On October 16, the Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, paid a visit to the Nexter-KNDS Plant in Roanne (Loire) to witness a remarkable success in the transition to a war economy. The Caesar 155 mm self-propelled howitzer has seen its production rates surge from two to six units per month, while delivery times have been slashed from 30 months to just 15 months. At the onset of the Ukrainian conflict in February 2022, KNDS was manufacturing only two Caesar self-propelled guns per month. The company is capable of assembling six per month, with plans to further increase production to eight units by the start of the following year. This enhanced production capacity will enable France to replenish its stock of Caesar howitzers sold to Ukraine to aid in its defense against Russia. The goal is to replace all 18 units by early 2024, a year ahead of the initial schedule. In tandem with increased production, significant efforts have been made to reduce delivery times from 30 months to just 15, ensuring swift supply to both domestic and international clients. The shift to a war economy revolves around a three-fold strategy: producing more, producing faster, and maintaining controlled costs.
Similar strides have been made in air defense munitions, with MBDA increasing production of Mistral missiles from 20 to 40 per month. The minister also recognized the efforts of various other defense industry players, such as Thales, which has doubled its radar production over the past year, and Dassault Aviation, which is ramping up its production of Rafale fighter jets from one to three per month to fulfill international orders. In addition to these achievements, Minister Lecornu commended the substantial efforts to modernize army vehicles, particularly within the Scorpion range, consisting of the Griffon, Jaguar, and Serval wheeled armored vehicles. The 2024-2030 military programming law has allocated nearly 10 billion euros to these programs, ensuring the production of over 200 vehicles each year by KNDS for the French military. Orders from the State are set to provide visibility and stability for the defense industry until 2035. During his visit, Minister Lecornu took the opportunity to decorate employees of the KNDS factory with the National Defense medal, silver level, as a gesture of appreciation for their extraordinary contributions to the transition to a war economy.
The Caesar (Camion Équipé d’un Système d’Artillerie, Truck equipped with an artillery system) is a French 155 mm, 52-caliber self-propelled howitzer that can fire 39/52 caliber NATO-standard shells. It is installed on a 6×6 or 8×8 truck chassis. Equipped with an autonomous weapon network incorporating an inertial navigation system and ballistic computer, the CAESAR can accurately strike targets more than 40 kilometres (25 mi) away using “Extended Range, Full Bore” (ERFB) ammunition with base bleed, or targets over 55 kilometres (34 mi) away using rocket assisted or smart ammunition. Units manufactured for the French Army use a 6×6 Renault Sherpa 5 chassis, while exported versions use the 6×6 Unimog U2450L chassis or the 8×8 Tatra 817 chassis. The CAESAR platform was developed by French defense contractor GIAT Industries (now Nexter Systems) and has been exported to various countries including Belgium, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Ukraine.
The CAESAR is a wheeled, 155mm 52-caliber self-propelled howitzer. It embarks 18 rounds and is typically operated by a crew of five, though if necessary the CAESAR can be operated by a crew as few as three. It can be transported by a C-130 or an A400M aircraft. Tailored for shoot-and-scoot tactics, the CAESAR is fast to set up, taking around 60 seconds for the crew to be ready to fire and 40 seconds to leave after the shots. It sustains a rate of fire of six rounds per minute. It has a firing range of approximately 42 kilometres (26 mi) using an Extended Range, Full Bore (ERFB) shell, and more than 50 kilometres (31 mi) using rocket assisted shells. The CAESAR integrates an autonomous weapon system featuring an inertial navigation system (the SIGMA 30), a ballistic computer and an optional muzzle velocity radar; the system is adaptable to any C4l system (fully integrated with the ATLAS FCS). The gun uses a special kind of shell, the LU 211, which is produced at Les Forges de Tarbes, within the confines of the town arsenal. The production rate was 1,500 CAESAR shells per month in March 2023.