Artillery price

Precision artillery shells help Ukraine in artillery battle against Russia

  • Ukrainian troops used precision-guided munitions to devastating effect against Russian forces.
  • The United States sent Ukraine M982 Excalibur shells, which have GPS guidance and a range of 25 miles.
  • Although Excalibur and other precision-guided artillery shells are very accurate, they are not cheap.

Ukraine’s recent counter-offensive owes much of its success to precision-guided munitions. In particular, American-made HIMARS rockets devastated Russian munitions dumps and command posts.

But Russian forces face another threat: guided howitzer shells that can destroy a specific target – a tank, bunker or supply depot – with a single shell where a barrage of unguided projectiles at old could have been missed.

The United States has already sent GPS-guided M982 Excalibur 155mm rounds under an aid package that will include at least 1,000 shells. Germany pledged 255 Vulcano 155 mm guided shells.

The M982 Excalibur the hull is modified to include GPS guidance and deployable fins. The howitzer crew puts the GPS coordinates into the shell, which has a range of about 25 miles. After launch, the fins come out, allowing it to adjust its trajectory to reach the designated location.

US Marines fire an M982 Excalibur from an M777 howitzer in Afghanistan

US Marines fire an M982 Excalibur shell from an M777 howitzer in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in October 2011.

US Marine Corps/Cpl. Jeff Drew

The Excalibur shell can, it seems, hit within 7 feet of a target, although other numbers suggest it can hit within 250 feet of 500 feet from the aiming point.

The Vulcano has a range of around 43 miles and an accuracy of around 5.4 meters, according to its manufacturer, the Italian firm Leonardo. The hull is GPS guided, although it can also be guided to its target by a semi-active laser illuminator.

A problem with GPS-guided patrols is that a moving target may change location by the time the patrol arrives. Laser-guided shells are considered more accurate because they aim for a target illuminated by a laser indicator.

The Excalibur S variant has the option of using a semi-active laser, just like the Vulcano. The laser offers “further improved accuracy compared to pure GPS guidance”, Leonardo said.

As with the debate over smart or dumb (unguided) air-dropped bombs, one issue with smart artillery shells is cost.

Each round of Excalibur costs around $100,000, while even 155 mm unguided rocket-assisted projectiles, like the experimental XM1113, cost nearly $15,000 each. This compares to a few hundred dollars for conventional ammunition such as the M795, the standard 155mm US Army unguided shell.

Excalibur Precision GPS Artillery Round Ammunition

The US military developed the Excalibur in partnership with the Swedish military.

US Army Acquisition Support Center/Catherine Deran

On the other hand, the M975 only has a probable circular error – how far 50% of the shells land on target – of about 456 feet, according to US Army documents.

So, since World War I, the standard technique has been to fire a few spotting shots so that a forward observer – one of the most dangerous jobs in the military – can tell the gun crew how to adjust their coordinates. shooting.

To hit small targets, the artillery had to build up barrages in the hope that at least one shot would hit the target. Guided ammo offers the “one shot, one kill” perspective, which evens out the economy a bit.

The concept of smart artillery shells dates back to the Cold War, when NATO was constantly looking for ways to offset Soviet numerical superiority in tanks and other weapons.

The first guided artillery projectile was the M712 Copperhead laser-guided shelldeveloped in the early 1970s, fielded in Operation Desert Storm and still in use today.

Copperhead Laser Guided Precision Artillery Munition

A Copperhead shell fired from an M198 155mm howitzer approaching left and hitting a tank during a test in February 1984.

The American army

The Copperhead is a 155mm shell that deploys ailerons while descending and performs a controlled glide towards a target illuminated by the laser. However, the laser guidance system had limitations.

The Copperhead “has a minimum firing range of 3 kilometers [1.9 miles] to allow the round to maneuver on target and is less effective in heavy cloud cover and low visibility conditions,” according to the White Sands Shooting Range Museum.

“In addition, the forward observer must keep the illumination laser aimed at the target until impact, which is difficult to do on a moving target or from afar,” the museum says.

While Russia has laser-guided artillery like the 2N25 Krasnopol, Russian gunners in Ukraine have favored the approach of their Soviet ancestors: mass artillery firing massive volleys of shells and rockets to destroy or stun the defender.

But for Ukraine, whose artillery arsenal is much smaller than Russia’s, quality may be more valuable than quantity.

Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine and other publications. He holds a master’s degree in political science. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.