A batch of Soltam M-71 155mm towed howitzers were delivered to the Philippines in mid-2017. They came on separate dates; three were received on June 8 and nine more followed on July 14. This howitzer acquisition fulfills an order dating to 2015 and is part of a longstanding modernization plan for the Philippine Army and Marine Corps. Each branch will be assigned a battery of the howitzers made by Israel’s Elbit Systems.
The 12 new 155mm towed howitzers along with a supply of high explosive shells are a welcome addition to the existing artillery used by the country’s armed forces. The bulk of these consist of portable mortars and light howitzers such as the World War Two vintage 105mm M101. The Philippine Army in particular is a keen user of fire support during operations against Muslim secessionists.
But this latest transaction with Israel’s defense industry is separate from an existing invitation for suppliers of 105mm rounds. It does serve as proof that, contrary to ongoing efforts at wooing Chinese and Russian suppliers, the Philippine military is steadfast in its reliance on longstanding partnerships. Israel has been selling arms to the Philippines since the 1980s and the army maintains a small number of the original 155mm Soltam M-68’s for just as long.
There’s an urgency to the arrival of the newer Soltams, however, with Filipino soldiers still battling ISIS-linked terrorists in Marawi. It remains to be seen if these new assets will be used to dislodge the dreaded Maute group from their battered redoubts within the city.
The Soltam is a towed howitzer made in Israel since 1968. It’s the most successful artillery piece ever developed in the Middle East and is operated by three other Southeast Asian countries: Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand. The Soltam’s first major conflict was the Yom Kippur War in 1973 where it acquitted itself very well. The Soltam’s range when firing conventional high explosive rounds is 17 kilometers. But it can extend to 39 kilometers when armed with base bleed projectiles and it’s also suited for delivering smart munitions downrange.
Though only built in limited numbers the Soltam has been tweaked and improved for decades. One of its earliest configurations was being mounted on an M3 Sherman hull as a self-propelled artillery platform called the L-33. Elbit Systems is marketing the Soltam as a multirole field piece suited for both tracked and wheeled vehicles. The latest variant of the Soltam is the ATHOS, which uses an auxiliary power unit for steering and has an automated loading system–it’s the closest example of mechatronic artillery in use today.