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New ‘Big Guns’ for the British Army and U.S. Marines Could Be Game Changers

Lightweight Fire Platform
Image: DOD Flickr.

The Lightweight Fire Platform might end up being highly mobile and fully autonomous.

What Could Be Coming

The United Kingdom is on the hunt for a new light-weight artillery piece to replace their venerable L118 Light gun — and it might not even need a gun crew.

In a tweet, a Jane’s Land Warfare expert revealed concept artwork for the British Army’s yet-to-be-built Lightweight Fire Platform. Although the LFP is still in its infancy, it could produce a truly radical design.

The artwork shows a technical demonstrator that, rather than being a towed piece like the majority of conventional artillery, would move under its own power. Unlike other self-propelled howitzers like the United States’ M109 Paladin which rely on a large tracked design for mobility on the battlefield, the LFP would rely on a very distinct wheeled design.

Four individually articulating legs — sans axles — give the design an insect-like appearance and could in theory offer excellent off-road mobility, at least over hard-packed and rocky terrain. The design’s lack of axles suggests that an all-electric, or perhaps hybrid power plant would propel the spindly-looking vehicle.

Central to the design is of course the platform’s main barrel. Though it features a prominent muzzle brake, the caliber is not specified, though “multiple calibers” will be evaluated.

The Lightweight Fire Platform’s immediate predecessor is the L118 Light Gun, a 1970s-era 105mm towed field gun. The light howitzer entered service with the British Army as a successor to a previous 105mm “mountain gun” that lacked range and precision. Still, the L118 weighs just over 4,000 pounds and requires a prime mover or helicopter to transport both the howitzer itself as well as its 6-man gun crew. The United States Army fields a similar light howitzer, the M119, which is itself a slightly modified variant of the original British L118 Light Gun.

Though self-propelled artillery are not exactly a new battlefield innovation (the British fielded the Gun Carrier Mark I in 1917), the majority of vehicle-mounted howitzers have been heavily armed, relatively well-armored tracked vehicles — and dependent on a crew for operation. 

The Lightweight Fire Platform would not be the first unmanned mobile artillery platform however: the United States Marine Corps (USMC) is already experimenting with something similar.

The USMC’s NMESIS platform is an amalgamation of several weapon systems. Starting with a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle with its roof, cab compartment, and windshield removed, the Corps mated two of the Navy’s new and extremely potent anti-ship missiles to produce an unmanned, land-based ship hunter. 

Much remains unknown about the Lightweight Fire Platform — even the caliber of ammunition if would fire is not yet known. Still, an autonomous and highly mobile light-weight artillery piece could be a potent battlefield force multiplier.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

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