VShoRAD (very ...) including gun-only SPAAGs and towed light AAA (typically 14.5 to 40 mm calibre). SPGs could do so without adding as much additional personnel as would be required for dedicated ShoRAD missile units. This is relevant not only for the 155 mm calibre, but also for 105 mm artillery.

So there's another overlap that could possibly be a big change, and burden the artillery arm even more by mission diversification/creep.

This might still be interesting for small and not lavishly funded land forces that do not wish to procure dedicated systems such as RBS-23IRIS-T SL or Pantsir S-1/SA-22. The mere possibility that a brigade might reach and destroy a strike fighter at 20,000 ft already limits its freedom of action and thus effectiveness - even if the artillery force was actually busy with other missions and only had a few guided shells for the heavy SPAAG role anyway.

Additionally, SPGs could be used with "dumb" rounds and proximity fuses against simple aerial targets, such as transport aircraft and slow drones. This merely requires a proper rangefinding (laser rangefinder most likely, though classic optical rangefinding may suffice and most simple ranging radars could be used as well) and tracking (RADAR, LADAR/LIDAR, optical or IIR) as well as a nowadays almost negligible fire control computing effort.

Who could develop the required munition?
The Italian Leonardo-Finmeccanica (former OTO-Melara) is a prime candidate with its experience from its DART and VULCANO projects. DART proved their interest in guided munitions for heavy AAA. The French also showed some (abortive) interest in a guided anti-ship munition for their 100 mm naval guns (supposedly so; I never saw details about the project). The Chinese were rumoured to have guided 100 mm shell projects as well.
The U.S.Army might give it a try as well, but that should be ignored even if they did because they would have a too expensive round developed and then cancel it anyway.


P.S.: One example munition - assuming one doesn't use DART - could be a 155 mm discarding sabot round with 105 mm shell that spins slowly, has two rear-facing laser receivers for laser beam riding, three fins, a nose with minute charges for steering, laser proximity fuses and of course a versatile HE-fragmentation warhead that's suitable against glide bombs as much as against combat aircraft. The steering might be able to correct by several hundred metres in a 10 km flight.


  1. Stabilized and automatic 6" and 8" gun mounts were used as shipboard AAA long ago.

    Maneuvering shells appear to be a weak and expensive counterpart to missile systems. On the other hand, the flack barrage remains an effective area deterrent to TACAIR: Vietnam and the 73 war demonstrated that attacking jets are quite vulnerable to simple flak.

    Compared to missiles, a maneuvering shell imposes formidable g-forces which in turn limits seeker head options, carries less explosive/fragmentation in the warhead, and are also less agile.

    As standoff munitions increase in performance, the missile is likely to remain the best counter to tactical aircraft.

    Gun systems best serve deal with drones, helicopters, and foolish jet pilots who get to low and close for their own good. The ZSU 23-4 and Gepard appear to be reasonable examples of SPAAG.


  2. There is actually mature 76 mm Italian Draco AAG system - and it seems to me that You simply don`t mention it. OK, those Italians... http://www.military-today.com/artillery/draco.htm

    1. Draco and its predecessor OTOMATIC are naval DP guns on land vehicles, meant as heavy SPAAGs with land artillery purposes being an afterthought if ever mentioned at all.
      This article was about giving SPGs a munition that makes the enemy fear ShoRAD with a higher ceiling than the more dedicated VShorAD (ManPADS) threat.

      DRACO comes close, but it uses a naval DP gun and isn't really a field artillery thing.

    2. On the AA ceiling: a medium caliber AA gun (57mm -76mm) has a maximum ordinate of ~6,000 meters, while a 127mm gun has a maximum ordinate of ~15,000 meters (effective range is obviously lower altitude).

      Heavy AAA guns certainly can be effective.

      Dual use artillery is always potentially attractive.

      I am not sure where the line between missile/gun is, or where the caliber breakouts are anymore.


    3. I don't compare the hypothetical SPGs that serve as heavy SPAAGs to missiles for a reason:
      Missiles are superior, but you need to add many vehicles and much personnel to add a single missile battery. SPGs would merely need to have some extra software, maybe some extra kit of electronics on the roof and maybe four special rounds. That's enough to push the threat ceiling well past what ManPADS has on offer.

      Air defences don't need to be very lethal; they are already very useful if they are lethal enough to modify the hostile air power's behaviour (reduce their repertoire).
      Strike aircraft flying at 25,000 ft won't detect and ID as many ground targets on most European terrains as when flying at 15,000 ft.

  3. I had this idea some years ago and called it LART (Luftabwehr-Artillerie). And was laughed in many forums because of it, including your old home whq there all my posts about it were deleted.

    I want to add, that analog to the use of ATGM from Tank-Cannons (LAHAT and Co) you could also think about using GTAM in Artillery which would were out the tubes, but who cares in a peer war, which today could not be fighted by us (The West TM) in attritional ways.

  4. Could you also add anti-tank to the repertoire? The obvious historical example of a dual use artillery piece is the German 8.8cm AA/AT; I also read it was used as an ad-hoc field artillery piece with timed fuses...

    I mention AT as they appear to be making a come back in Ukraine:


    If 152/155mm has lost its top dog position due to the ban on sub munitions then would it make sense to centralise on a "Tri-use" calibre, say 105 to 130mm?

    1. A GP gun (AD, AT and indirect fires) gun would inevitably be suboptimal and insufficient in one role.
      It takes 120 mm against old, 130-135 mm against high end MBTs to be fully satisfactory in the AT department.
      So if you go with 130 mm and a 12 rpm autoloader you may have the firepower for all three roles, but the vehicle would be bulky, impossible to protect properly and clearly suboptimal for duel situations against tanks and even IFVs.
      One would also be forced to adapt naval 127 mm munitions for it since army 155 mm munitions would not fit. The barrel would also need to be rifled, which is suboptimal for AT.

  5. http://survincity.com/2013/11/the-last-russian-anti-aircraft-guns-of-152mm/

    152 mm Soviet KM-52 can reach 30km altitude. Up to 17 rounds/minute ROF with 49 pounds ammunition.

  6. Sven often has some very specific and practical ideas (heavy SPAAG, multi-purpose MLR) - and may be there is now an abstract (and abstract only) concept covering (theoretically) all of them. http://warontherocks.com/2016/09/multi-domain-battle-a-new-concept-for-land-forces/

    1. Sure there is an overarching concept, but I'm too lazy to finalize my book draft. :-)