The Swedish government back in January pledged to Ukraine nearly a brigade’s worth of armored vehicles: Strv 122 tanks, CV90 infantry fighting vehicles, Bgbv 90 armored recovery vehicles and Archer self-propelled howitzers.
The tanks, fighting vehicles and recovery vehicles went to the Ukrainian army’s 21st Mechanized Brigade. But not the Archers. Ten months after the Swedes pledged the howitzers, we finally have photos of the mobile 155-millimeter guns on the front line.
The gunners in the photo are from the 45th Artillery Brigade. The brigade supports Ukrainian units defending against Russian attacks in and around the Kreminna Forest in eastern Ukraine.
Those units once included the 21st Mechanized Brigade—but no longer. That brigade recently shifted north to defend Kupyansk.
It’s the 21st Brigade’s loss. With its eight Archers, the 45th Brigade now could provide some of the most accurate and responsive fire-support in Russia’s 22-month wider war on Ukraine.
“Archer is an artillery system that can be moved quickly on wheels, fired quickly and has great accuracy,” the Swedish government stated. “It has long been on Ukraine’s wish list.”
The Archer in essence is a turret-mounted Bofors FH77 155-millimeter howitzer fitted to the bed of a modified, armored Volvo heavy-duty dump truck with room for four crew.
An Archer system actually includes three wheeled vehicles: the gun plus an ammunition-hauler and a support vehicle. In combat, the guns in an Archer battery might push close to the front line while the ammo and support trucks stay farther back.
The Archer is unique among wheeled howitzers. While it fires the same NATO-standard 155-millimeter shells as the other guns, it fires them farther. The range in part is a function of the efficient, pre-packaged powder charges that Bofor developed alongside the Archer.
All artillery requires a charge. A gunner loads the shell into the barrel then also packs in bags of powder. More powder means greater range, but too much powder could burst the barrel, wreck the gun and endanger the crew.
Traditionally, gunners measure out their own charges in advance of an operation. The manual method of filling charge bags results in a lot of wasted powder and volleys that don’t travel as far as they might with perfectly-measured charges. That’s why many richer armies are moving toward pre-filled, modular charges. The U.S. Army made the switch around 2007.
An Archer crew can squeeze six and a half charges into one shot, allowing it to lob a shell out to a distance of 25 miles. That’s farther than most other tube artillery systems in the Russia-Ukraine war can fire. The main exceptions are guns of greater caliber, including the 203-millimeter 2S7s that are in use on both sides.
By changing the angle of the gun, tweaking the number of charges and firing fast—three rounds in 15 seconds—an Archer can achieve what Ulf Einefors, then the Archer program manager, in 2005 described as “high momentary effect in target through MRSI.”
MRSI is the acronym for “multiple-round simultaneous impact.” That is, a single gun hitting a single target with several shells at the same time.
Because it can set up in 30 seconds, shoot a shell every five seconds for 15 seconds then prepare for movement in another 30 seconds, an Archer crew can send a salvo toward an enemy position as far as 25 miles away and be on the move before all three rounds explode at the same instant.
It’s unclear whether any other artillery system can match that combination of speed, range and simultaneous impact. As a bonus, the Archer is thickly armored for a howitzer and wears Barrucada camouflage that can mask its visual and infrared signature.
The idea is for an Archer battery to shoot and scoot before the enemy can find it and shoot back. But if nearby enemy forces do manage to see through the camouflage and draw a bead on the Archers, likely using drones, the howitzers can deflect lighter attacks and lay down suppressive fire as they escape.
Einefors highlighted the Archer’s ability to depress its 155-millimeter gun parallel to the ground and shoot directly at targets like a tank does—an emergency function that might be useful in an ambush.
Eight howitzers isn’t a lot of howitzers in a war involving thousands of big guns and launchers on both sides. But eight Archers is better than no Archers if the alternative is an older, slower and less accurate gun.
And the Archers are just some of the new systems in the 45th Brigade. It’s also got American-made M-777 towed howitzers and towed FH70s from either Italy or Estonia, as well as anti-tank missiles and drones.