Artillery vehicle

Find out what it means for Ukraine to fire 3,000 artillery shells a day

A former US Army infantry officer explains the artillery duel unfolding in Ukraine: Wow, talk about a damn steamy artillery duel. You would be surprised to know that the Ukrainians are shooting 3,000 155 mm howitzer shells per day. That doesn’t even include the whole Soviet era 152mm shells sent from a distance by the older artillery pieces that the Ukrainian army also employs. No small feat, but can they keep up this pace without being constantly resupplied by the Western military? So far, the United States is confident that Ukrainian forces can maintain the supply of shells.

Lightning rhythm requires high skill and effective training

This is an impressive example of artillery perseverance and tenacity in achieving this rate of fire. I served in a field artillery unit on the Paladin M109 self-propelled howitzer. I lifted and loaded 155mm cartridges and it’s a hard day’s work. Each shell weighs around 100 pounds and it takes a high level of precision among the choreographed crew to load and fire. I can’t imagine a small army being able to fire 3,000 rounds a day. This requires substantial synchronization of artillery pieces and significant resupply and other logistical activities – not to mention mechanics and technicians to keep the guns in good working order. The field artillery is not known as the king of battle for nothing.

Big guns give Ukraine an edge

The Ukrainians have been using 155mm howitzers since May. The Pentagon dropped A press release who praised the way the defenders use the artillery provided by the United States and allied countries.

“We believe the howitzers… have an impact… Is that the only reason?” I don’t think we’d go that far to say that, but we think the systems they’re getting–not just American systems, but other countries’ systems–absolutely help them regain some momentum and take back some territory,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

Extended range and high precision shells

The Pentagon also announced that it would start sending precision-guided artillery shells to Ukraine – up to 1,000 in the last $400 million military aid package announced on 8 July. Smart rounds could be the M982 Excalibur GPS guided tour, which is an extended and new generation hull. The Excalibur can hit targets up to 24 miles away with a miss distance of just six feet.

Russians need a break to hide

This is bad news for the forces of Vladimir Putin who are paying a heavy price in men and material lost to the Ukrainian artillery in exchange for taking additional territory in the Donbass region. The losses are so high that Russia took a “operational break» in operation during the second week of July. This is probably the moment that allows Russia to reposition, hide and camouflage the vehicles that have been peppered with Ukrainian artillery barrages. Going below 3,000 strokes per day is expensive.

French, Germans and Slovenes do their part

The Americans are supplying even more standard high-explosive 155 mm shells fired from the M777 towed artillery piece earlier sent to Ukraine by the Ministry of Defense. It’s not the only 155mm part. France provided a high-speed self-propelled artillery system mounted on a wheeled 8X8 chassis. Called CAESAR, this gun can fire up to six rounds per minute. The CAESAR truck can handle 55 miles per hour on the roads, then stop and go in minutes, break down, then accelerate to the next location. Add to that the M777, and you’re talking serious firepower. The defenders also deploy the PzH-2000 self-propelled howitzer they or they received from Germany and Slovenia which can fire a 155mm shell every eight seconds.

So far there are enough shells

A senior US defense official told reporters on July 8 that there is still a substantial stockpile of 155mm shells in Ukraine.

“We provided it, other countries provided it,” the official said. “…We know what their utilization rate is, we know what their store rate is, and we’re monitoring that as we continue to provide capacity to them.”

Have fun

The only thing you have to tell Ukraine is to keep up the pace and don’t stop under pressure. American and European allies have shown that defenders can be trained on artillery systems they don’t yet know. This speaks to the “train the trainer” approach that the Western military has taken with the Ukrainians. Ask Kyiv to send its best field artillery branch officers and NCOs to be trained on the new systems, learn on the fly, constantly rehearse, and then bring that knowledge and skills back to Ukraine to train their compatriots.

This artillery approach may keep the Ukrainians in the game, but if the 155mm guns stop firing, Kyiv doesn’t stand a chance.

Now as 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPhD, is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.