During a 14-week ‘train the trainer’ course taught at a frozen military base in Boden, Swedish Lapland, the Swedish School of Artillery instructed British gunners from Larkhill, Wiltshire, on how to fire the Swedish-made Archer howitzer systems.

Defence Equipment and Support – the UK Ministry of Defence’s procurement arm – acquired 14 Archer systems from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration for the Royal Artillery, whose 32 AS90 Braveheart howitzers were donated to Ukraine prior to the new acquisition.

In October 2023, the first of Britain’s Archer systems had arrived in the UK just six months after the Government signed the contract for the systems.

The Archer FH77 BW L52 is a 155-millimetre (mm) self-propelled howitzer manufactured by BAE Systems Bofors in Karlskoga, Sweden. It is fully autonomous and can be used in traditional warfare fire support, as well as modern international peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions.

It has a 40-kilometre (km) range using current standard ammunition, and a 60km range with the M982 Excalibur rounds (an extended-range guided artillery shell). The howitzer can also fire the Bonus top attack rounds developed by Bofors and Giat (now Nexter).

Its 52 calibre gun uses the proven design of the cradle and recoil system from the current generation FH 77B towed field howitzer. Being equipped with a target acquisition or designation sight feature, the gun has a direct fire capability.

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A commercial articulated hauler provides the vehicle with rapid deployment and redeployment capability.

It also has added protection for its three-to-four-person crew against 7.62mm rounds and armour penetration rounds and six kilogramme mines.

“They very kindly offered to deliver this package, to be able to convert the artillery batteries in the UK onto the Archer system and have bent over backwards to support us in our training, and indeed will continue that support when we go back to Wiltshire,” Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Talbot-King, the Chief Instructor for the Training Delivery Wing stated.

The course follows the same length and syllabus as that taught to the Swedish instructors to qualify them to teach their conscripts.

“The need for the extensive package is that the gun is so complex,” explained Fanjunkare (Master Sergeant) Johannes Borgstedt-Faläng, one of the Swedish Gunnery Instructors, who has spent the last three months working closely with our artillery soldiers.

“If you come from an AS90 or any other gun platform it is a lot less digital and not as much manual labour as it is on the standard older howitzers. You need much more in-depth knowledge of the computer system and fault management.”

The AS90 has been upgraded with BAE Systems’ laser inertial artillery pointing system (LINAPS) digital gun sight. LINAPS provides the gunner with the position of the gun and the exact bearing and elevation of the barrel.

“The challenges of that are when you go from a physical job to pushing buttons it is ‘hard to get your head around it,’ you are used to doing it manually, and when the gun does it for you, you’re not comfortable with it,” Borgstedt-Faläng added.

Ukrainian artillery crews organise their ammunition before firing AS90 155mm self-propelled gun. The programme is part of the UK’s enduring commitment to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia, 24 March 2023. Credit: Crown Copyright/UK Ministry of Defence.