Country of origin
United Kingdom, West Germany and Italy
Projectile weight (HE)
Maximum range of fire
24 - 30 km
Maximum rate of fire
Sustained rate of fire
- 5 to + 70 degrees
Dimensions and weight
Length (in travelling order)
Length (in combat order)
Width (in travelling order
Width (in combat order)
Auxiliary power unit
Volkswagen 1.8-liter diesel
Maximum road speed
Road towing speed
Cross-country towing speed
~ 50 km/h
The FH-70 is
a towed 155 mm howitzer developed by an international consortium,
which included Vickers Ltd in the UK, OTO Melara in Italy, and
Rheinmetall GmbH in West Germany. It was also manufactured in all
three of these nations during its decade-long production run, and it
was also produced in substantial quantity in Japan.
The FH-70 program began in 1962, when a need for a new and
common NATO field howitzer was identified, and was initially a joint
effort between the United States, the United Kingdom, and West
Germany. Intending for the new weapon to be in service by 1970, the
effort was dubbed FH-70 ("Field Howitzer for 1970"), the future
weapon was to replace the M114 155 mm howitzers used by the US and
West Germany, and the UK's BL 5.5-inch (140 mm) Medium Gun; both
were holdovers from World War 2, and they lacked common ammunition.
The objectives of the program were highly ambitious, to say
the least, and included a very high towing speed, requirement for a
range of 24 km with conventional ammunition, 30 km with
rocket-assisted ammunition, the ability to fire 3 rounds in only 15
seconds, 6 rounds/minute with burst fire, a sustained rate of fire
of 3 rounds/minute, and compatibility with all existing and
projected NATO 155 mm ammunition. By far the most unusual
requirement --- and one with far-reaching implications for future
artillery development --- was that the FH-70 was to have an
Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), which would not only provide hydraulic
pressure and electrical power, but also provide power directly to
the wheels themselves, allowing the gun crew to literally drive it
as a vehicle (though only for short distances).
However, as has been the case with many international weapon
programs, disagreements soon arose between members of the consortium
over what features the FH-70 was to have. Two issues that proved
irreconcilable were that the US military demanded a gun that was
significantly lighter, in order to make it more easily transported
by helicopters, and refused to acquire a weapon fitted with an APU.
As a result, the US broke away from the FH-70 program in the 1965,
and began developing an indigenous alternative in 1969, which in
time became the
consortium to produce the FH-70 was officially formed in 1964, minus
US participation, and work began on the prototypes in 1964. The
development of the FH-70 proceeded slowly, and testing of
fully-functional prototypes didn't begin until 1969. However, the
program received a much-needed boost in 1970, when Italy joined the
consortium, pledging to share 25% of the expenses (the UK held
another 25%, and West Germany held 50%). Though even with the
addition of Italian support, testing and evaluation weren't deemed
complete until 1976. Deliveries of production FH-70s began in 1978,
with Initial Operational Capacity (IOC) being achieved later in the
same year. Though 1978 is often the date cited that the FH-70 first
became operational, it did not achieve full operational status with
any of its users until 1980. Moreover, as outlined further below, a
litany of problems surfaced in active service that prevented the
FH-70 from achieving its full operability for several years.
identification features of the FH-70 are a 2-wheel carriage, 2
trailing wheels at the bottom of long struts at the back end of the
trailing arms, two spades also located at the back end of the
trailing arms, two small round headlamps on the front of the
carriage, two large hydropneumatic struts on the wedge-shaped
breechblock assembly, and a muzzle brake with two pronounced
baffles. When travelling, the gun tube is traversed 180 degrees and
overhangs the trailing arms atop an "A"-shaped bracket, and the crew
sometimes drives the FH-70 like a vehicle from two positions in the
front topside of the carriage. In its firing position, the trails
are spread-apart, the tube is traversed forward, and the main wheels
are elevated, allowing the soleplate to rest atop the ground.
The tube is
carried on a gun cradle, which is in turn carried by slides. Also
carried on the gun cradle is the recoil system, which includes a
buffer, a high-angle cut-off gear, and a recuperator. The main
firing system is mechanical, and carried by one of the cradle
has a lightweight construction, and consists of a saddle, a
soleplate, split trails, self-digging spades, main wheels, and trail
wheels. A detachable APU is also usually fitted to the weapon. The
gun carriage of the FH-70 has two wheels and a split trail, with
spades and small wheels at the ends of the trails. The saddle sits
on top of a roller race, containing the elevating and traversing
gear and the gun layer’s seat, and these in turn are set atop the
main body of the cradle. Large hydropneumatic struts connect the
carriage to the trailing arms, which are part of the hydraulic
system used to raise and lower the wheels, and also double as shock
dampeners; this allows the carriage to be lowered directly onto the
ground, to rest atop its soleplate.
wheels are hydraulically suspended on swinging arms, and cushioned
by hydraulic accumulators; a similar system is used for the trailing
wheels. The trailing wheels may thus also be steered, raised, and
lowered. The hydraulics used to power these systems are controlled
from the driver's position and may be operated regardless of the
weapon's placement or orientation.
The sighting system is mounted on the left side of the
saddle, and includes a quadrant elevation scale and leveling
bubbles, a periscopic dial sight, and a direct fire telescope; the
scales, graticules and bubbles, are all self-illuminating. A
low-light sight for direct fire may also be fitted if required. The
sight carrier includes transducers for azimuth and elevation. An
optional Digital Display Unit (DDU) further aids the laying of the
gun; the German and Italian armed forces have outfitted their FH-70s
with DDUs, but the British armed forces did not.
The standard crew for the FH-70 is 8, though it is possible
to operate with a crew of only 4 (albeit with much slower
The tube is autogrettaged and 39 calibers long, and fitted
with a single-baffle muzzle brake with a 32% efficiency. The tube
life of the FH-70 is 2 500 Equivalent Full Charges (EFC), at which
point the tube must be removed and replaced.
The elevation assembly is carried on the trunnions. It
consists of a cradle with a variable-length hydropneumatic recoil
system, which reduces the length of the recoil stroke in order to
prevent the breech from striking the ground; the maximum recoil
length is 1.4 m.
The loading system is semi-automatic, and consists of a
loading tray and an automatic tube loader, which operate at any
elevation or traversal. The breech is initially opened by hand, but
ammunition, propellant charges, and primers are normally loaded
automatically. The breechblock is semi-automatic, and slides upward
when opened. As the FH-70 is loaded, a second shell is placed on the
loading tray, which is automatically loaded after the first shell is
fired, and the breech is re-opened. When the breechblock is in full
recoil after firing, the breech is automatically opened by a cam,
and the spent propellant casing is ejected as the next round is
lifted to the breech for manual ramming. The entire loading sequence
spans just 5 seconds.
These allow for a continuous rate of fire of 2 rounds/minute,
rapid fire over a short duration at up to 6 rounds/minute, or a
burst fire of 3 rounds in 13 seconds. A fully-automatic system with
a flick rammer was also offered for the FH-70, which allowed for
firing 3 rounds in only 8 seconds.
New ammunition was developed for the FH-70, in accordance
with the Quadrilateral Ballistics Agreement between US, UK, Germany
and Italy. The intention was to maximize ammunition commonality
between these nations, and the specifications settled-upon were
those of the volume, mass, and general ballistics of the US-made
M549 RAP-HE round. With a total mass of 43.5 kg and an 11.3 kg HE
fill, the M549 still has the largest explosive charge of any RAP-HE
Although the FH-70 was not adopted by the US military, US
ammunition can still be fired from it, though the variations in the
sizes of US primers has resulted in some feeding problems.
A range of common ammunition was developed for the FH-70,
which were developed to increase the maximum range and lethality of
NATO's 155 mm artillery. The primary three rounds for the FH-70 are
the L15A1 HE round, a thin-walled 43.5 kg projectile with a 11.3 kg
explosive charge; the DM 105 Base Ejection Smoke projectile, which
splits into four smoke candles on descent, producing a dense smoke
cloud over a wide area in 30 seconds; and the DM 106 Illumination
round, which spawns a parachute flare on descent with an
illumination power of 2.1 million candelas for 60 seconds.
The FH-70 may also fire extended-range projectiles, such as
the US Army's M549A1 RAP-HE round and the RB30 Extended Range Base
Bleed (ERBB), both of which have a range of 30 km when fired from a
155 mm/L39 weapon. The US Army's laser-guided M712 Copperhead
Cannon-Launched Guided Projectile (CLGP) round is also compatible
with the FH-70.
A triple-cartridge propellant charge system is used in the
FH-70; i.e., three cartridges are normally loaded behind the
projectile. There are three different propellant cartridges for the
FH-70, with different charge levels. "Cartridge 1" provides charges
1 and 2; "Cartridge 2" is used for charges 3 through 7, and
"Cartridge 3" is used for charge 8. With a maximum charge, the FH-70
will fire an L15 HE round out to its maximum range of 24.7 km.
propellant charges are ignited by percussion primers, and the FH-70
automatically reloads the lock with a primer every time the breech
is opened, from a magazine containing 11 primers.
BAE Land Systems has also developed the BIS 14 propellant
cartridge for the FH-70, which allow the weapon to fire an
extended-range projectile out to as far as 31 km (namely, one BIS 14
cartridge provides "Zone 8" power).
The FH-70 is technically not a vehicle, but it does have a
limited ability to move like one, as the APU doubles as an engine.
The APU is located inside an overhanging cab in the front of the
carriage, with two seats on top on the left and right for a driver
and another crew member. The APU is a Volkswagen Model 127 1.8-liter
diesel motor, with 4 cylinders in a "boxer" configuration. It is
air-cooled, spark-ignited, and produces up to 71 hp at 80 rpm. The
fuel tank has a capacity of 55 liters.
When using the APU, the FH-70 may be unhitched, positioned,
and ready to fight in less than 2 minutes. If a target is to be
engaged outside the weapon's traversal range once in its firing
position, the trailing wheels may be lowered to the ground and the
spades and trails raised, allowing the entire weapon to be quickly
swiveled in the required direction. Once the target is within the
traversal range, the wheels are raised (dropping the trails back
onto the ground) and the spades are lowered; when the weapon is
fired, the recoil from the first shot will embed the spades into the
When propelled by the APU, the FH-70 is capable of achieving
16 km/h on a road or other hard surface, and climbing a 34%
gradient, and fording a depth of 0.75 m. While being towed, the
FH-70 can ford a depth of 1.5 m.
wheels have brakes, which can be controlled from the driver's
position on the carriage, or from a prime mover towing the weapon.
The steering system allows the carriage wheels to be turned up to 60
degrees to either side, and when the trails are spread, can turn
these wheels through 90 degrees.
The APU also drives a hydraulic pump, which is used to
elevate, depress, and traverse the weapon, and to raise and lower
the carriage to transition it between its travelling and firing
positions. The FH-70's hydraulics may also be operated by a hand
pump if its APU is removed or inactive, though this will obviously
not provide propulsion or electrical power.
An alternate APU was developed by ARIS S.P.a. in Italy, but
it is unclear if it was ever operationally used on any FH-70s.
The FH-70 is light enough to be sling-loaded under a
heavy-lift helicopter such as the
CH-53 Sea Stallion, or
The operational service of the FH-70 began in 1980 with the
UK, but despite a prolonged development that had taken more than
twice as long as planned, inadequate pre-service testing left
numerous problems undetected until the weapon entered service. Many
of these problems were caused by the manner in which the weapon was
operated, and were solved by simply changing training practices and
re-writing the field manuals. However, other issues proved much more
difficult to resolve. In particular, the FH-70 proved much more
susceptible to malfunctions from dust contamination in the field,
whose operating conditions were not accurately simulated in testing,
and the rough handling typical of NATO exercises (and by extension,
combat) revealed that the structural integrity of the FH-70's trails
was inadequate for towing. To mitigate these problems, the FH-70
fleet ultimately had to be sent back to the factory for
modifications and reconstruction, a process which began in 1987.
There were also numerous additional unforeseen problems pertaining
to ammunition handling, which were serious enough that this alone
reduced the system's overall reliability level to just 51% --- low
enough that West Germany seriously considered abandoning their share
of the program. There were also additional problems that didn't
become apparent until the FH-70 entered service, for which no
complete solution was ever found; notably, the APU, hydraulics, and
the digital sight carrier all had inadequate protection from the
elements, and were dangerously exposed to possible sources of combat
damage, such as shrapnel and shell splinters.
Though despite its long and troubled development, the FH-70
has defied the odds and become a success, with 1 007 examples
produced from 1977 to 1989. A total of 397 were acquired by the UK
(67), West Germany (150), and Italy (162), with Norway and the
Netherlands each eventually acquiring 15. Malaysia became the first
non-NATO customer, acquiring 15 ex-UK weapons, with Oman acquiring
another 15 as well, while Morocco acquired 30, and in later years
Estonia purchased 32. The largest export customer of the FH-70 is
Saudi Arabia, with 72 examples, while an unpublished number of
FH-70s were also acquired by Lebanon.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the largest user of the
FH-70 is Japan, with some 460 (more than the combined active
inventory of all other current users combined!), and that aside from
an initial import of 20 FH-70s, the remainder were all built locally
under license by Japan Steel Works. With the exception of Japan's
FH-70s, it is probable that these howitzers will continue to
proliferate in the foreseeable future, particularly as they are
retired from service with their primary users. Japanese production
ended in 1997.
The FH-70's production is complete, and while it was still
available for further production into the early 2000s, it is
unlikely that and could or would be produced today. According to
Forecast International, the unit cost of an FH-70 in 2002 was
FH 155-1: Alternate designation for the FH-70, which is also
used by the Bundeswehr.
L121: British designation for British Army FH-70s. No L121s
have ever used a DDU gunnery computer in operational service, but
are otherwise almost identical to their foreign counterparts.
SP-70: Self-propelled howitzer employing the ordnance of the
FH-70, mounted in an original turret atop a modified
MBT chassis. Did not enter production or service.
Type 99: Self-propelled howitzer manufactured for the JGSDF by
Mitsubishi. This vehicle has a heavily-modified
IFV hull, topped with an original turret, and is armed with a
longer 52-caliber version of the FH-70. In service only with Japan.
Palmaria: Self-propelled howitzer manufactured by OTO Melara in
Italy, for export. It is armed with the ordnance from the FH-70, in
a turret based on that of the SP-70, mounted atop an
hull. Palmarias are operated by Libya and Nigeria.
VCA: Argentinean self-propelled howitzer, consisting of a
light tank chassis topped with a complete Palmaria turret. Used only
FH-70s were also offered with 46-caliber and 52-caliber
barrels, but it does not appear that any operational weapons were
given these upgrades.
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