LONDON — Britain’s defense secretary has said allies must move quickly to provide Ukraine with heavy artillery capable of at least matching Russia.
“The race is on to equip Ukraine with the same long-range capability as Russia so that it is not overwhelmed and in fact cornered,” Ben Wallace told parliamentarians on April 25.
“The next three weeks are essential,” he added. “Ukraine needs more long-range artillery and ammunition, and Russian and NATO caliber types to go with them. He is also looking for anti-ship missiles to counter Russian ships capable of bombing Ukrainian cities.
Analysts, including the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank here, have recognized for some time that Russia has a distinct advantage in artillery capabilities.
Wallace denied media reports over the weekend that the government was sending British Army AS90 155mm tracked howitzers, but said there were plans to send 105mm towed light guns from the British Army. army in Ukraine.
Responding to questions from lawmakers, Wallace said the main artillery effort was initially focused on procuring Russian equipment, but has now expanded to highly mobile Western 155mm weapons.
“First and foremost we started by sourcing Soviet caliber 152mm from all over the world [weapons] so [Ukraine] can continue with that and, in parallel, explore with a number of other nations either the 105mm, our main light guns, and the 155mm in more mobile versions than the big armored AS90,” he said. .
“One of the things this modern battlefield shows is that you better move fast once you’ve fired your guns because you can be found very quickly by fairly cheap standard drones” , Wallace added.
Canada, France and the United States all recently agreed to arm the Ukrainians with modern towed or truck-mounted vehicles howitzer artillery systems.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Monday it was already receiving 155mm guns from the United States and other partners, and the Financial Times reported that the Ukrainians had said the weapons would “fundamentally” change the course of the war.
Wallace’s remarks on the howitzer could have some impact at home, as the Brits are in the early stages of a competition to replace the aging AS90 in a program known as the Mobile Fires Platform.
The competition is likely to pit tracked vehicles like Hanwha’s K9A2, already purchased by Poland, against wheeled rivals like the Boxer 8×8 RCH 155mm weapon.
An industry executive here said a first lesson for Britons in Ukraine is that it might be best to have a mixed wheeled and tracked fleet to cover a range of terrain and mobility requirements .
Besides efforts to improve artillery firepower, Wallace detailed the extent of British military supplies to Ukraine. The list includes 5,361 NLAW anti-tank missiles – 1,000 delivered in the last week alone, 200 Javelin missiles, armored logistics vehicles, night vision goggles and anti-aircraft missiles. The British said they had also procured anti-ship weapons, anti-structure ammunition and vagrancy ammunition.
Wallace said the Treasury had agreed to foot the bill to replace weapons sent to Ukraine, and replenishment of arms stocks for the British military was already underway.
Andrew Chuter is the UK correspondent for Defense News.