Tests of Army’s incoming AS9 Huntsman self-propelled howitzer, with its three-round burst and automated loading capabilities, are nearing completion in South Korea.
Army will first receive two AS9s, modelled off the South Korean K9 Thunder, and an AS10 armoured ammunition resupply vehicle imported from South Korea.
Construction of a new Hanwha Defense Australia factory is underway near Avalon, Victoria, where the remaining 42 vehicles will begin production in Australia late next year.
Hanwha has been working with the ADF to integrate Australian 155mm shells, including the new Rheinmetall Assegai munitions.
Major Brendan Kelleher, of the project team under Land 8116, said the tests ensured the combination of Australian ammunition and a Korean cannon were safe for service.
“While we know in isolation the K9’s cannon is safe, and in isolation the ammunition is safe, this testing makes sure they are compatible,” Major Kelleher said.
Once that is established, subsequent tests will collect ballistics data required to use the AS9 with the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems, used to calculate and coordinate firing.
Further testing will be conducted in Australia focused on protection of the vehicle from small arms fire and shrapnel.
“A coupon [metal sample] from the steel, of which the vehicle is built, is placed in a vice and a slug is shot into it,” Major Kelleher said.
“This is repeated against coupons of different thickness to understand the levels of protection.”
Blast testing was also recently conducted in Israel involving a full size AS9 hull fitted with crash test dummies, cameras and sensors inside.
An explosive charge was detonated at the base of the vehicle to imitate the effects of a land mine.
The results will inform design changes to ensure the vehicles provide the required protection and survivability for soldiers.
“The feedback we’re getting from other users is they are impressed by the maturity and ease of use of the platform,” Major Kelleher said.
“It is a big increase in range and lethality from the in-service towed howitzer, made possible by the longer cannon and higher rates of fire.
“For junior gunners and non-commissioned officers, it’s going to be a challenging but exciting step up to manage both a cannon and an armoured vehicle, likely with greater autonomy than they might have on a normal gun line.”
Elphinstone, a company on the north coast of Tasmania, will manufacture the hulls and turrets.
The first AS9 to be completed in Australia is expected to roll out the door by the end of 2025.