moja polska zbrojna
Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Krab Hits from Afar

It is equipped with a 155-mm gun, which can fire 6 rounds per minute and has a range of up to 40 km, as well as protection and warning systems. Soldiers talk about the assets of the most powerful howitzer in the Polish Armed Forces.

A 50-ton giant is standing in front of the garage. We are near Sulechów, at the base of the 5th Artillery Regiment. The engine is idle, and I take a walk around the vehicle. The Krab howitzer is really impressive – 15 meters long, almost 4 meters high, steel tracks, and a huge, 155-mm gun. I take a look inside. It’s very tight. The first compartment can hold four people. The crew commander’s seat is close to the hatch, and the gunner’s is right below. On the left, there are places for two loaders.

“This is the wartime option. During daily use and training, one loader is enough to properly operate the howitzer,” admits SrCpl Tomasz Łech, a crew member. The driver’s seat is in the front of the vehicle. In order to get there, one must squeeze through a narrow corridor. Limited space is not a problem – it is daily bread for any artilleryman. “It was the same in Danas, in 2S1s, all tanks in which I served before,” admits the corporal. “But it’s hard to even start comparing these howitzers. They are a world apart.”

Ready, Aim, Fire

We are talking, but we need to raise our voices a little to be heard, as the 1,000-hp Diesel engine makes noise even when its idle. This is not a problem for the crew. “We use the Fonet internal communication system, installed in our headsets. It’s designed to block outside noise,” explains Cpl Łech. Besides, crucial information is mostly transferred electronically. The commander sits in front of the terminal screen. “It displays information coming from the platoon commander – target coordinates and gun settings calculated by the system. Later, the data goes to the gunner, who controls all the elements of the turret system from his panel,” explains the crew commander. As needed, he can rotate, raise or lower the barrel, activate the gun loading system. “The howitzer can hold 40 rounds. They don’t have cases. The loader takes shells from the magazine, and puts them on a hydraulic arm which moves them into the barrel,” explains Łech. Simultaneously, the igniter goes off. When everything is ready, the projectile is fired. It weighs 40 kg and can hit targets 40 km away. “Do you get information if the shot was successful?,” I ask. “If the distance is too long, we don’t. The commanders using reconnaissance devices evaluate fire accuracy.”

Krab can not only hit the enemy, but also effectively protect itself against attack. The howitzer is equipped with a 12.7-mm machine gun, operated by one of the loaders. There are also sensors in the armor that alarm the crew in the event the enemy targets the vehicle with a laser sight. “These devices are very sensitive. They can even react to light emitted by laser indicators used for presentations. That’s why the sensors are covered when we are not in training,” emphasizes LtCol Przemysław Strykowski, Commander of the 2nd Self-Propelled Artillery Squadron equipped with Krabs.

When the alarm sounds, smoke grenades are thrown outside. The vehicle disappears in a grey cloud, and the crew gains some time to withdraw to a safe place. Krabs also have a fire protection system. When fire breaks out inside, due to a failure or being hit by an enemy missile, the driver activates foam extinguishers with one push of a button.

High-Flying Projectile

It is now time to actually see what the new howitzer can do. The crew jumps inside. They close the hatch, the engine increases its speed. The vehicle jumps forward, and then immediately turns around, practically in place. The asphalt, however, stays intact, as “Krab’s tracks have a special rubber overlay. The vehicle weight is balanced, so it exerts less pressure on the surface than an average 18-wheeler does. Therefore, it can easily move on public roads,” points out Maj Marcin Stajkowski, Spokesman for the 5th Artillery Regiment. Several months ago, for example, Krabs covered six kilometers on public roads from their base to a railway ramp in Sulechów, from where they were transported to a training area. “When Krabs are to cover a longer distance, we usually use the railway or transport them on low-bed trailers,” explains the spokesman.

When the howitzer disappears around the corner, we get in the car and follow it to the nearby training ground. This is where Krab crews interoperate, test communication, practice procedures connected with firing. “Sometimes they train alone, at other times the whole battery comes to exercise. Here, they can train virtually everything, except for the shooting itself,” emphasizes LtCol Strykowski. The crew is already in place, Krab starts moving forward on signal, raising clouds of sand around it. Its speed quickly increases, and its capabilities are impressive – it can reach 60 km/h on a straight road, and half of that speed off road.

The howitzer reaches the line of the forest, stops, and the gunner automatically releases the lock that holds the barrel at the armor while the vehicle moves. The over 8-meter long gun goes up. “During the shootings, the barrel can be raised at an angle wider than 45 degrees, so that the projectile can fly over the trees or other obstacles, even if they are in close vicinity to the howitzer. In case of long-distance shooting, the projectiles move at the altitude of over 15 km,” says LtCol Strykowski. The gunner rotates the gun, then lowers and locks it, and the vehicle moves on. The procedure is repeated several times. Finally, the Krab returns to the starting point. Interesting? Yes. “Keep in mind, though, that in warfare the howitzer never operates alone,” says the squadron commander.

Thousand Horses under the Armor

Krabs are a part of a battery. Each battery includes eight howitzers. There are also three command vehicles (one for the battery commander and two for platoon commanders), and two ammunition vehicles. Three batteries make up the Regina squadron level fire module, supervised by the squadron commander, who also has his own vehicle on the battlefield. This is the situation in the 5th Regiment.

“We received first Krabs two years ago. Earlier, we had a training organized by the producer, Huta Stalowa Wola. We also had to recruit soldiers for the squadron,” recalls LtCol Strykowski. New vehicles gradually replaced the Goździk self-propelled howitzers that started service already at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. “There are significant differences between them. Starting with the gun caliber – 122 mm in Goździk and 155 mm in Krab, through the range – 15 and 40 km respectively, to the electronic equipment and engine power, which was 200 hp in the old howitzer, compared to 1,000 hp in the new one,” enumerates the commander of the 2nd Squadron.

How do the new batteries operate in combat? Obviously, it all starts with collecting information on the potential target. “It can be supplied by external sources, but can also be obtained using own reconnaissance devices. The squadron uses data collected by joint fires observers, UAVs and the Liwiec Artillery Reconnaissance Radar,” enumerates LtCol Strykowski. The information is then entered into the Topaz Combat Management System, which calculates the settings for the howitzer. Later, the orders go down – from the squadron commander, through the battery commander and platoon commander, to the crew or crews of particular howitzers.

If only one battery goes out to the field, the decisions are taken at the level of its commander. “Full automation makes everything happen in a matter of seconds,” emphasizes LtCol Strykowski. Giving tasks to particular howitzers is also easier thanks to the GPS that gives higher level commanders the exact location of the vehicles. Indicated howitzers take their positions and prepare to fire. The settings are usually entered into the system automatically. However, the gunner can also locate the target using a half-automatic method, with a joystick, or manually, by rotating handles,” explains the commander of the 2nd Squadron. Krab can fire up to six projectiles per minute. “The howitzer shouldn’t remain in one position for more than two minutes. The crew must be aware that when they fire, the enemy will try to locate them, so after carrying out the task the howitzer must be moved to another place as quickly as possible,” emphasizes LtCol Strykowski.

Barrel towards the Sea

Krab crews from Sulechów have been at training grounds three times. “The first time was during the test after finishing the training at the producer’s. We also went to Drawsko Pomorskie twice,” recalls the commander of the 2nd Squadron. There, artillerymen hit targets 12 km away. They also practiced shooting at the distance of one kilometer using optical sights and firing from Krab’s machine guns. This is merely an introduction to future tasks.

“In the fall, we are going to train in Ustka, where we can shoot towards the sea, even at a 40-km range. At the same time, we take measurements of, for example, projectile trajectories. It will all help to carry out such shootings on land. There, the situation is much more complicated, as the projectile has to fly over public roads cutting across military territory,” explains LtCol Strykowski.

Soldiers of the 11th Artillery Regiment from Węgorzewo have already finished the training in Ustka. This is the first unit of the Polish Armed Forces to have used Krabs. They received test howitzers already four years ago. “The change was enormous. We went from analog to digital. From then on, we have tried to practice shooting as often as possible: in Toruń, Orzysz, Drawsko, Żagań. We train in various configurations: two, three batteries. With new equipment, training is a crucial matter,” emphasizes LtCol Mateusz Kujawski, Commander of the 2nd Self-Propelled Artillery Squadron, which is a part of the Regiment in Węgorzewo. In Ustka, his soldiers carried out shootings at a 33-km range. Several months ago, they also marked their presence at Exercise Anakonda, where they provided fire support to the Navy ships and the Air Force.

The two units equipped with Krabs will soon be joined by another one – the 23rd Artillery Regiment in Bolesławiec. In July, appointed soldiers from the regiment began training organized by Huta Stalowa Wola. They are supervised by a group of experts. Several days ago, they completed shooting practice at the training ground in Nowa Dęba. Before the end of 2024, the Polish Armed Forces are to receive almost 120 Krabs.

Superhowitzers

The howitzer project dates back to the late 1990s, when Poland bought from Great Britain a license to build the AS-90 Braveheart turret system. The chassis for the new howitzer was to be built by Bumar Łabędy. Due to various disturbances, that plan failed. The problem was solved by means of procuring from South Korea a license to produce a chassis used for the K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer. Poland, in cooperation with the Korean partners, rebuilt the chassis and adapted it to own needs. The first Krab on the new chassis was presented by Huta Stalowa Wola in the summer of 2015. Soon after that, prototype vehicles were delivered to the Polish Armed Forces.

Łukasz Zalesiński

autor zdjęć: Łukasz Zalesiński

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