One of the key elements that has made Tarakia the dominant power in the region is its geography, laying at the Western edge of a fragile region, where trust and allegiances are shifted constantly. Protecting the North of the country are the hot, sandy mountains, with a limited number of passes, which can be easily defended by well emplaced forces. In the South are the cold, snow covered mountains, with just three passages available to heavy armour. These routes are defended by permanent garrisons of experienced, and well equipped troops, positioned in a bottlenecks, thus allowing defending forces to concentrate fire. In the West is thousands of miles of shoreline, consisting of cliffs, beaches, jagged rocks, and enough gun emplacements to repel any naval invasion force. The East, which borders most of Tarakia's enemies, is split into two regions, consisting of a vast open desert in the North East, and a dense, overgrown forest in the South East, which are separated by a mountain range that acts as a trading place for the hot and humid climate in the North, to the frigid, perennial frost of the South. This leaves just two realistic options for an invasion force committed to war. The vast open desert offers great mobility for armour, but gives no protection from defending forces, while the forest offers excellent protection from aerial and artillery fire, but is virtually impassable to heavy armour, thus leaving any force extremely outgunned if they managed to break through the forest, making them easy pickings for waiting defending troops. These two avenues of attack funnel hostile forces into bottlenecks, albeit bottlenecks that are several hundreds of miles wide, meaning the Tarakian defenders don't need to thin out their forces guessing where an attack will take place, allowing them to concentrate their forces. Takaria is the largest, wealthiest country in the region, along with the strongest and best equipped military, it also has the most abundant natural resources, resulting in countless hostile actions from ambitious, but weak neighbours. Although technically the strongest individual nation, Tarakia isn't stronger than the region as a whole, meaning any realistic take over would require multiple nations formed into an alliance. Such alliances have been formed many times in the past, but due to power grabbing and distrust, they are built on weak foundations, and lack real strength. These nations have also been at war with each other when not eyeing up Tarakia's resources, thus a true allegiance is unlike to ever materialize.
The idea behind the Rhino is to be just one of several layers of a defensive battle group, which has been used and honed over decades of conflict with envious bordering neighbours. The front line consists of the heaviest units, such as the Goliath Land Cruiser , the Marauder MBT , the Dragoon , and the Ronin tank destroyers, plus enough infantry to fill every gap. The second line consists mainly of anti-aircraft units, projecting a net over the front line, so that even if an aircraft was to attack, the chances of it surviving an attacking run would be scarce. The third line would be identical to the front line, but spaced out so that if need be, retreating units can easily funnel back to safety, and allow units from the third line, to replace fallen units in the front line. The fourth line would then consist of missile and artillery units, which would create a kill zone directly in front of front line, meaning any attacking enemy would have to break through this zone before they even reached the waiting forces of the front line. The fifth line would consist of supply and support vehicles. All this combined makes a solid blockade that would take an attacking force several times its size to break though, which has never been done. The idea is to place the Rhino in the fourth line, and fire beyond the defensive net, out into areas where the enemy thinks itself to be safe, this gives the defending forces the ability to attack without leaving the protection of their anti-aircraft perimeter, or fortified positions.
With a gun that weighs almost eighteen tonnes, a vehicle was needed that could not only transport such a weapon, but also be able to withstand the tremendous recoil produced by such a weapon. The Rhino is still in the prototype stage, with only two units produced so far, and has been built from the ground up to harness a 225mm artillery gun. Weighing in at a whopping 58 tonnes unloaded, the Rhino is definitely a heavy weight when it comes to SPG's, but due to the weapons immense range of 42 miles, which gives it the ability to fire out beyond Tarakia's borders, while still being comfortably inside them, combined with the anticipated areas in which the Rhino will operate, which include bridges capable of supporting such weight, and a 1250hp engine, the Rhino's weight is not considered a hindrance. With a loaded weight of around 62 tonnes, the Rhino is surely the heaviest artillery piece in the Tarakian military, but due to a lack of any significant armour, and that beastly engine, the Rhino is surprisingly agile, with above average acceleration, being only slightly lesser in performance than the Praetorian. Being a typical Takarian layout, with the driver located at the front, engine and weapon in the middle, and a crew cabin at the rear, the Rhino has excellent weight distribution, which is another reason for it's surprising agility. Due to the sheer bulk of this unit, the recoil from the weapon is easily managed, but as this unit will operate in either a desert environment, a woodland environment, or a snow environment, it was decided to add two recoil stabilizers at the rear, to keep the unit from sinking into these soft bed areas. With an impressive 20░ of horizontal travel, it was decided that the Rhino, or at least the test units, did not need a rotating turret, resulting in a lower cost, quicker production time, as well as less parts to maintain. That being said, this is still a prototype, and a version with a fully rotating turret isn't entirely out of the question, if it is felt that 20░ isn't adequate. The Rhino has a crew of seven, but can operate at greatly reduced performance with a crew of just three if absolutely necessary. The crew is made up of a commander, a gunner, a driver, a navigator, and three loaders. Stocked with a large surplus of supplies and rations, the Rhino can operate independently for long periods of time if needed, but due to a constant need for ammunition, and being placed in the fourth line, the chances of this unit being completely isolated are rare. Also fitted to the unit for the duration of field testing are four additional fuel tanks for extended range, these may or may not be replaced, or removed, if this unit is ever approved for mass production. If the Rhino ever makes it passed the test stage and field trials, 2400 would be ordered, meaning an equal split of 600 for the bordering regions of Tarakia. Although it is minor in detail, it is a rather important factor to performance, and it concerns open cabin vehicles in cold climates, such as the South. Crews have complained that trying to do their duty in forty below can be very uncomfortable, so the standard canopy has been replaced with a thermal lock version, and two small heaters are installed into the floor of any unit deployed in the Southern region.
The Rhino has an ammunition capacity of 23, made up of three shell types, with 14 shells located in the crew cabin, and another 9 in a storage compartment under the cabin floor. The standard shell is a high explosive (orange tip), which alone is predicted to be able to deal with everything up to heavy armour, which requires an armour-piercing shell (red tip). Along with these two, is a laser guided shell (blue tip), which requires a target to be painted by either a small crew on the ground, using a hand held laser targeting device, or a reconnaissance aircraft, which can act as an aerial spotter for all laser guided shells fired. Along side the testing of the Rhino, is testing of multiple munitions for the 225mm gun, which includes a nuclear shell, that is banned for use in combat, but not banned from testing. Another shell which is expected to see great use in the North Eastern region is a anti-personnel shell, which reaches a certain distance, and the splits apart, showering the area with mines specifically aimed at inflicting heavy casualties among enemy infantry. The last known prototype shell is an EMP shell (purple), which is specifically designed to knock out multiple enemy vehicles within a blast radius. Other shells are planned, but nothing about them is known at this time. Also among available shells are illumination (yellow) and smoke (white).
With each shell weighing in at around 115kg, the Rhino has three loaders, but can operate with just one if needed, this is due to a clever winch system that sits above the crew cabin on rails, which takes the strain of the massive weight of each shell. This winch is also used to lift shells from the lower storage compartment up to the crew cabin, directly into the gun if needed. Due to this system, the Rhino can keep up a sustained rate of fire of three rounds a minute, but in order to keep firing, the Rhino also needs a support crew to feed shells in through the rear of the unit, and there is no winch system here, meaning each shell has to be carried by hand from either a truck, or an ammunition carrier. A system is used that when the Rhino deploys and prepares to fire, the support crew will stock the lower chamber with shells, so that they can keep on top of the fire rate. To keep this chamber clear, each support team will load a shell, and take an empty casing away, then another team will bring another shell, and so on and so on.
Two large compartments are located on either side of the crew cabin exterior, these compartments hold two large camouflage nets, which are spooled up inside. Running along one edge of the nets are multiple hooks, so that when the crew connect these hooks to clips inside the compartment, and electric motor winds them up, and spools them around two rollers.
Note that this unit is still in the testing phase, and that multiple changes and modifications are always a possibility.
However, some military analysts have a different view of this unit, seeing it as an offensive unit, rather than a defensive unit, and as a weapon capable of reaching out beyond Tarakias borders, able to take a more aggressive, attacking role. Which has some asking, does Tarakia, a nation with no need or ambition to extend beyond its borders, need a unit like this?