PARIS --- Norway’s surprise Dec. 6 decision to withdraw from the Archer 155mm joint artillery project with Sweden was prompted by delivery delays and by unspecified performance shortcomings, according to Norwegian defense officials.
“Late delivery is one of the reasons for cancelling. Our Minister of Defence has also said that Archer does not meet Norwegian operational requirements set out in the contract,” Birgitte Frisch, special advisor to the new defense minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, told Defense-Aerospace.com Dec. 7. She added that the Norwegian Chief of Defence, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen on Dec. 2 “gave his recommendation to the [minister] to cancel the project, a recommendation that the minister followed.” Both top Norwegian defense officials took office less than two months ago.
Contractually, all 24 Archer guns on order for Norway were to have been delivered by the end of 2013, and in operation by the end of 2014, according to the Norwegian MoD’s official statement, but as of December 2013 none had been delivered. Prime contractor BAE Systems Sweden delivered the first four Archers to the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, FMV, on Sept. 23, but in its statement at the time made no mention of deliveries to Norway.
Norway’s decision obviously surprised its Swedish partners, especially as both ministers had just attended the Nordic Defence Ministerial in Helsinki on Dec. 4. Reacting to Norway’s withdrawal, Swedish Defense Minister Karin Enstrom said "I regret the announcement from Norway to terminate its participation in the ARCHER-project. Norway’s decision will affect the cooperation between our countries. Artillery capability is of great importance to Sweden and it is most valuable that we now have four units placed at the artillery regiment in Boden.”
In a separate statement issued on Dec. 6, the Swedish Defence Matériel Agency, FMV, also disputed Norway’s claims of insufficient performance. FMV said that “Archer turned out to have just as good, and in some cases better, performance than alternative artillery system, at a significantly lower cost.” The statement quoted FMV Director-General Lena Erixon as saying that “Archer is a modern, fast and accurate artillery system at a good price. The challenge has been to find the balance between protection and weight and it has been achieved.”
Maj. Eystein Kvarving, spokesman for the Norwegian Chief of Defence, told Defense-Aerospace.com Dec. 7 that “Norway has a requirement for a highly mobile and very quick artillery system, and mobility also means mobility during our extreme winter conditions. If Archer had worked to specification, it would have suited us,” but this was not the case. He declined to elaborate on the system’s shortcomings because of classification issues.
Norway’s intention is to continue working on acquiring a new artillery system that can enter service in 2020, when its current artillery will have to be retired. It currently has a single artillery battalion, nominally with 18 M109s.
Sweden “may formally pursue the acquisition on its own,” the FMV statement continued, “We are now in regular contact with the manufacturer, BAE Systems, to discuss how we move forward,” says FMV’s Lena Erixon.
It is surprising that the mobility issue came up at such a late stage in the program, but in the official statement announcing its withdrawal, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence said it was pulling out because “the army has changed its concept of operations to be more mobile and to operate faster,” implying Archer no longer fits these new requirements.
To date, Norway has spent 550 million kroner on the Archer project, Frische said, of which NOK 380 million on development and NOK 170 million on procurement, out of a total program envelope estimated by Swedish media at about NOK 700 million. She declined to say if and how much Norway might have to pay in terms of penalties, and said “details regarding the cancellation will be settled at later stage.”
Frische further noted that “However, we do not pull out of the entire project (Project New Artillery for the Army) or of cooperation with FMV: we still cooperate on artillery-locating radar (ARTHUR), fire control system (ODIN) and ammunition,” as well as education and training.