It’s has been a long road for the Argentine Army (Ejército Argentino), but after a few years, the overhaul and upgrade program of the VCA (Artillery Fighting Vehicle) Palmaria howitzers fleet it’s finally on its way. The project is of vital importance, since the Palmaria are the only Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) available, after the Army radiated from service the worn-out AMX F3 SPHs less than a year ago.
The Palmaria’s overhaul begins to mature in 2014, when the feasibility analyses are given the initial kick to face the project. Arsenals Management and 602nd Arsenals Battalion in conjunction with the local company ST Group would take part in these planning process. The pretended final outcome was to recover the capacities of the VCA, both its gun and the systems associated with the turret. Let us remember that in 2006 these SPHs suffered unforeseen wear and tear in their Oto Melara 155mm L41 guns. To bring them back to service, the Army required assistance to Oto Melara. The italian company established an approximate cost of 1 million euros (per unit) for the setting up of the material. The Argentine Army, aware of the impossibility to face up these costs, opted to tackle a local solution that ended up giving fruits thanks to the R&D tasks undertaken by the mentioned organizations and company, at a unit cost of u$s 240.000 dollars. In 2016, the project marks one of its milestones: the first overhauled and upgraded Palmarias returned to shooting exercises with their 155mm guns, after 10 years of being out of service.
Overhaul: General repair of the EVA engine (Volkswagen-Audi 826 1.6 diesel); repair of the electro-hydraulic system based on the architecture of the prototype vehicle. It includes studies and various verifications, repair and replacement of various components.
Upgrade: Electronics modificacions in the EVA engine, installation of a system whose control will be a PLC (Programmable Logical Controller), installation (on folding racks) of two touch-screen LCD displays (7″ and 10″) availables for the commander and gunner and new wiring.
Since the beginning of the project, ten Palmaria SPHs were fully overhauled and upgraded: One prototype, four vehicles from the 11st Armored Artillery Group (2016) and five from the 9th Armored Artillery Group. By 2019, two Palmaria are planned to be completed with the final six vehicles by 2020 . A third stage of modernization (applied to the prototype) dealt with the reconfiguration of the control program, which enables the integration of an inertial unit for the turret control system with the Autonomous Aiming System (SIPAAC) and Automated Shooting System (SATAC). New sensors were also incorporated, providing additional vehicles information and giving greater precision to the movements of the gun, as well as the automation of the gear fixator.
As mentioned before, the overhaul and upgrade program is of vital importance to the Argentine Army since they’ll be the only SPHs for a long time. Even more so when the acquisition process of the ex US-Army M-109A5 SPHs, made available via EDA, has been put on hold.