The story begins in the early 1970’s. During this time the Bundeswehr fielded the US built M109G and M107 self-propelled guns (SPG). These 2 SPGs had maximum engagement ranges of 18 and 32km respectively. The below 20km engagement range of the M109G was increasingly seen as a significant shortcoming of the system when facing it’s soviet opposition. This lack of range was growing even further after the introduction of the FH-70, a towed 155mm gun with a 24-30km engagement range.
Additionally there was a vast numerical difference between NATO artillery pieces and the Warsaw pact inventory in the area of self-propelled tube artillery, with large quantities of 2S1 and 2S3 SPGs being fielded in the Soviet Union and it’s satellite states.
The FH-70 was a trilateral co-development between the UK, Germany and Italy and it’s success spurred Germany on to pursue more collaborative artillery programs. This lead to the signature of an official declaration between Germany, the UK and Italy for the development of the PzH155-1/SP-70. The PzH155-1 would use the proven gun from the FH-70 to be mounted on a modified Leopard 1 chassis. During development Germany was responsible for the main weapons system, chassis and later on also the engine and ammunition. Italy designed the hydraulic components, the hull and the Auxiliary power unit (APU). The UK was in charge of the turret, optical systems and initially the ammunition supply system.
The first of five prototypes (phase A) were be delivered in 1973. All five vehicles were ready for testing in 1976. These tests where carried out in the UK and Norway where the system achieved a sustained 6 RPM and a burst of 3 rounds in 10 seconds. The whole system was powered by an 1.000hp MTU MB871 diesel engine with a top speed of 68km/h. Despite these seemingly promising results the PzH155-1/SP-70 was ultimately poised to fail. Technical problems plagued the project sowing doubts that it could enter service withing the set deadlines. However work would go on as the expected sales potential of the system was deemed worth the expense.
It was anticipated that between the 3 participants a total of 711 systems would be required. Phase B and C were completed in the early 1980’s with 2 new prototypes build. The Phase B model can be identified by the 2 large recoil buffers attached to the gun cradle while the Phase C model received a fully redesigned turret.
An additional 10 test units were planned to be manufactured. Further modifications to the vehicles ammunition supply and turret were intended to deliver a final product in 1984. The vehicle would be ready for production in 1985. However even more mechanical problems were discovered during trials, putting the future of the project in doubt once again. The expected orders also dropped from 711 to 424 units.
Further controversy would arise as the UK argued in favor of exporting the system to Saudi-Arabia which was in conflict with West-Germany’s arms export policies. The PzH155-1/SP-70 project was finally cancelled in July of 1986. The UK took the experience it gained to develop the AS-90 while Germany applied the lessons from the development process to their next project to replace its ageing howitzers.
One year later West-Germany again tried their hand at developing an SPG, launching the PzH2000 project. The program was deemed necessary due to the growing obsolescenses of the M109A3GEA1. Solving the main problems of previous programs would require a new approach. This led to a competitive tender for the PzH2000 contract.
Two teams participated in the design competition. The first team, colloquially referred to as “Southern Consistory” consisted of Kuka, Porsche, Rheinmetall and Kraus-Maffei. The “Northern Consistory” saw MaK-Kiel, Rheinmetall and Wegmann joining it’s ranks. Unlike in previous programs the army and Wehrtechnische Dienststellen (WTD) would be involved in the design process right from the start by providing mock-ups, functional models and developing certain system features.
This approach lead to shorter timelines on the introduction of improvements to the design but would also result in some off-parallel developments. The “Southern Consistory” developed it’s contender on the the Leopard 2 chassis ” while the “Northern Consistory” chose the Leopard 1 chassis. Both teams used the MTU 881 engine and Renk HSWL 284 gearbox.
While trials showed that the Leopard 2 chassis was better suited to be the carrier vehicle the choice was made to continue with the Northern proposal as they had managed to better solve the ammunition handling question.
A contract was awarded to Wegmann (part of KNDS now) for the construction of 4 PzH2000 prototypes. These were built and delivered between 1991 and 1993, designated as PT01 – PT04. The construction of the hulls would be sub-contracted to MaK-Kiel while Wegmann was responsible for the turrets, ammunition handling system and assembly. As early as 1993 PT-02 would be sent out to WTD41 in Trier for mobility trials while PT-01 would conduct firing trails with WTD91 in Meppen.
The IPS built-in test system was also tested at WTD41 while the navigation system was tested at WTD81. A series of troop trails would follow and last from November 1994 to March 1995. These where carried out by the 95th Armoured Artillery Training battalion in Munster. Soldiers where given a 4 week course on the use of the system by Wegmann. One key factor being tested here was the FÜWES/ADLER digital artillery command system. Live fire exercises were an important aspect of the troop trials, where the system performed better then expected. A three round burst could be fired in 9.2 seconds and 20 rounds of sustained fire would be completed in two and a half minutes.
Meanwhile PT-03 and -04 where undergoing Arctic trials in Shilo Canada from November 1994 to February 1995. After the Arctic trials PT-03 and -04 would perform desert trials from May to August 1995 in Arizona, USA. Here the two vehicles performed live fire trails at the Yuma proving grounds firing a total of 1.480 rounds.
From April to October of 1995 the two prototypes were transferred to the Army School of Technology in Aachen. Here the vehicles were assessed on their logistical and sustainment footprint. Another major part of the program were the so called “Blockgarantien” which would guarantee in-time cost-effective spare parts supply for the PzH2000.
During all trials the vehicles fired a combined total of 17.400 shells and drove about 30.000km.
Already during trials there was a initial pre-production run from 1996 to 1997, resulting in challenges with project management as only a few months remained after trials to make improvements on the design before the production would start. This ambitious timeline led to experts’ concerns over repeating mistakes of previous programs which also were allocated more time to work out design flaws before adoption.
Despite initial doubts on the 14th of March an order was placed for a first batch of 185 vehicles. These would be built by the now merged Kraus-Maffei Wegmann company. In early 1998 the first vehicle came off the production line for final factory trials.
Delivery of the system
The Bundeswehr received their first PzH2000 on the 1st of July 1998. The Panzerartilleriebataillon 345 would be the first unit to be equipped with the new guns. A problem that was never solved for the PzH was finding a suitable name for the system. The committees were not short of possible suggestions but at the end of the day no name would end up being chosen for the system. Some examples of proposed names include; Adler, Bison, Blitz, Buffel, Bulldogge, Condor, Echse, Grizzley, Herkules, Jupiter, Kobra, Tarantul, Titan, Waran, Wotan or Russel.
The PzH2000 comes with a 155mm/L52 gun that is 9,12m long. It achieves a engagement range of 30km with a L15A1 projectile but can reach 40+km with RH 40 DM131 using the MTLS modular propellant system.
The PZH features a 60 shell internal magazine in the full and a magazine for 288 charges In the turret. The automated shells handling allows 2 soldiers to reload all 60 rounds in just 12 minutes. Even Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany can do it.
The system does not have a way to recognize which shells are being loaded requiring that this information be given to the systems computer manually. This then allows the crew to select which type of shells they want to load next. The system itself allows a well trained crew to achieve a 3 round burst in 8-9 seconds or a sustained fire rate of 20 rounds which would be fired in 1 minute 47 seconds. Video from WTD91 filmed in 1997 demonstrates the rate of fire.
On top of this fire rate the system is also capable of a five round Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) engagment where it fires five shells at different trajectories allowing them to all land on target at about the same time. The PzH2000 weighs in at 55,8 tons (MLC60) and is powered by the 8 cylinder MTU 881 Ka-500 engine paired with the Renk HSWL 284C gearbox. This allows the vehicle to reach speeds up to 62km/h.
In terms of protection the vehicle is rated against 14.5mm machine gun fire from all sides as well as shrapnel from 155mm shells. Additionally add on armor like “Hedgehog” modules can be mounted to the roof for protection against cluster munitions.
- Italy would be the first export customer of the PzH2000. In 2000 they would order a total of 70 PzH2000 of which 68 would be build locally in Italy by OTO-Melara. These guns received the designation PzH2000I and where delivered between 2007 and 2010.
- Greece would sign for 24 units in 2001 that where be designated PzH2000HEL. Delivery would take place between 2003 and 2004. These models received Night vision sights by Theon for the driver and the WISPR digital radio system.
- In 2002 the Netherlands would after and open tender between PzH2000, AS-90, M109A6 and G6-52 end up ordering 57 PzH2000. This number would however be reduced to 39 guns after a reorganization of the Dutch military. All Dutch units where delivered between 2004 and 2007. But in late 2007 a further reduction in the Dutch artillery force saw the number of active guns reduced to 24 PzH2000NL with the remaining 15 units going into storage.
- Qatar would order 24 PzH2000 in 2013 along side their order for 62 Leopard 2A7Q. These would later be fitted with the Sigma 30 GPS system.
- Croatia would buy 15 second hand PzH2000 from Germany in 2015. Delivery was completed by 2019. 3 of these where to serve as spare parts donors.
- Lithuania just like Croatia was able to buy surplus PzH2000 from Germany in 2015. A total of 21 units would be transferred to them by 2022.
- Hungary would purchase 24 PzH2000 in 2018. Delivery of these PzH2000HU is underway as of me writing this article.
- Romania would announce is late September 2023 that it had picked 3 candidates for it’s self propelled gun tender. PzH2000 will take on South Korean K9A1 and Turkish T-155 Firtina. A winner has not been announced as of writing this article.
- Sweden, Finland, Norway, Australia and Turkey would all trial the PzH2000 but none of them would end up ordering the system.
Service with Ukraine
Germany would order 22 new PzH2000 in 2023 to replace units sent to Ukraine and those pulled from service that would serve as spare parts donors for Ukraine’s PzH fleet.
Ukraine has so far received a total of ~28 PzH2000 since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion. Ukraine would put these guns into intense combat scenarios not without controversy. The PzH2000 is a lot more maintenance intensive and far more sensitive than the Soviet guns Ukrainian forces were used to operating. The relatively short training window of 40 days would exacerbate this problem as crews where not fully trained on how to maintain their vehicles.
To remedy this issue a repair center for the PzH2000 would be setup in Lithuania where more then a dozen units have received repairs so far, including the single PzH2000 damaged by enemy fire.
Meanwhile Ukrainian crews when interviewed praise the performance of the system despite its maintenance requirements.
Ukraine would receive 14 units from Germany, 8 from the Netherlands and up to 6 vehicles from Italy. To this day only one of the vehicles is known to have received damage from Russian fire. There was an approval for a 100 unit sale to Ukraine around August 2022 but no contract for their production has been signed.
The original Twitter thread.
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