Last year, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Matveyevsky, Commander of Russia’s Army Missile Troops and Artillery, stated that Russia’s ground forces will have 50-100% more firepower by 2021. The upgrade of these “old warriors” that have been taken out of storage is underway, along with the addition of new systems. Brand-new equipment is being installed. Barrels, recoil mechanisms, and other components are being replaced or refitted.
The modernization of Russia’s “big guns” — the 2S4 Tyulpan (Tulip) 240-millimeter mortar and the 2S7 Pion 203-millimeter howitzer — has attracted the attention of US military analysts. The Cold War weapons are being refurbished to adapt them for modern warfare. The program of modernization started about a year ago. Nothing like it is being done anywhere else in the world. All in all, more than 400 Tyulpans and the same number of Pions have been produced. The exact number of artillery guns that will be added to the arsenal after the modernization has not been released, but the upgrade is in full swing. Analysis of the Russian military press provides some clues as to why the old big guns are back in the ranks.
Last summer, the Uraltranmash company, a subsidiary of Uralvagonzavod, showcased the modernized version of the 2S4 Tyulpan self-propelled mortar with new onboard systems and communications equipment. The 240mm self-propelled mortar is the largest artillery system in the world. It can fire high-explosive, armor-piercing, laser-guided, and cluster munitions as well as tactical nuclear rounds that can destroy hardened defensive positions. The primary ammunition is a high-explosive 53-F-864 mortar projectile that contains 32 kg of explosive charge. Its rate of fire: one round per minute. With rocket-assisted projectiles its range is up to twenty kilometers or more. The mortar was also designed to fire the 3B11, a special nuclear munition developed specifically for this artillery system, which yields an explosive force of 2 tons of TNT — enough to wipe out an army brigade.
The thirty-ton artillery piece is installed on a tracked GMZ vehicle chassis. The system is operated by a crew of nine who are protected by up to twenty millimeters of armor.
The 2S7 Pion is a self-propelled system based on a T-80 chassis carrying an externally mounted 2A44 203mm howitzer on the hull rear, which is capable of firing nuclear munitions. Its rate of fire: 2.5 rounds per minute and its range: roughly 35 km. It can be extended up to 55.5 km, if rocket-assisted projectiles are used. For instance, the 110kg ZFO35 high-explosive fragmentation projectile can hit enemy targets at distances of up to 50 km.
With new automated fire-control systems, these weapons have a future. They make it possible to save precision-guided munitions for specific targets, while destroying those that can be knocked out with powerful conventional artillery shells. Some Russian sources mention the possibility of using the systems for launching hypervelocity missiles. The modernization plans include the ability to fire high-precision munitions with a weight of 133 kg from a distance of 100 km. The accuracy will be improved if drones provide targeting data.
The artillery systems have an important advantage over missiles. They are immune to the effects of electronic warfare. The weapons need neither GLONASS nor GPS. An artillery munition with sophisticated devices attached that enable it to guide the artillery with great accuracy is much cheaper than any missile or a smart bomb. Such a system will be a valuable asset if the mission is to attack targets in the mountains.
Putting heavy caliber artillery back in service is an effective way to substantially increase firepower at a low cost. The big guns have certain advantages compared to contemporary sophisticated systems. With precision-strike capability and the proper equipment installed, they’ll be able to engage in network-centric warfare. The old soldiers are back on duty.