To match the capabilities of the United States Army and its introduction of the 155mm-armed M109 SPA (Self-Propelled Artillery), the Soviet Union took to development of a similar-minded system of 152mm (152.4mm) caliber in the 2S3 "Akatsiya" ("Acacia"). The Soviet vehicle, designated as the "M1973" in American nomenclature, began its development during 1968 to which manufacture was directed by Uraltransmash and production spanned from 1967 to 1993. Several major forms ultimately emerged including all-modernized versions to keep the system a viable artillery piece. The 2S3 has since gone on to see considerable battlefield activity and proven itself on more than one occasion through its accuracy and mechanical reliability. As such, many remain as frontline use today (2014), primarily with former Soviet states and global allies.
The heart of the 2S3 is its D-series L/27 main gun based on the D-20 army howitzer. Typically, a single vehicle carried 40 to 46 projectiles in a mixed arrangement to include HE-FRAG (High-Explosive, FRAGmentation), HEAT-FS (High-Explosive, Anti-Tank, Fin-Stabilized), Armor-Piercing, Tungsten (AP-T), smoke and illumination projectiles. The main gun is affixed to a turret allowing for full 360-degree traversal to be achieved. The mounting also gives an elevation range of -4 to +60 degrees. Loading is through a semi-automatic, vertical wedge breech with a rate-of-fire reaching four rounds per minute. Conventional shells range out to 11.5 miles while Rocket-Assisted Projectiles (RAPs) can reach out to 15 miles. Secondary armament (optional) included a remote-controlled 7.62mm PKT machine gun to which 1,500 x 7.62mm rounds were carried.
The 2S3 is typically fielded with a crew of six made up of the driver, vehicle commander, gunner, loader and a pair of ammunition handlers though some versions are seen with a crew of four. Armor protection ranges from 15mm to 30mm, the thickest sections along the front of the hull and turret.
The vehicle's drivetrain includes a V-59 series 12-cylinder, water-cooled, diesel-fueled engine developing 520 horsepower at 2,000rpm. This is mated to a planetary gearbox. The running gear (track-over-wheel arrangement) showcases six double-tired road wheels to a hull side, the drive sprocket at front and the track idler at rear. The hull sits atop an independent torsion bar suspension system with hydraulic shock absorbers found at the first and sixth wheel pairings. Performance specifications include a maximum road speed of 40 miles per hour.
Original 2S3 vehicles were designated simply as "2S3" and these saw production from 1970 to 1975. The 2S3M mark followed as a modernized version and introduced a slightly revised hatch arrangement as well as increased internal stowage for more 152mm projectiles among other features. The main gun was updated to support laser-guided, RAPs and production spanned from 1975 to 1987. The 2S3M1, which was produced from 1987 to 1993, marked a new 2S3 standard when introduced, given a new sighting device and additional equipment to improve battlefield support and awareness. Earlier 2S3 and 2S3M marks were eventually updated to this standard. The 2S3M2 of 2000 became another further modernized mark and introduced use of an automatic Fire Control System (FCS) as well as externally-mounted smoke grenade dischargers and a satellite-based navigation system. This mark has been exported under the 2S3M2-155 designation. The 2SM3 is a known developmental 2S3 mark incorporating a new FCS and new howitzer gun, more in line with that as found on the modern 2S19 Msta SPA. As such, it can share the same ammunition clearances.
Operators of the 2S3 have proven plentiful with many still showcasing the system as frontline weapon. Beyond the obvious Russian Army connection (which absorbed thousands of the ex-Soviet Army stock), the vehicle has been taken on by the armies of Azerbaijan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Belarus, Cuba, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Libya, Russia, Slovakia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Former operators include Bulgaria, East Germany and Iraq. The United States Army gained access to four examples from Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall and an additional three were gained in dealings with the Ukrainian government following the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Russian Army maintains about 930 active 2S3 systems in its inventory with a further 1,600 believed to be held in storage. It is also used by the Russian Marines.
The 2S3 has become a truly battle-tested weapon system, first used in anger during the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan (1979-1989). It was then pressed into action during the Tajikistan Civil War (1992-1997) and used during both of the Chechen Wars (1994-1996, 1999). In the 2008 South Ossetia War, the 2S3 was again in play with good results. Foreign forces have dutifully showcased their 2S3s in turn, as in the 2011 Libyan Civil War and the ongoing Syrian Civil War, also originating in 2011.