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CENTCOM Better Pay Attention To This Iranian Howitzer

July 17, 2019

Via Iranian media.

On July 13, a Saturday, Iranian media hailed the Revolutionary Guards’ (IRGC) latest actions against the Kurdish separatist group PJAK. The fighting took place before the weekend in the country’s northwestern border with losses to the Kurds reaching dozens, at least according to Iranian news. In the course of the operation, which lasted three days, the IRGC deployed UAVs and artillery. The latter included the HM41, an obscure 155mm howitzer whose existence proves how capable Iran’s state-owned military industries are.

Footage and images taken during the fighting showed at least a battery of HM41’s arrayed on a plateau. Other weapon systems used by the IRGC were 130mm howitzers and Russian-made BM-21 Grad rocket launchers.

The HM41 is a rare example of 155mm tube artillery originating from the Middle East. Its only rivals are the Israeli-made Soltam and the Turkish-made Panter, both are towed howitzers of the same caliber. During the IRGC’s battles against PJAK last week it was claimed laser-guided “Basir” shells were launched at unspecified targets. But the appearance of these munitions weren’t revealed except for a comparison to Russian “Krasnopol” guided artillery rounds. But the HM41 does have a particular feature that may prove controversial–its startling resemblance to the South Korean KH179 towed howitzer.

The present sanctions on Iran prohibit importing weapons from any state. But in 2011 a 6×6 truck howitzer was unveiled by the IRGC mounting a 155mm artillery piece on its bed. Before firing, a large hydraulic recoil plate at the back of the truck is lowered to the ground for stabilizing the weapon. The emergence of an Iranian truck howitzer was proof its military industries were keeping apace with trends among NATO allies. Indeed, the effort did appear similar to France’s own CAESAR truck howitzer that has seen extensive use in Iraq against the Islamic State.

At the time, some claimed the HM41 was another successful product of reverse engineering. Iran’s regular armed forces, the Artesh, did have significant stocks of US-made artillery in different calibers sold to the Shah half a century ago. Among them was the World War 2 vintage M114 towed howitzer. With the M114 as its basis, the HM41 simply had new split trails–the steel “legs” attached to the gun carriage–and an elongated barrel assembly with a double baffle muzzle brake. The latter is the contraption at the end of the barrel that has four vents to dissipate the flash created by an exiting round. Varying artillery calibers utilize different muzzle brakes.

Yet the South Korean KH179 is also based on the M114 howitzer that was distributed to many US and NATO allies in the Cold War’s heyday. The circumstantial evidence of Iran’s military industries sourcing spare parts from South Korean manufacturers gives credence to the possibility the KH179’s schematics were acquired by an Iranian source in the 2000s. Iran’s successful track record at reverse engineering and clandestine technology transfer means a towed 155mm artillery piece was far from a difficult project.

With the US and the Islamic Republic now irreconcilable, the burden of anticipating a full-blown war falls squarely on Central Command (CENTCOM) whose assets almost flew punitive sorties against Iranian targets on June 20 after the IRGC shot down a Global Hawk spy drone. But any conflict scenario with Iran is bound to be difficult because of the extent that its conventional weapons have been upgraded. With the HM41 now combat proven, its continuous production means adding to the IRGC and Artesh’ 2,000-odd towed howitzers. This is in addition to hundreds of self-propelled artillery pieces, including the Raad-2 155mm howitzer. Iran’s self-sufficiency when it comes to domestic weapons and war material should give some belligerent voices pause when urging a military confrontation with Tehran.

Iran’s state-owned military industries manufacture an impressive range of tube artillery. Aside from at least six different types of mortars, 76mm, 100mm, 122mm, 130mm, and 155mm guns are among the Defense Industry Organization’s (DIO) impressive catalog. The Iranian 76mm gun, by the way, is a copy of the prolific Oto Melara used by navies around the world. As for 100mm artillery, Iran is one of the few countries–perhaps the only country–that still makes the Soviet KS-19 anti-aircraft gun that was designed for knocking out low-flying aircraft.

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