155mm shells blasted from the eight-metre-long barrel of an AS9 Huntsman self-propelled howitzer shaking the ground at Port Wakefield, South Australia, as soldiers from the Joint Proof and Experimental Unit (JPEU) collected data from behind shielding.
CAPTION: An Australian Army AS9 Huntsman self-propelled howitzer test fires a practice round at the Proof & Experimental Establishment at Port Wakefield. Story and photos bySergeant Matthew Bickerton.
Hundreds of rounds have been fired to verify that in-service and future ammunition, and propellant types, won’t exceed the gun’s specifications, ensuring crew safety and reliability in combat.
Gunners in high-vis did everything from loading, firing and coordinating the shooting serials from August to December – working alongside Hanwha Defense Australia staff, which will help bring the system into service.
Master Gunner Warrant Officer Class One Nicholas Windridge, from JPEU, said the Royal Australian Artillery had long wanted to integrate self-propelled howitzers into its arsenal.
CAPTION: Australian Army soldier Sergeant Joshua Goldstraw from the Joint Proof and Experimental Unit supervises a test firing of an Australian Army AS9 Huntsman self-propelled howitzer at the Proof & Experimental Establishment at Port Wakefield.
He said that while in-service M777s had maximum ranges of 18 to 22 kilometres, the AS9 could potentially reach up to 60 kilometres.
“By having guns further from the frontline combined with added mobility, commanders will have the flexibility to focus fires more effectively across the battle space,” Warrant Officer Windridge said.
Army is scheduled to acquire 30 self-propelled howitzers and 15 AS10 armoured ammunition resupply vehicles (collectively termed the Huntsman family of vehicles), with delivery commencing from 2025.
Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Smith, project manager Protected Mobile Fires, said initial testing would conclude by year’s end, with range and accuracy trials scheduled for next year at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.
“At this stage, 4 Regiment will be accepting the capability into service, replacing their M777s with the self-propelled howitzers,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Smith said the M777s would continue to play a role where light and air mobile forces were required.
An impressive feature of the AS9 Huntsman is its capacity to fire successive rounds timed to hit the target simultaneously.
It can fire three rounds in a 15-second burst, with a sustained rate of six to eight rounds a minute until empty.
This is aided with a semi-automated loading system, reducing the crew’s workload and enhancing the rate of fire.
The AS9 Huntsman, which is based on the South Korean K9 Thunder, will undergo substantial modifications for enhanced explosive ordnance integration, bolstered soldier protection, and advanced digital capabilities.
The AS9 and AS10 Huntsman will be manufactured at a Hanwha Defense Australia factory in Geelong, Victoria.
CAPTION: Operators from the Australian Army (right) and Hanwha Defense Australia load a practice round into an Australian Army AS9 Huntsman self-propelled howitzer at the Proof & Experimental Establishment at Port Wakefield.