PARIS – Ukraine has lost less than 10% of the truck-mounted Caesar howitzers it received from France and Denmark, with greater mobility resulting in a higher survival rate than for some other self-propelled or towed systems, according French manufacturer KNDS Nexter.

Losses for some other self-propelled or towed systems in Ukraine’s war with Russia amount to nearly 30%, the company said in a statement to Defense News, without providing specifics.

The French-built Caesar is the world’s lightest 155mmm self-propelled gun at 18 metric tons, according to Nexter. The howitzer can fire six shells within a minute before packing up and moving away, an artillery tactic known as shoot-and-scoot, and evolving battlefield threats mean that mobility is the Caesar system’s best protection rather than the cannon’s range, Nexter said.

“Use of drones and loitering munitions has become a real threat 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the front, where the Caesar operates,” Nexter said in the statement. “Its light weight and ability to leave its position in less than a minute to avoid counter-battery fire are therefore major assets.”

Ukraine has received 55 of the truck-mounted systems, with 36 supplied by France, including six purchased this year, and another 19 donated by Denmark. Besides the French cannon, Ukraine operates 155mm artillery systems including the towed American M777 and self-propelled systems such as the German Panzerhaubitze 2000, the Polish Krab and Sweden’s Archer.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu visited the Nexter site in Versailles outside Paris on Tuesday to discuss the French-U.S.-led coalition to supply artillery and ammunition to Ukraine.

France, Denmark and Ukraine have agreed on financing the purchase of 78 Caesar systems for Ukraine in 2024 as part of the coalition, Lecornu said last week. That includes the six already delivered this year.

Nexter has increased monthly Caesar production to six from two before the war, and the target “in the time to come” is 12 cannons per month, Lecornu said in a press conference following the visit. The target is to reach the new capacity within a year, and Nexter has already made investments to boost the output of the system’s components, the company said.

“For the time being, all Caesar production is earmarked for Ukraine and for replenishing stocks of the French Army, which may decide to make further divestments to Ukraine,” Nexter said.

France in December ordered 109 new-generation howitzers from Nexter for about €350 million, with first delivery expected in 2026. The updated cannon will have an armored cabin to protect against mines and small-caliber arms, based on the feedback from French deployments in Afghanistan and Africa’s Sahel region.

The Caesar MkII will get a new 460 HP engine more than double as powerful as the previous 215 HP one, a new six-wheel chassis from military-vehicle maker Arquus, and updated fire control software. The howitzer will keep its 155mm cannon, with a range of more than 40 kilometers, and will remain air-transportable, according to France’s armaments directorate.

After a Ukrainian advantage in artillery fire in the summer of 2023, Russia gained the upper hand, and Lecornu said in January the shell ratio was nearly one-to-six in favor of Russia. Artillery has been the greatest killer in the war in Ukraine, accounting for more than 70% of casualties.

Ukraine’s artillery deficit contributed to recent setbacks on the frontline, including the withdrawal from the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region in February. A stronger artillery capability is one of Ukraine’s key needs to win the war, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said in January.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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