The UK’s revelation that it will be sending additional AS90 155mm self-propelled howitzers (SPH) to Ukraine as part of the earlier announced April security package will lead to a further reduction of the British Army’s 155mm artillery capability, as it prepares for the introduction of the RCH 155 platform under the Mobile Fires Platform (MFP) programme.

Although the number of additional AS90 platforms being sent to Ukraine by the UK Government was initially undisclosed, on 29 April the UK Government stated it had provided a total of 50 AS90 self-propelled 155mm guns to Ukraine, an increase from the previously known figure of 32, indicating the latest provision could be for 18 platforms.

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Should this be the case, the British Army’s AS90 fleet could be reduced to just 16% of its original delivered strength.

The information was revealed after the UK Government announced earlier in April a new £500m ($624.5m) security package intended for Ukraine. Subsequent posts on social media by the UK have talked up the country’s commitment to supporting Ukraine.

In April 2023 the UK stated that it had completed the delivery of 32 AS90 155mm SPHs to Ukraine, which had been announced months earlier. The UK also provided at least 36 of its L119 105mm towed artillery pieces to Kyiv, in what at the time was a significant departure from the type of military equipment being provided by Nato members to Kyiv.

In a bid to bridge the capability gap created by the donation of 32 AS90s, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) opted to procure an interim self-propelled artillery solution, confirming an agreement to purchase 14 Archer 155mm SPHs from Sweden, the first of which have recently arrived in UK service for testing.

The UK selected the Boxer-based RCH 155 for its Mobile Fires Programme, which will not deliver for some years. Credit: KNDS

The interim solution was acquired in addition to the plan to procure a new SPH fleet under the MFP programme, which in April 2024 saw the MoD select the Boxer-based Remote-Controlled Howitzer 155mm Wheeled Artillery Systems (RCH 155), in a joint programme with Germany.

Earlier in April, UK Defence Procurement Minister James Cartlidge stated that the country would see a next-generation artillery system acquired “within five years”, with the programme at that time seeking approval to commence an assessment phase. Given this, it is likely that the first RCH 155 SPHs will begin to arrive in the 2029 timeframe.

At the time of publication, the UK MoD had not responded to questions from Army Technology regarding the number of additional AS90s being donated to Ukraine, nor any additional interim system that might be acquired to bridge the British Army’s looming 155mm artillery capability gap.

UK calculating benefits of donating AS90 before service end

The dramatic fall in UK 155mm SPH numbers is stark, with the British Army receiving 179 AS90 platforms from 1992-1995. However, numbers have been steadily withdrawn, with the UK having 134 units in service in 2008, reducing to 117 by 2015, according to UK MoD figures.

Following the granting in kind of the new batch of a potential 18 AS90s to Ukraine, the British Army could be left with around 30 platforms remaining, or enough guns to fill a single regiment.

British Army Archer undergoing firing training in Sweden earlier this year. A small number were selected in 2023 to fill the gap created by an earlier donation of AS90 to Ukraine. Credit: UK MoD/Crown copyright

Although the AS90 is officially due to leave service in 2030, it is probable that the remaining 30 or so units available will be either donated to Ukraine at a later date, or else retired early. With the British Army moving all-in for commonality to reduce logistics burdens, maintaining a three-design fleet of 155mm artillery in the late-2020s of the Archer, AS90, and new RCH 155, is unlikely.

It appears that the UK is content to provide Ukrainian forces with capabilities it needs immediately, rather than keep British Army inventories stocked should they be required by its own military at some point in the near- to medium-term.

The apparent trade off will see the UK draw down the vast majority of its 155mm capability for up to five years, outside of a small number of Archers, before increasing numbers from the 2030s.

Scimitar scout tanks included in UK assistance package

Additional details released by the UK Government as to the exact contents of the £500m military aid package to Ukraine has also revealed the inclusion of FV107 Scimitar armoured reconnaissance vehicles and armoured personnel carriers, likely the FV430 Bulldog.

In a series of information releases by the UK Government on 7 May, it was disclosed that of the 400 vehicles being provided to Kyiv as part of the package, some 162 armoured vehicles of “further AS90 155mm artillery guns and Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked), and 78 all-terrain vehicles made up of Bv-206 and Viking”.

In addition, it appears that the package has been designed to increase the capabilities of a specific unit within the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Ukrainian marine corps.

“These will provide much needed additional artillery support, reconnaissance capabilities, and amphibious mobility to support development of the Ukrainian marine corps,” said Leo Docherty, Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

The Scimitar light tank is also being provided to Ukrainian forces. Credit: UK MoD/Crown copyright

It was also confirmed that the latest package does not include Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, Challenger 2 main battle tanks, nor any 152mm or 155mm artillery ammunition, both of which are in critical demand but short supply in the Ukrainian military. Further, no remote minefield breaching systems, Python minefield breaching systems, or Trojan armoured engineer vehicles, are to be provided.

The UK Government had originally stated in April that package included more than 400 armoured, protected, and all-terrain vehicles, more than 1,600 munitions in the form of both strike and air defence missiles, as well as additional Storm Shadow long-range precision-guided missiles.

It was also stated that the package would not include the DragonFire laser directed energy weapon system, which is planned to enter UK service in 2027.