In 1987, the German Ministry of Defense began the self-propelled howitzer development program designated as the PzH 2000 (or "Panzerhaubitze 2000"). The roots of the new gun platform stemmed from the SP70 international howitzer project sponsored by West Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy in the late 1960's. All three countries came to the conclusion that improvements had to be made in the indirect fire control system. Five prototypes were ultimately produced but the project was shelved in the 1980's because of funding, technical issues and interest in the American M109 155-mm self-propelled howitzer. The three participating countries from the SP70 program did, however, gain valuable experience in the development of self-propelled platforms and this experience resulted in the British AS90 "Braveheart", the export-minded Italian OTO-Melara Palmaria, and the German PzH-2000 artillery systems. German firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and their subcontractor, Rheinmetall Landsysteme, designed the PzH 2000 in 1996 and began production in 1998. The German Army subsequently purchased 185 such units with future plans to buy 53 more examples.
The Germans proved their mastery of armored warfare in World War 2. By the end of the conflict, there were soundly-developed doctrines fielding combinations of battle tank, tank destroyer and self-propelled gun (SPG) platforms as cohesive mobile units. SPG platforms could bring their artillery-minded power to bear on fortifications and troop positions whilst battle tanks and destroyers could concentrated on enemy armor. While the end of the war brought about a divided Germany, West Germany went on to develop the impressive Leopard 1 main battle tank in 1965, leaving the East with access to a general supply of Soviet armor designs during the Cold War. The Leopard 2 was a much-improved extension of the Leopard 1 series, this follow-up German design beginning operation in 1979 and quickly established herself as one of the more potent main battle tank offerings in the world. It was only understandable that, once Germany (and thusly the German military) was again unified after 1989, the German Army would eventually turn to an indigenous self-propelled gun platform to compliment her fast-moving Leopard tanks.
Though there is always more to a weapon's success than just the hardware inside, there are, however, times when the job simply needs a very big, capable gun. The PzH 2000 self-propelled gun is aptly-fitted with a 155mm/L52 caliber main gun comprised of and a 25-foot long barrel designed to use standard NATO 155mm ammunition. The barrel is fitted with a muzzle break and projectile case ejector. The turret rotating and howitzer aiming devices are based on electric mechanisms which are generally safer and more reliable than hydraulic units. Built into the 55-ton behemoth is storage for up to 60 projectiles. Projectiles maintain a maximum range of 30km when firing the HE/FRAG standard round and up to 40km with rocket-assisted projectiles. The maximum rate-of-fire is almost 10 rounds-per-minute in a 360-degree arc. The excellent range and inherent rate-of-fire is an advantage of the PzH 2000 system. The main gun has an elevation range from -2.5 to +65 degrees and the traverse range is a full 360-degrees allowing for maximum coverage.
The PzH 2000 is powered by a supercharged MTU MT881 Ka-500 diesel engine that develops upwards of 1,000 horsepower. The power-to-weight ratio is 13.4 W/t with a rating of 736kW. The MTU system is tied to a Renk HSWL 284C transmission. When the main engine is off, a small auxiliary engine is provided to operate command-and-control systems as well as systems required for crew comfort. The engine and transmission are fitted towards the front of the hull for improved forward protection while the turret is mounted towards the rear.
The German Army feels that the PzH 2000 is the most advanced cannon system in the world today. The howitzer is controlled by digital Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) system. As such, shooting up to five rounds at different elevations, starting high then reaching lower elevations, can mean that all projectiles will impact on the target area at the same time within 1.5 seconds. A battalion of twenty-four PzH 2000s can fire 120 rounds in 60 seconds, three times as many as any similar number of the previous German howitzers. In essence, the PzH 2000 artillery weapon, when firing as a group, is the equivalent to a rapid-fire, super heavy caliber machine gun.
Perhaps the major design advantage in the PzH 2000 series is the highly-rapid shell transport system - a giant leap in cannon design. The Germans have always excelled in howitzer design but there was always a problem with maintaining a stable rate-of-fire from a tiring crew. The mechanical loader allows a two-man crew to load all 60 rounds in less than two minutes. This rate-of-fire is four times faster per man than its predecessor. During the cycling loading mode, the crew is trained not to make an error or you could lose an appendage or limb for the machinery is not forgiving of mistakes. The turret includes a phased radar array on the front glacis for measuring the muzzle velocity of each round after it is fired. Laying data can be automatically provided via encrypted radio signals from the battery fire direction centre. Once the system loads the round, the loader manually puts in the charge into the breech - having only five seconds before the breech closes. The automatic reloading mechanism tests showed good fire results - 3 rounds in 8.4 seconds, 12 rounds in 59.74 seconds and sustained firing rates were 20 rounds in 1 minutes, 47 seconds.
Due to the rate-of-fire, a single PzH 2000 with its three-man crew can achieve the same attack performance as three individual units of previous German howitzer. Firing is accomplished through the push of a button. When the sixty rounds are sent downrange, the barrel can be auto-locked to a brace on the glacis plate in fifteen seconds. The PzH 2000 can then be on the move towards a new firing location before the launched rounds have even reached their target.
The PzH 2000 howitzer has seven bearing rolls on each track side and tracking wheels are placed along the front. The tracks are made from steel with a rubber metallic hinge while the suspension is of the torsion bar variety. For battlefield mechanical needs, the tracks are interchangeable with the "Leopard 2" main battle tank - Germany's current primary tank system for her Army. The PzH 2000 can make 60km/h on paved roads and she can reach 45 km/h cross-country. She can traverse 30-degree slopes, 1.1 m vertical steps, 3m trenches, 1.5m depth water obstacles and deeper if prepared.
After the sixty projectiles are exhausted, the crew is forced to reload the turret. This is a dangerous time for the PzH 2000 - sitting in place with the engine running makes her reveal a big heat signature while handling live ammunition and her crew in the open makes for a tempting target. Her crew is made up of five personnel - a commander, gunner, driver and two loaders feeding the autoloader. The two loaders can take over the duties of the autoloader if there is a failure in the field.
The secondary armament is a roof-mounted 7.62 mm MG3 general purpose, anti-infantry machine gun operated by the commander. Front armor is of 1-inch thickness and will protect against 14.5mm heavy caliber rounds. The sides of the hull can resist small arms fire and shell splinters, however, the best defense for systems such as the PzH 2000 is the "shoot-and-scoot" philosophy in all weather and terrain conditions. This keeps the system as a harder to track mobile target, using both weather and terrain to her advantage in the defense. Explosive reactive armor is available based on mission needs and assists in provided a retardant against armor-piercing munitions used by an enemy. If PzH 2000 sustains a hit, the cabin is equipped with an automatic fire protection system and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection systems for the crew
Operators of the PzH 2000 system include Italy (70 examples), Netherlands (64 examples) and Greece (24 examples). Sweden evaluated the PzH 2000 but failed to act on purchases. The Germany fleet of 185 PzH 2000s will be undergoing a reduction in numbers in the near future.
First combat actions for the PzH 2000 was in August of 2006 when several Dutch Army PzH 2000 systems opened up on suspected Taliban positions in Kandahar. Needless to say, the PzH 2000 - also fielded with German Army troops - has seen consistent actions in support of coalition forces in the War in Afghanistan to date.