Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Singapore Artillery's Pegasus 155mm guns should wing their way to the museum

With weapons that allow Singapore Artillery gunners to hammer their targets with a bigger bang, more often and with lethal precision, it may be time for the artillery to review its stable of guns.

If one had a free hand to shake up its gun inventory, the 155mm Pegasus Singapore Light Weight Howitzer (SLWH) should be a candidate consigned to the Singapore Army Museum.

This suggestion stems from a review of defence manpower available to Headquarters Singapore Artillery (HQ SA) as well as a review by this blog on how the Singapore-made Pegasus could be used in various simulated operational scenarios.

Make no mistake: Pegasus is a technological marvel.

It is the world's first heli-portable 155mm artillery piece that can emplace and move on its own. Its development cycle was slightly ahead of the M777 155mm artillery gun used by American gunners and has the added advantage of being more mobile that the M777.

Made by Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK), the guns were first fielded by the 23rd Battalion, Singapore Artillery (23 SA), back in 2005.

Pegasus is the second heli-portable gun used by Singapore Army artillery batteries. Development of the gun follows experience HQ SA gained from using French-made Giat Industries 105mm LG1 light guns back in the 1990s.

The Singapore Artillery is now served by gun batteries that have standardised their tubes to 155mm calibre weapons. This makes resupply during fire missions more streamlined as ammo stocks comprising projectiles, charges and fuzes are interchangeable between HQ SA's towed pieces like the FH-2000 heavy artillery guns and Primus self-propelled guns.

Tubes fielded by HQ SA's 10,000+ full-time National Service (NSF) and Operationally-Ready National Serviceman (i.e. reservist) gunners make the Singapore Army's artillery force one to be reckoned with. This is further suggested by a count of NSF and reserve 200-series SA battalions known to be active.

Looking at the density of SAF tube artillery pieces, one could estimate the maximum achievable weight of fire from gunfire alone, assuming a rate of fire of six rounds per minute per gun for all emplaced tube 155mm heavy artillery pieces spread over the xx-plus SA battalions. In any language, this is a massive volume of heavy artillery fire during the opening minutes of a military operation. And one is not even counting the ability of HIMARS rocket artillery to reach out and touch targets further back from the FEBA.

SAF artillery battalions could lay down a devastating volume of artillery fire on targets, up to 40km away, that were charted during a Period of Tension. These fire missions could augment the attention that Singapore air force warplanes and attack helicopters can give to the list of battlefield and strategic targets.

There was one underlying assumption that the study was uneasy about: That the SAF's full force potential will be allowed to mobilise unmolested, without enemy interference. 

Though an award-winning tech wonder, shortcomings of the Pegasus became apparent during the scenario generation exercise.

Pegasus in battle
Airmobility was identified as a constraint to mission planning. This stems not from the weapon's deadweight but from the limited number of Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinook heavy-lift choppers that HQ SA could call upon to move its guns.

The first 24-hour push by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) into its projected area of operations is likely to result in mission demands that are longer than what the RSAF's Chinook squadron can handle.

When likely demand by SAF heliborne Guards units and Commandos during the first 24-hour surge was factored in, it soon became evident we lack the muscle to do everything at the same time. We simply have too few Chinooks and insufficient aircrews to serve the laundry list of operational taskings.

The assessment also factored in projected loss rates as some landing areas in the AO could be predicted beforehand by a smart opponent and defended by MANPADS or light AAA.

Assuming Pegasus is successfully inserted, what next?

The 155mm guns can move on their own, powered by a 28 hp Lombardini engine designed for use by farm tractors. Anyone who has seen a Pegasus puttering about would realise the engine is a howler. In an operational setting, the noise from this engine will attract fast-moving opposing forces whose sole mission is to intercept and destroy airmobile units inserted into their AO.

The inability of a Pegasus battery to move ammunition along with the guns was also a handicap that became obvious.

This means that once a Pegasus is set up and ready to fire, the artillery piece is largely immobile.

There is also a question mark over the RSAF's ability to withdraw the guns after the fire mission. For maximum effect and surprise, the 155mm guns are likely to be inserted in places where their 30km range ring can inflict the most damage. Being airmobile, the SAF is likely to deploy Pegasus batteries in places where the opponent least expects a 155mm artillery gun - this puts them beyond help of friendly units.

So Pegasus gunners once inserted are largely on their own.

The gun's widely advertised air and ground mobility is therefore suspect as the gun's limited ability to crawl about on its own powered by a loud, puttering engine must be tempered with the reality that the ammo pallets are not as mobile.

You don't need a weapon locating radar to find the Pegasus guns. A Chinook with Pegasus underslung makes a distinctive package. All that an enemy scout needs to do is mark the point where the guns were observed to have been dropped off.

If Pegasus guns cannot be moved about at will, due more to lack of Chinooks than enemy interference, you may as well write-off guns that are in battery because it is only a matter of time before someone finds and finishes off this isolated force.

Impact of dwindling defence manpower
From a defence manpower standpoint, incoming batches of full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) will be smaller in the decade to come.

This indicates that HQ SA should deploy NSFs to crew-served weapons that the SAF can better support during operations.

Weapon platforms like Pegasus should therefore be last on the list of staffing priorities in view of the anticipated crunch in defence manpower.

With no gunners available to man all guns, HQ SA needs to prioritise and allocate manpower prudently.

This could entail ceasing the training of NSF gunners on the Pegasus as tube and rocket artillery weapons in HQ SA's order of battle will allow gunners to do the job more effectively.


Anonymous said...

1. People err, people pay. Scholar err, people pay.

2. Population up but NSF intake down? Policy not working.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, the Pegasus was never meant for an army with limited heli-lift capability like the Singapore Army, and seems more aimed at an export market for forces with a larger helicopter force (which probably already have developed their own LWHs).

The Primus is obviously more mobile and better suited for the "shoot and scoot" role, assuming that the "tail" components can keep up and bridging engineer assets are not tied up supporting the main thrust.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

xxx Test xxx

Anonymous said...

Enter the ST Kinetics 155 mm/39 cal Light Weight Self-Propelled Howitzer (4 x 4).

7000Kg - Chinookable.

3 men crew + Driver - ideal for a reduce manpower Army by 2040.

Ammo load - 18 ready rounds w/ prep charges.

Max speed 80km/hr - still within KPE tunnel road hogging limit. LOL!

Good to have this SA capability, who knows in this uncertain century, may need to take on UN led supporting missions further afield.

Having this capability also put the potential aggressor on the defensive calculus. Even though we may not actually chinook it.

Anonymous said...

The reality of the security scenarios modern militaries now face is personnel are general combatants first, everything else second.

Chances are they'll leave their heavy pieces behind and pound the ground on foot to fight that 3 block war. Training for that typically is a pre-deployment package. Such has been the experience of their US and UK counterparts. Armour Bns had their heavy tanks shipped home and yessiree tankees patrolled on foot.

That said, for purposes of insurance (to fight that conventional battle) and unit coherence, it's always nice to have them trained and organised along traditional lines. These weapon platforms give the troops something to rally around.

What I see in the future is greater emphasis on basic soldiering skills so that soldiers, regardless of the formation they're from, can be deployed for duties outside. Cross-compatibility if you will.

Anonymous said...

How do you ask the SAF to retire an expensive weapon only a few years after it is introduced? Lose face?

David Boey said...

Dear Anonymous 9 Feb 5:52 AM,
You may perhaps like to ask Dr Lim Wee Kiak, GPC Defence and Foreign Affairs, at the next National Conversation what plans they have for Pegasus and see what answer he gives? :-)

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

If I knew how to pose the question to his face, I would love to!

Good morning!

Anonymous said...

Ok, he would hide behind not commenting on operational matters.

He is hardly qualified to do so anyway. Scant purpose a GPC serves. Another tried-too-hard invention of a trapping of democracy.

Anonymous said...

A heli transportable 155 gun adds flexibility to SAF's ability to quickly deploy at long range hard hitting arty for a suitable scenario.

FH88s,FH2000 & Primus are not amenable to be quickly transported to an out of area hotspot.

Anonymous said...

True air mobility at 1.2 tons

Anonymous said...

The bad thing about SAF is that results are often manipulated to good effect. I believe most if not all our exercises post good achievements which are generally not reflective of true scenarios.
Our exercises are carried out with assumption of incapability of our enemies and objectives are met with no loss to our units. The coordinated air, land and sea attack on enemies are executed perfectly but in war is it really such the case. What if some of our units could have been taken out before they can be mobilised. Pre-prepared plan and drills have to be changed to meet these changes. Example, if half of our Chinook are wiped out in the first wave of surprise attack, what is the contingency. These leave behind a chain of cripples that we can or cannot function.
As mention earlier by David, he has mention that even though we have some really awesome weapons, but we lack the numbers to support mass execution of operation. This is true especially in the first 24 hours of war when many problems will start occurring. Logistic hiccups, ill-preparedness are such factors.

Anonymous said...

Heli transportability gives us a good option.

I was from a field arty battalion as an NSF but did my reservist in a division HQ. If you have seen how complex river crossing operations are at division level with possibilities gun batteries getting stuck here and there, you will certainly love the fact that at least some of your barrels can be heli transported.

Every arty gunner knows he is the enemy's Priority target. I don't think the intention was ever to have gun batteries inserted behind enemy lines like LRRPS or something. My guess is that the creation Pegasus was meant to maximize the possibility to get support fire to
where it is needed, but from a firing position well behind the front lines.

Anonymous said...

Heli transport give the SAF options to deploy artillery into hard to reach places where normal ground based artillery is unable to go.
Like the FH-88, FH-2000 and Pegasus the small engine in the guns are mainly for moving the gun into a firing position and out of a firing position without the need for a truck, this saves time in deployment allowing for faster artillery support, transport must still be done by a truck as the engines are simply too weak for sustained use.

Similarly if one was to look at the M777, its air portability allows for greater flexibility, however still requiring a truck to tow it.

Anonymous said...

Our Chinooks and Giat light guns were around long before the Pegasus was developed. Why did we fail to learn this lesson?

Studies have also shown that the Pegasus APU will not allow it to move out of the zone of counter battery fire, a prime mover is still needed.

As to the above point, the Pegasus is one ton heavier than the M777 partly because of the APU.

Unknown said...

How many people needed to operate the howitzer?

grover tham said...

You have painted only one scenario - that of an initial SAF "push" - where the lack of sufficient lift assets makes the Pegasus a white elephant. Your arguments are very logical and thought-provoking. However, aren't there other scenarios where the Pegasus' ability to be heli-lifted come in very handy?