The French Cesar, and why it is so loved in Ukraine

Paul Fiolkowski
5 min readNov 21, 2022

Why is the French Caesar artillery system in such demand? What is the difference with the Anglo-American M777 gun?

— Because we’ve gone back to ‘high intensity’ in Ukraine and counter-battery radars. The Caesar gun ticks all those boxes.

- Because Caesar has a longer range (40km) than conventional guns, due to its longer barrel : 52 calibers (52x155mm), while the M777 is a 39 caliber. The length of the tube increases the thrust of the propellant charge on the shell and therefore the range: the maximum “reference” range of a 39cal is around 30km against 40km for a 52cal. Russian 122mm and 152mm guns are usually 29 or 35cal…

- Because Caesar is more precise (gunners say “dispersion”): less than 1 milliradian (1 mil≈angle of 1m at 1km). This is quite exceptional, especially for the same reason of increased range. At the same range, a 39cal will have a greater dispersion than a 52cal: around 110m at 25km (or ±55m CEP) for the M777 against less than 50m at 30km for the Caesar (or ±25m CEP) . But this is not the only reason: the correct measurement and integration in the ballistic calculation of the wear of the tube, the quality and the temperature of the powders and the meteorological conditions, is essential.

- Because Caesar is able to set into action very quickly (prepare to fire): less than a minute. If the chain of command from the target acquisition means (observers, drones, aviation, counter-battery radars) to the gun is correctly automated, it is possible to achieve less than three minutes between the ‘spotting of a target’ and the departure of the first shell. This performance, combined with the range and the reduced dispersion, make it possible to carry out rapid and precise counter-battery fire (destruction of the opposing artillery).

- Because Caesar is able to set out of battery very quickly (get back in motion after firing): less than a minute. It can therefore easily escape possible counter-battery fire or enemy drone attacks. This is due to the fact that it is mounted on a truck, hence its name: CAmion Equipé d’un Système d’ARtillerie. This truck chassis (6x6 or 8x8) also allows it to reduce its cost of ownership compared to a tracked gun, to go quickly on the road (ubiquity on the battlefield), not to weigh too much (crossing small bridges) etc.

- Caesar can also fire 6 rounds per minute thanks to a semi-automatic loading (4/5 over the duration), which is very correct for 155mm (the shell weighs 45kg plus the propelling charge…), requires only 5 servants and weighs only 18 tons with its armored cabin. Finally, it has a complete and efficient firing control suite: ballistic computer, 3D laser inertial unit fixed on the barrel cradle, initial speed radar, automatic alignment (no topographic assistance needed), automatic pointing and repointing, and a thermal camera for direct firing…

It must of course be admitted that Caesar is not the only self-propelled 52cal in service in the world: German Panzerhaubitze 2000 (55 tons..), Korean K9 Thunder (47 tons), Swedish Archer (30 tons) etc. The crew of all these guns remains protected by armour during the firing phase, the loading is fully automated and they are tracked (except the Archer).

The shielding provides additional but relative security when firing at 30 or 40km (Caesar’s cabin is armoured). Tracks are useful for a tank but questionable for artillery, particularly since the introduction of centralized tyre inflation systems. If the complete automation of the loading makes it possible to “hold” the rate of fire, it is however necessary to manually reload the carousels of loading and thus to leave armour protection. This reloading takes about fifteen minutes during which the self-propelled gun is unavailable for mobility and firing.

The M777, for its part, was entirely designed to be helicopter-borne (titanium etc.), in particular for amphibious operation, bridgehead, etc. Not at all for counter-battery fire. The mobility of artillery guns by helicopter quickly comes up against the supply of ammunition whose weight, unlike a howitzer, cannot be reduced.

The M777 is a towed gun that takes a very long time to set in and out of battery (5 to 6 minutes against less than a minute for a self-propelled gun)

The loading the M777 is fully manual, which does not allow to exceed the rate of four rounds per minute and is actually closer to three.

The fire control system of the M777 is relatively similar to that found on other modern howitzers, including the Caesar.

In short, apart from the light weight, the 777 (a 39cal…) is quite close to the French 155 TRF1 gun of the 80s…

France is the first country in the world to have created this new type of truck-mounted artillery. This is an old tradition of excellence that goes back to the 100 Years War (it was the industrial use of artillery that gave victory to France), the Gribeauval (first “weapon system” which will make the success of Napoleon’s armies), the “75” first rapid fire gun (no resighting), the first 155mm gun in 1915, the AUF1 fully automated SP and now the Caesar, sold to a dozen of countries.

I am not a gunner, but I learned thanks in particular to engineer André Bourgougnon, product manager and father of the Caesar at GIAT Industries (now Nexter) in Bourges (France), who died prematurely of cancer and to whom I dedicate this answer. Rest in peace !

--

--

Paul Fiolkowski

I am just another American expat, who found that yes indeed, the grass can be greener elsewhere.