Continue M119A3 – What Ukraine Really Needs: While more modern, long-range weapons systems, particularly HIMARS and MLRS, have captured most of the conversation about US military support for Ukraine, the role of cannon artillery cannot be understated. -valued.
Long range weapons in the field
It’s understandable that these expensive items get the most attention because of their range, precision, and strategic importance. But, despite the endless debate over which missiles the United States should or should not send, the The DoD has made it clear that the United States will likely maintain the status quo of missile and rocket support, remaining hesitant to provide longer-range weapons.
Moreover, while The Ukrainian counter-offensive was extremely successful, the war is far from over as DoD expects a fall of hard fighting before a winter stalemate. Undoubtedly, the effects of HIMARS and MLRS in the development of operations proved vital for the counter-offensive to be as successful as it was. But the war has entered a new phase, a phase where Ukraine possesses the momentum and initiative for an offensive where its maneuver forces fight to close in and destroy the enemy. The mission of the artillery is to allow these maneuver forces to do just that, not simply to build muscle by destroying targets at long range.
Adapt equipment supplies as needed
As throughout the war, American support must adapt to meet the needs of the Ukrainians. In this new phase, cannon artillery will be essential to provide these maneuver forces with the fire support they need. It is important to remember that the Ukrainian army is largely inspired by NATO armiesnamely the United States, which currently uses Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) conduct large-scale land operations as a “joint team” of various units. Moreover, while the US military is seek to move away from the BCT model, in favor of returning to divisions and corps to deal with pear-like threats, you fight with the army you have, not the army you want. In the US Army, fire support for BCTs is rarely provided by HIMARS or MLRS. Instead, in most cases it comes from lighter, towed cannon artillery pieces.
While HIMARS and MLRS can be division or even corps level assets, at the discretion of a general, howitzers like the M777A2 and M119A3 are the organic assets of the BCT. This allows the field artillery battalion to be integrated into the wider brigade mission and operations, providing smooth and rapid fire support to assigned maneuver battalions and companies.
In fast and decisive offensive operations, where Ukrainian forces constantly adapt to Russian defenses, these cannon artillery batteries provide the firepower that maneuver units rely on.
M119A3: manufacture of the crate artillery
This brings us to the US Army main artillery piece in the Light Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCT), the M119A3 (119ers artillery vernacular). The 119ers lack the punch or range of the M777A2, but that’s for good reason. First, they are light enough to meet the needs of light infantry units, maintaining high mobility compared to the speed and pace of an IBCT.
Likewise, their relatively short range, 14.5 km or 19.5 km with RAP (rocket-assisted projectile), meets most of the needs of light infantry units that rarely exceed their artillery support like armored or mechanized units. More importantly, what they lack in range and radius of effect is made up of with an exceptional rate of fire of 6 rounds per minute for two minutes or three rounds per minute of sustained fire. Finally, the 119er has a comparable digital fire control system to the M777A2, which increases capabilities, both in terms of speed and accuracy. These capabilities allow 119er batteries (6 guns when fully deployed) to emplace, fire and move efficiently and quickly. This is crucial in providing fast and accurate fire that meets the needs of Ukrainian maneuver forces. For readers who keep feeling lost when they hear “combined arms operations” all over the cable news, this is key: integrating effective, mobile fire with maneuver forces.
Combined arms can be more effective in the field
Combined arms are especially important against an enemy like Russia, which has a completely different doctrine of war, based on artillery rather than maneuver, and outperforms and even exceeds most NATO artillery. These Russian capabilities and doctrine, which treat artillery as “the god of war”, mean that Ukrainian artillery must fire quickly and move quickly before Russian artillery has a chance to counterattack. And, since Ukrainian units cannot take fast and effective Russian counterfire for granted, which means they cannot spend too long firing from the same position, their shots must count when firing. The 119er is the ideal weapon system to meet this challenge in terms of mobility, survivability and capability.
While the M119 would meet many needs of the Ukrainian forces, it would also be less expensive for the United States, which has exhausted a large part of its reserves by providing longer range and more modern weapon systems and ammunition. The M119 and accompanying 105mm ammunition, on the other hand, do not pose the same threat to US defense needs. Many army units have already switched from the M119, looking for longer range fire and more rocket and missile focused weaponry. While this means the US has more M119s in stock, it also means supplying 105mm ammunition is less valuable than the 155mm ammunition of the M777 and M109, which are still very much in service. As the U.S. military seeks to move and expand its artillery capabilities to deal with threats close to peers in Asia and Europe, that is, to move away from the M119, it can also meet the needs of a crucial partner in Ukraine.
So far the The United States has pledged to provide twenty 1055 mm howitzers with 180,000 rounds. We can and must do more. And the United States is not the only country that has supplied 105 mm howitzers to Ukraine. The British L119 105 mm guns have already proven their effectiveness on the battlefield and superior to the Soviet-style D-30 that previously served as a lightweight Ukrainian howitzer. Likewise, Lithuania handed over some of its own 105mm howitzers. The various 105mm guns from other NATO countries joined them.
While it is vital to provide Ukraine with the necessary HIMARS and MLRS, it is equally important that these expensive items do not distract from other needs. Ukraine needs more than the headlines. The war is global. It is not only conducted in the form of high level objectives and strategic strikes on bridges. At this very moment, Ukrainian soldiers on the other side of the front are engaged in direct combat. It is surely a brutal and horrible fight. The average Ukrainian infantryman is unlikely to have HIMARS or MLRS protection. He probably won’t see its impact either. This is for generals and intelligence officials.
The war of infantry and gunners will take place where it always has: in the mud and in front of their eyes. So while we make sure strategic needs are met with MLRS and HIMARS, let’s not forget that a Ukrainian infantry platoon is probably in desperate need of fire support right now. The M119A3 and similar systems are probably the best chance they have.
Cam McMillan served as a field artillery officer in the US Army and is an Iraq combat veteran. Cam works as Assistant Director of Program Administration at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy and is a Masters candidate in Global Studies and International Relations at Northeastern University. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.