Artillery types

Artillery leads the fight in Ukraine

Artillery has long been known as the “King of Battle” for its crucial role in warfare, although its fundamentals have changed very little since the Chinese discovered gunpowder technology in the 9th century: propelling a heavy object towards the enemy through a tube using explosive force. . But military strategists say the startling course of Russia’s three-month-long invasion of Ukraine added a potentially revolutionary new aspect to the power of artillery in modern warfare.

As Russian forces struggle to gain ground in the fighting so far, the Pentagon has provided kyiv with 90 top-of-the-line M777 155mm howitzers to aid in combat and is leading hundreds of Ukrainian troops through training courses. special training to get them. systems update. Meanwhile, other NATO members have also supplied Ukraine with howitzers for the next phase of the conflict.

“They know what they’re up against,” a senior Defense Ministry official said Thursday. “We take the gunners out of the fight to learn these howitzers and then put them back in.”

Weapons in the military can generally be divided into two categories: direct fire and indirect fire. An infantryman’s rifle or tank gun is a direct fire weapon, used to strike objects that the operator can see. Artillery, on the other hand, is an indirect fire weapon. With a little math and a forward observer who can read a map, operators of an M777 howitzer can hit a target about 20 miles away.

Just before leaving for a long diplomatic tour of Asia, President Biden on Thursday formally authorized a $100 million security assistance package for Ukraine, which will mean an additional 18 155mm howitzers bound for Kyiv. , as well as enough tactical vehicles to tow them. A separate package of $40 billion in US economic, security and humanitarian aid was approved by the Senate on Thursday and is expected to be signed by the president in the coming days.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that US-supplied artillery guns are “ahead in the fight” and provide long-range indirect fire capability. brought to the country’s forces as they fight Russian and separatist forces in the eastern region of Donbass. , at the center of the current fighting after Russian forces were prevented from advancing on Kyiv and other major cities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has committed about 80% of his total battalion battle groups to Ukraine. Although its losses were high, Russia still has about 140 BTGs available and at least 106 operational in Ukraine, Pentagon officials said.

Focus shift

Early in the conflict, Russia’s armored advantage proved of little value as the Kremlin’s hoped-for lightning victory was blocked by fierce Ukrainian resistance. Local forces could come out from behind a corner and knock out a Russian tank or armored personnel carrier before blending into the community.

As the focus of the fighting shifted east, the flat, open terrain only amplified the artillery’s role in the fighting. As Russian supplies have been depleted by the fighting, NATO countries are mobilizing to fill the gaps in Ukraine’s arsenal.

The command role that artillery can play on today’s battlefields has never been more evident than on May 13, 2022, when the Russian army repeatedly attempted to cross the Severodonetsk River near Luhansk. Ukraine launched an artillery barrage on Russian positions, knocking out dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.

Artillery “has been the biggest cause of casualties in Ukraine so far,” said retired Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, a board member of the Ukraine Field Artillery Association. ‘army. “When you send 90 howitzers, it has a significant impact on the battlefield.”

The Pentagon says the 155mm howitzers it has sent to Ukraine are ideal for the military and the terrain they are fighting on. Unlike a self-propelled gun such as the M-109, their soldiers do not need to be trained in basic automotive maintenance. If necessary, a farmer’s tractor can tow an M777 Howitzer to a desirable firing position.

“The kind of conflict we envision in Ukraine has changed,” said Brad Bowman, a former army officer and currently senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Now there is a different topography with more open areas. It looks more like Kansas than what we saw north of kyiv.

Artillery will become increasingly important as the conflict in Ukraine becomes bogged down in “positional warfare,” said Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and international.

“In war, artillery does most of the killing and infantry does most of the killing. There is no reason to think this war would be any different,” he said. “His contribution to modern warfare is underrated because it’s not as exciting.”

Additionally, artillery units can operate day or night and in all weathers, an advantage they have over air support missions.

The arms flow could also have a political dimension, in light of Ukraine’s long-held hopes of one day joining the Western NATO military alliance. Russia’s Putin said it would be a red line for the Kremlin, but his invasion only heightened kyiv’s familiarity with NATO weaponry, training regimes and military doctrine. The recent influx of artillery supplied by the United States, for example, means that the Ukrainian army – long considered far below the professionalism necessary to be a candidate for NATO – is gradually moving towards the caliber system NATO standard and departs from the Soviet standard.

“It opens up a whole range of projectiles that they didn’t have access to before. That includes precision-guided missiles,” Cancian said. “It wouldn’t make sense to give them a 155mm howitzer and not giving them the precision ammunition that goes with it.”

Overload?

The United States has sent Ukraine billions of dollars in security aid – ranging from artillery to radar systems used to locate enemy weapons. Despite the widely admired way in which Ukraine’s military has kept its larger, better-armed neighbor at bay, some say there is a danger that too much will happen too quickly.

Mr. Cancian said he wondered if the windfall in military hardware would simply overwhelm Ukrainians.

“Ukrainians were not very good at maintaining equipment before the war started. Now they are even more stretched,” he said. “A new piece of equipment takes time to master and understand.”

The Pentagon has been optimistic about its training program for M777 howitzers. But Mr. Cancian wonders whether such an improvised operation will bear much fruit.

“The idea of ​​’train the trainer’ barely works at the best of times and it’s not the best of times,” he said. “I think we will end up having to provide operational contractors in Ukraine to maintain this equipment. It will just overwhelm them.