Britain is sending 20 mobile artillery pieces and tens of thousands of shells to Ukraine for what some military analysts expect to become the most extensive artillery campaign since World War II. The self-propelled Howitzers will be sent to Poland this week, where the Ukrainian forces will be taught to use and maintain them before they are deployed to the front.

This comes at a time when all three of Britain’s regular tank regiments and its reserve regiment find themselves deployed on NATO’s flanks in a robust show of force against Russia.

The Brits make some fine self-propelled guns. Image Credit: wearethemighty.com

Today’s Lesson

Today, we’ll be looking at the British AS-90 Self-Propelled Howitzer. The naming on this one is pretty straightforward. “AS” stands for “Artillery System.” The “90” refers to the fact that this particular piece of hardware was developed in the 1990s. I doubt they employed a marketing company to come up with that name. In reality, the official name of the machine is the drab-sounding but descriptive Gun Equipment 155 mm L131. The nickname for this thing is “Braveheart.” Pretty cool. I’ll stick with calling it the AS-90 for the sake of simplicity.

There is no denying that the British could build a great howitzer. In fact, the towed artillery pieces the United States Military uses, the M119 105mm howitzer and the M777 155mm howitzer, are both British designs.  The original design of the M1 Abrams tank was going to use a British Royal Ordinance 105mm M68 cannon that was later switched to a German Reinmetal gun in 120mm,  So the Brits known make good guns.

I think it’s time to interject a quick definition or two here before going any further. Sometimes you hear the terms gun, cannon, and howitzer thrown around as if they were interchangeable and the same thing; they are not.

  • A gun (in the artillery sense) is a cannon designed to fire in a flat trajectory.
  • A howitzer typically has a shorter barrel than a gun and is designed to throw exploding shells in an arcing trajectory.

The British AS-90 in action. Video courtesy of YouTube and LA MAGRA.

The Timing is Right

The increasing numbers of mobile field artillery are coming just in time, as Russian forces are now using their artillery as part of maneuvering tactics instead of relying solely on striking targets.

A NATO military analyst warns:

“If Russia concentrates enough force to surround a significant portion of Ukraine’s best forces, it could make territorial gains which would be difficult to dislodge.”

Mobile pieces such as the AS-90 will help to counter their efforts.

Inside an AS-90 Self-Propelled Gun. The crew prepares to fire during a field training exercise. Image Credit: Twitter and @BritishArmy

The Particulars

Type: Self Propelled Howitzer

Place of Origin: United Kingdom

Manufacturer: Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering

Mass: 45 Tons

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Length: 29 ft 9 in

Width: 11 ft 6 in

Height: 8 ft 2 in

Crew: 5 when moving (driver plus 4 gun detachment)

Armor: Maximum 0.66-inch steel

Main Armament: 155 mm L31 39 caliber gun (48 rounds)

Secondary Armament: 7.62 mm NATO L7 General Purpose Machine Gun

Engine: Cummins VTA903T V8 diesel engine making 660 horsepower

Suspension: Hydropneumatic (Hydrogas)

Operational Range: 261 miles (on-road)

Maximum Speed: 33 mph