This month we’re checking out the South African National Defence Force’s six-wheeled, self-propelled howitzer vehicle, the G6 Rhino. Designed to replace South Africa’s WWII-era Sexton artillery vehicle, the G6 was considered one of the most advanced self-propelled howitzers in the world when official production commenced in 1988, and remains an effective piece of hardware to this day.
Initial development of the 6×6 dates back to the late 1970s. The first working G6 prototype was available for testing in 1981. Though the vehicle has seen a limited amount of combat since its introduction, it has proven to be an important asset in the operations which have included it.
The G6 entered service during the closing years of the South African Border War. Its speed and agility allowed the mobile weapon to reposition quickly and react to ever-changing situations with much more haste than its tracked predecessor.
Developed by Lyttelton Engineering Works, the G6 measures roughly 30 feet in length, 11 feet in width, and 10 feet in height. Weighing in at roughly 51 tons, the initial design for the 6×6 called for a six-man crew consisting of a driver, commander, layer, breech operator, ammunition handler, and loader.
Intended to handle inhospitable terrain quickly and without the need for a support vehicle, the G6 features torsion bar suspension with hydraulic dampers, as well as a mine-resistant hull design that allows the vehicle to survive multiple TM-46 anti-tank land mine blasts during its testing. Though it sports a low-silhouetted hull, the G6 maintains 18 inches of ground clearance.
Equipped with a 185-gallon tank, the G6 has an operational range of approximately 435 miles on road and about half that over rough terrain. Welded steel alloy armor helps to protect the occupants from small arms fire. The front of the vehicle offers bolstered protection from 23mm armor-piercing rounds, and the bottom of the hull is double-layered to offer added protection from ground-based explosives. The crew is also protected from airborne nuclear, biological, and chemical threats via an integrated system equipped in the G6, and an automated fire suppression system is also on hand.
The G6 Rhino is powered by a 525 horsepower Magirus Deutz FL 413 F/FR air-cooled diesel engine, which is hooked to a six-speed transmission that routes the power to all six wheels and yields a top speed of just over 55 miles per hour.
An auxiliary power unit dubbed the Turret Power Unit is mounted in the turret bustle to charge batteries and operate the air conditioning system. A 24-volt electrical system with two 24-volt/175 ampere hour batteries in the hull and two 24 volt/370 ampere hour batteries in the turret keep the G6’s various mechanical and electrical components supplied with juice.
Armament and Functionality
Depending on the variant, the G6 uses either a 155mm-L/45 or 155mm-L/52 main gun with a hydro-pneumatic recoil system and rammer. This gives the Rhino a firing rate of three rounds per minute. The G6 can fire HE-FRAG, smoke, illumination and incendiary rounds, and is capable of carrying a maximum of 44 rounds. A 7.62mm co-axial Browning machine gun or a 12.7mm machine gun serve as its secondary gun.
The G6 boasts two banks of four 81mm launchers for smoke grenades which are located on either side of the front of the turret. The turret also has several firing ports on the left, right and rear of the vehicle for use if the crew finds themselves in close-quarters combat.
The vehicle uses an indirect fire control system, which relies on forward observers for targeting data. The observers pass it on through the Artillery Target Engagement System (ATES) to a fire control post before transmitting it to the individual G6 Launcher Management System (LMS) via frequency-hopping Very High Frequency (VHF) radio. When firing orders are relayed to the G6 through the VHF radio, the crew can then direct the cannon in the appropriate manner, which can be done through the automatic gun laying system.
Production, Variants, and Operational History
By 1987, four G6-45 prototypes had been built. The vehicles were quickly rushed into service to support the South African military during the Angolan Border War. Full-scale production of the G6 would get underway the following year, and the vehicle would go on to provide infantry support and cover fire for advancing mechanized forces during the South African conflict.
A total of 154 G6 units would be built in total before the end of production in 1999. A number of units manufactured for export and several variants were created along the way. These include the G6-52, which features a 23-liter blast chamber volume, as well as a G6-52 extended range.
The extended-range version boasts a number of advantages over the standard G6-52. Among them are a reduction of the previously necessary 6-member crew down to 3-5, increased off-road speed capability, and the ability to fire a projectile up to 41.6 miles at a rate of up to eight rounds per minute. MRSI technology can land up to six rounds simultaneously on targets as far as 15.5 miles away. These enhancements make the G6-52 one of the most capable artillery systems of modern times.
The British-developed G6 Marksman has also been produced in small quantities. It combines the G6’s vehicle design with a Marksman anti-aircraft gun, rather than the 155mm gun normally outfitted to the vehicle.
Despite being decades old now, the G6 Rhino’s design still remains effective. The majority of the G6’s combat record is isolated to the South African Border War, but it has seen use as recently as August of 2015, when the United Arab Emirates Defence Force deployed a battery to Aden during the ongoing Yemeni Civil War.
Though production ended before the turn of the century, some modernization and retrofitting development continues, as a new 52-caliber cannon, an upgraded 38-kilowatt auxiliary power unit, and an enhanced biological and chemical protection system have been produced, which can be equipped to earlier production G6 units.