More than 100 days into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the nature of the conflict has changed from armored assaults on entrenched positions and urban population centers to protracted artillery warfare that strongly favors the book of Russian game.
After several initial setbacks at the start of their invasion, the Russian military refocused its strategic objectives and consolidated its forces in the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine. While the previous four-front invasion of Ukraine often saw disorganized and ill-equipped Russian ground forces being outmaneuvered and routed by highly mobile and well-equipped Ukrainian troops along several disconnected fronts, the two factions now have refocused their efforts along the well-established front line in eastern Ukraine.
Indeed, armed fighting has been going on in the region since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, which allowed Russian and Ukrainian forces to build entrenched positions and reinforce logistical supply lines in eight years. . As such, both sides had to modify their tactics accordingly, as increased engagement distances over extensive terrain, coupled with significant personnel and materiel losses, caused Russian forces to rely more on their long-range sniping abilities to topple the Stoic. Ukrainian resistance. Furthermore, although the Russian military‘s previous failed offensives were severely hampered by their inability to effectively rotate supplies and reinforcements deep into Ukrainian territory, the geographical proximity of the Donbass region to Russia has greatly facilitated their ability to support logistics operations. Consequently, Russian military commanders are increasingly able to press their numerical and technological advantage, using smaller ground units and expendable unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to probe Ukrainian defenses before withdrawing these units and to decimate the defensive positions with devastating artillery and rocket fire.
This strategy has proven relatively successful, as Russian forces have made additional territorial gains in recent weeks, while Ukrainian forces have found themselves outnumbered and outgunned by Russia’s extensive artillery capabilities. The Russian armed forces currently operate a wide range of indirect fire platforms in Ukraine, including towed artillery such as the Soviet-era 122 mm D-30 or 152 mm Msta-B howitzers, self-propelled artillery such as the 122 mm 2S1 Gvozdika or 152 mm 2s33 Msta-SM2 and Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) such as the 122 mm BM-21 Grad or the 220 mm TOS-1A, the latter capable of firing thermobaric missiles. These systems excel at targeting entrenched positions and equipment in open terrain, and although many of the aging Soviet-era systems are far less accurate than modern precision-guided artillery, the Russian high command’s lack of concern regarding collateral damage to the civilian population or infrastructure has mitigated this problem as Russian batteries continue to indiscriminately bombard Ukrainian-held territory until the defending forces are eliminated or forced to retreat.
Moreover, unlike the Russian army, the Ukrainian armed forces have not operated any artillery systems that can compete with Russian equipment in terms of effective range and lethality, which puts them at a strategic disadvantage in the engagements. artillery-centric weapons that characterize combat in the Donbass region. Recent statistical estimates by the Ukrainian authorities place their forces at a numerical disadvantage of forty to one in terms of personnel, and an even more troubling disadvantage of twenty to one in terms of available artillery systems. Ukrainian authorities and military officials have emphasized this dichotomy since the start of the war, with the issue becoming so poignant that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made numerous public appeals to Western allies asking them to supply Ukrainian forces with heavy artillery. , ammunition and training to readjust the current power differential. These demands have been received with varying degrees of enthusiasm among Ukraine’s military benefactors, with US President Joe Biden recently publishing an op-ed highlighting Western concerns that the supply of systems that can be used to strike the Russian sovereign territory could further antagonize the Russian authorities and subsequently escalate the conflict. beyond the borders of Ukraine.
Nonetheless, Russian military successes over the past two weeks have highlighted the precariousness of Ukraine’s potential success, leading to an increasing number of states providing key systems to fill this capability gap. According to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, there are currently 150 foreign-supplied 155mm artillery systems operating in Ukraine, with five different types of NATO platforms coming from various sources. These weapon systems include American M777A2s, Polish AHS Krabs, Czech SpGH DANA-M2s, French CAESARs, M109A3GNs supplied by Norway, and Italian FH70 howitzers most likely supplied by Estonia. Other countries are expected to provide additional howitzer artillery systems, with Slovakia planning to supply Ukraine with eight Zuzana 2 howitzers, while the German and Dutch governments have jointly pledged 12 PzH 2000 platforms. Ukrainian troops are currently undergoing training in Germany and Poland to learn how to operate these systems once fully deployed and to train other operators once in the country.
In recent weeks, President Zelensky has specifically asked allied countries to provide Ukraine with MLRS systems in order to “seize the initiative and liberate its territory”. So, in addition to numerous howitzers and cannon artillery systems, the US and UK have approved the supply of MLRS systems and advanced rocket munitions to Ukraine despite fears of conventional escalation or nuclear, as such systems will prove invaluable in enabling Ukraine’s armed forces to target Russian artillery units, installations and logistical supplies far behind the front lines. Last week, it was announced that the United States would provide Ukraine with four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and an unspecified number of medium-range rockets with an effective range of 70 km, although the current administration is still unwilling to supply Ukraine with Army Tactical Missile System (ATMS) ammunition which has an effective range of 300 km and could be interpreted as a serious escalation by the President Russian Vladimir Putin.
This announcement also indicated the levels of coordination between some Western governments providing military aid to Ukraine, soon after the US announcement, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace revealed that the British MOD would provide Ukraine with three platforms -M270 MLRS forms and an undetermined quantity of M31A1 ammunition, providing Ukrainian forces with a system capable of engaging targets up to 80 km away. Once these systems are deployed on the battlefield, their additional effective range and firepower will allow Ukrainian forces to conduct effective “counter-battery” fire and challenge Russian artillery dominance in the Donbass. Although the Ukrainian Armed Forces still face an uphill battle, given that the Russian military’s numerical advantage and increased logistical capabilities along the 500 km front line provide them with a tangible advantage, the provision of Advanced artillery systems that significantly enhance their indirect fire capabilities will prove essential in enabling their forces to successfully conduct military operations on a battlefield characterized by intensive artillery and rocket bombardment.