Modern militaries are consistently returning to less expensive, less complicated manufacturing roots by way of wheeled solutions to battlefield requirements. Several armies have already moved to adopt new wheeled Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) forms over costlier tracked alternatives and this includes the nation of Serbia. With decades of recent useful combat experience behind them, Serbian engineers have designed and developed an all-modern SPH solution in 8x8 "Nora" B-52. Design work was handled by the Military Technical Institute (Belgrade) with manufacture ongoing through the Complex Battle System Factory of Velika Plana. At least ten prototypes were completed to prove the design sound with frontline units beginning to receive these systems in 2014.
At its core, the vehicle is a 37-ton (short) arrangement sat upon an 8x8, four-axle drive arrangement divided as two forward axle pairs and two rear. The road wheels are large with run-flat capability to provide the necessary clearance for off-road travel while also maintaining strong on-road capabilities (the Serbian landscape requires such tactical flexibility). The truck component of the vehicle - an FAP series mover - contains the driving cabin and front-mounted engine which is aspirated through a slotted grille arrangement. Headlamps are well-protected by being set within the forward downward-angled plate and are further shielded from damage by horizontal wire slats running across them. The cabin windows are bulletproofed against small arms fire and shell splinters and installed with heavy seals. Three windshield panels run across the forward face of the cab with smaller panels seen along the sides. Entry to the cabin is through automobile-style hinged door systems. The gun unit is seated on the aft section of the truck and is allowed its own powered traversal and elevation. Prior to firing, the vehicle has four large support legs lowered for recoil. A trainable, optional 12.7mm heavy machine gun is seated over the right side of the driving cabin for local air defense and operated remotely through a Remote Weapons Station (RWS) - a common trend among fighting vehicles today. This weapon can be replaced by a 7.62mm ant-infantry machine gun as required.
The gun unit itself is a 155mm /52 caliber weapon system fitted to the aft fighting cabin. Later versions of the vehicle feature a fully-enclosed turret cabin with full Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) protection as well as separate access from the forward truck compartment. The weapon is given its own recoil mechanism and is fitted with a double-baffled muzzle break at its "business end". An autoloader speeds up firing rates and reduces the crew commitment. The mounting hardware allows for a traversal of 60 degrees from centerline with an elevation span of -3 to +65 degrees. The system can sustain up to 12 projectiles per minute out to ranges of 19.25 miles.
The drive system of the Nora is powered by a turbocharged diesel engine developing 410 horsepower. Suspension is across all eight wheels to provide the necessary off road functionality. Operational ranges reach 620 miles with a road speed of 56 miles per hour. Cross-country performance is naturally degraded considerably for such a large, wheeled system. These speeds reach about 10 to 15 miles per hour depending on the terrain being traversed.
The B-52 first emerged in an original "K0" form which featured a manual power drive, open-topped turret, and line-of-sight-engagement-only. The "K1" mark introduced a partially-covered turret design with onboard navigation system, digital Fire Control System (FCS), and improved automation. The "M03" then followed from the K0 and K1 mark and it was this finalized form adopted for service by the Serbian Army (the export variant then became the "KE" mark). The "K-I" brought along a fully-enclosed turret with complete NBC crew protection, improved armor protection, improved FCS, and upgraded communications suite. The "K2" is the latest in-development Nora mark intended to improve on the former design's ammunition support, gun accuracy, rate-of-fire, FCS, and overall automation.
The B-52 is currently in service beyond Serbia with the forces of Algeria, Bangladesh, Kenya and Myanmar.