Fact file: G5 L45 towed gun-howitzer


The 2010 edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance publication lists the South African Artillery as currently employing six (one battery) G5 L45 and having an additional 66 in store.

Author Clive Wilsworth in his excellent “First in, First Out, The South African Artillery in Action 1975-1988 (30 Degrees South Publishers, Johannesburg, 2010) notes the G5, properly the GV5 Luiperd (leopard) and self-propelled (SP) GV6 Renoster (rhino)was developed from a need identified in 1968 and formalised in 1973 “when the gunners set the requirements to modernise their equipment in line with the Army’s upgrading programme”. Work began in 1974 under the rubric Project Boas.

At the time, the Artillery employed a towed 88mm quick-firing gun, later renamed the GV1 (Geskut, Veld 1; Gun, Field 1), a SP version of the same weapon, named the Sexton (later the GV7) and a breech-loading towed 140mm howitzer, later the GV2. As a first step, six captured Soviet M46 130mm guns were acquired from Israel (and later returned). Next some 32 M71 155mm towed guns were acquired from Soltam and placed into service as the GV4 (Project Burrow). Six surplus US M2 155mm towed “Long Tom” howitzers were then acquired (Project Sherbet I) from the Canadian Space Research Corporation (SRC), headed by Dr Gerald Bull, as the GV3, along with a new type of extended range full bore (ERFB) ammunition (the M57) and M11 propellent charges (Projects Sherbet II and Ghost).

Wilsworth says the GV5, itself, was conceived in July 1976 (Projects Sherbet III) and later named the Luiperd (Leopard), a nomenclature never used. Neither was the “V” in the designation “GV5”. Input from Iraq, who purchased some 200 of the type, under the designation FF551, led to revisions of the design. Sherbet III also saw South Africa purchase 30 000 shells from the SRC. Project Factor saw the development of proximity fuses, Gallows the development of the M10 charge. Project Action was the development of white phosphorus projectiles by SRC and Naschem, s well as illumination and smoke projectiles by the SRC and Swartklip. Project Cabbage was the acquisition of the SAMIL gun tractors, Project Olim the industrialisation and production of the M10 and M11 charge system at Somchem (including 16 605 charges imported from Canada). Project Gong was the industrialisation and production of the M57 projectile by Naschem (including 55 792 imported from Canada), Bulb the acquisition of test equipment, Décor the development of the M82 percussion tube, Buzzard the development of the SP artillery system (G6) as well as base bleed projectiles and Project PDM572 the production of the PDM572 point detonating fuse. Project Starlight was the industrialisation and production of the G5. Project Dibula was the development of the AS80 fire control computer by Teklogic (now Thales Defence Systems), Gharra the Kentron Seeker unmanned aerial vehicle and Ignite an artillery laser range finder and night vision binocular for mounting on Ratel forward observation post vehicles.

One project that did not come to fruition was Afstof, the quest for an acoustic target acquisition systems and artillery location radar. These would have replaced and improved upon the British Green Archer and Cymbeline mortar locating radars that were always too flimsy to survive the African bush.

Post-war followed Project Klooster, a new target acquisition and fire control system that built on the lessons learnt in Angola and Namibia – “especially the problem of observation and target fixation,” Wilsworth adds. The Artillery Target Engagement System (ATES) that resulted and is only now coming into service includes:

  • the Basic Artillery Observation System (man portable observation post equipment),
  • the Enhanced Artillery Observation System (Ratel mounted sensors for day and night observation etc),
  • the Gun Muzzle velocity analyzer for G5 and 6,
  • the Vulture Unmanned Air Vehicle Observation System,
  • fire control computers,
  • artillery command computers,
  • digital communications for the artillery, and
  • and the S700 meteorological system.

The first three GV5 were delivered to the Artillery on May 21, 1982. The first battery was commissioned in October 1985 and deployed in support of the Angolan insurgent movement, UNITA, the next year during Operation Alpha Centauri. The same guns deployed in 1987 for Operation Modular and in 1988/9 for Operations Hooper, Packer and Excite.


Breech-loading medium towed 155mm gun-howitzer.


Six (one battery) in service, 66 in store.

Associated project names:

Boas, Starlight, Sherbet I, Sherbet II, Sherbet III, Ghost, Factor, Action, Gallows, Cabbage, Olim, Gong, Bulb, Décor, Buzzard, PDM572, Muhali






8 (original model), 6 (late model).

In/out of action time:

About 90 seconds on the latest models/modifications.



Chamber volume:

23 litres

Barrel length:



Mono-block barrel fitted with muzzle brake, swing and slide breech and electrically activated firing mechanism.


High strength steel construction with split tails and self-dig-in spades.

Elevating mass:

Comprises the ordnance, cradle with integrated buffer system, ammunition handling and ramming system.



Length (towing configuration):

9.1m (barrel out of battery, i.e. reversed).


2.5m (towed position), 8.4m (in action)


2.9m (barrel clamped in towed position), 4.5m (barrel clamped in firing position)

Ground clearance:


Fording depth:

0.6m (self propelled), 1.2m (towed).

Muzzle velocity:

Dependent on charge.

Rate of fire:

3rpm at maximum charge for 15 minutes, thereafter 2rpm for one hour. Operational experience has, however, shown that barrels wear out quickly at full charge. Evidence suggests that during operations in late 1987, the guns were firing, on average, 90 rounds per weapon per day – not a high figure, historically. After four months of use, ten out of 16 G5 were damaged and six needed new barrels.


-3 to +85 degrees.


84 degrees with elevation below 15 degrees; 65 degrees with elevation above 15 degrees.

Max range:

Dependent on charge. Direct fire: 3km, minimum indirect range: 3km, maximum range: 30km, with base bleed at sea level: 39km. (By contrast, the G6 L52 with a 25-litre chamber can range to 75km with a VLAP shell and did so on April 11, 2006 at Armscor’s Alkantpan test range2.)

Accuracy & consistency:

Accuracy is not dependent on gun characteristics alone. Factors playing a role include variations in projectile mass, muzzle velocity, the accuracy of laying the gun in azimuth and elevation, as well as the accuracy in determining the gun position and meteorological data as well as barrel wear and history. Accuracy is 0.6% CEP of range (in lower trajectory). The probable error specification at 75% of maximum range is 0.48% of range and one mil in line for boat tail ammunition and 0.6% of range and 1.2 mil in line for base bleed. This can be achieved with single lots of propellant and M1A4 ERFB ammunition.


Optical-mechanical panoramic, mounted on trunnions, with compensation for cant; telescopic sight for direct fire.

Command system:

AS2000. The gun system includes a launcher management computer, ordnance controller, gun fire panel, commander’s hand held fire controller and radio. The laying and navigation system includes a ring laser gyro and automatic laying system with joystick control.




Weight of shell:

Weight of filling:



Lethal radius:

Lethal area:

HE Base bleed.


Weight of shell:

Weight of filling:


Lethal radius:

Lethal area:




Weight of shell:

Weight of filling:


Smoke colour:

Smoke dispersion:

Red phosphorus:


Weight of shell:

Weight of filling:


Smoke colour:

Smoke dispersion:


Weight of shell:

Weight of filling:


Minimum burn time:

ERFB. Assegai.




As required As required.

3000 to 4800.




As required. As required.

Pyrotechnic. Pyrotechnic.



As required. As required.

white, red, blue

>10m radius in 10 seconds.

Pyrotechnic. Pyrotechnic.



As required. As required.

>10m radius in 10 seconds.


1.65 million candela.

90 seconds. 55 seconds.

Charge system:

The G5 uses the M90 bi-modular propelling charge system (BMCS), consisting of a 1.8kg green M91 and a 2.6kg white M92 module. The modules are built into charges that cover five and six zones respectively.


Towed by a 10mt Samil/Kwe100 gun tractor.

Road speed: 90km/h when towed. Auxiliary engine (57kW) gives autonomous speed of 16km/h on hard level surfaces and 4km/h on sand. In self propelled mode, can negotiate gradient and side slope of 30%. Turning circle 20m on hard surface, 30m on sand. Gun can be transported in C130 Hercules or larger aircraft.





200 (as the FF551)

28 in 2001-33

12 (according to IISS)


The detail given here is for the G5 L45 (45-calibre G5 and not the more modern G5 L52, which is not in service with the SA Army. The main difference between the weapons is that the L52’s barrel is 1.085m longer than that of the L45 – which makes for a crucial difference in performance.)

The G5 L45 was an advanced weapon for the 1980s, when the NATO standard barrel was only 39 calibres long. Most artillery powers have now standardised on the L52, the most obvious exception being the US, who have stuck to the L39 partly for political and industrial reasons but also because their multiple rocket launcher system, which can now fire GPS-guided munitions, and unrivalled command of the air have made longer range weapons unnecessary.

Contrary to mythology, the G5 is not a South African design, but rather the work of one Gerald Vincent Bull (1928-1990), who based the barrel design on his earlier work for the Canadian and US governments.4 South Africa’s interest in the design was its range, which offset its loss of air superiority in the early 1980s: if it could no longer safely bombard targets from the air, it could do so from long range.

In the 2005/6 period, the charge system and ammunition was updated under Project Muhali.


1 An 88mm sub-calibre system is in use for training. http://www.armscor.co.za/abs/contractdetail.asp?Requirement_ID=10747 accessed January 10, 2008.

2 Bastiaan Verhoek, Denel shatters artillery records, SA Soldier, Pretoria, July 2006.

3 As declared to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, 1994-2009.

4 For more information and conjecture, see: www.answers.com/topic/gerald-bull.