Artillery vehicle

Russian artillery can fire shells at Ukrainian troops with 10 seconds notice

Most people have it all wrong. Visions of Russian tanks rolling over snow-covered Ukrainian fields, heralding a larger and surely much bloodier phase of Ukraine’s eight-year war, are fanciful.

It is the artillery which will signal the escalation. Hundreds of big guns and rocket launchers spread across dozens of semi-independent tactical groups of Russian army battalions, each numbering a thousand men.

In Russian doctrine, artillery – not tanks or infantry – is the decisive force. The other combat arms exist to position artillery for the most devastating barrages and to exploit the holes the cannons smash in enemy defenses.

While the Russian Army integrates rocket and tube artillery into front-line units from top to bottom of the force – from battalion to brigade to division to army – it is the battalion-level guns that are the closest to the front, and undoubtedly the most dangerous for Ukraine. troops.

Artillery in the BTG has the effect of “providing maximum responsiveness when short windows of opportunity present themselves,” Colonel Liam Collins and Captain Harrison Morgan wrote in an article for the Association of the United States Army.

Each BTG normally has 18 tracked howitzers. It’s unusual. The US Army, for example, generally keeps its weapons at the brigade level.

The advantage for the Americans is concentration and central control. A brigade can move artillery to support battalions and companies that need it most.

The advantage for the Russians is speed. A Russian battalion commander does not have to ask the brigade for fire support. He has his. And it’s right there, right behind the lines of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

In addition, after years of intensive modernization, the BTG also has access to rapid drone targeting data.

The combination of fire-first doctrine, battalion-level guns, and readily available aerial surveillance is powerful. Ukrainians have learned this the hard way, more than once.

In the early morning hours of July 11, 2014, the Ukrainian 24th and 72nd Mechanized Brigades and the 79th Airmobile Brigade gathered near the village of Zelenopillya ahead of a planned attack on Russian-backed separatist forces in Luhansk.

Russian drones spotted them. The Ukrainians shot down one of the robots but others took its place. Russian radio jammers jammed communications between the brigades and their headquarters, crippling them at a critical moment.

Artillery rockets, presumably fired from Russian launchers just across the border, rained down on tents and idling vehicles. At least 19 Ukrainians died. Hundreds of others were injured. A whole battalion of vehicles – about fifty – was destroyed. Kiev called off the attack.

A month later, the Ukrainian army again attacked eastward, this time with the aim of cutting supply lines between the separatists in Lugansk and their allies in neighboring Donetsk. The Ukrainians succeeded in liberating the city of Ilovaisk. Victory was in sight.

It was then that the Russian battalions crossed the border and besieged Ilovaisk. “Many Ukrainian soldiers reported hearing the distinctive buzz of Russian drones before the deluge of rocket and artillery fire – an indicator of Russia’s emerging tactic of using drones, directly linked to battalion battle groups, to facilitate indirect fire,” Amos Fox said in a statement. 2017 study for the Modern War Institute at West Point.

The worst was yet to come. The Russians offered the defeated Ukrainian troops safe passage out of Ilovaisk, only to rain artillery on them as they fled. As many as a thousand Ukrainians died – the highest number of battles in the eight-year war.

The Russians had tested their last “reconnaissance fire complex” and were now ready to expand it. Today, there are between 50 and 70 Russian BTGs at the Russian-Ukrainian border, ready to enter Ukraine on short notice.

Each has an artillery component. Three batteries each with six 2S19 152 millimeter self-propelled howitzers. The batteries trail behind the tank and infantry companies, each with a junior officer in charge, safely under armor in their own 1V13 fire control vehicle.

The battalion artillery officer and battery commanders remain alongside the BTG commander, with each officer riding in a 1V14, 1V15 or 1V16 command vehicle. A PRP-4A radar vehicle moves with the battalion, searching for enemy forces.

To complement the radar vehicle, the brigade has its own SNAR-10 and Zoopark-1 radar vehicles, and can also send Orlon-10 and Forpost drones. The brigade passes target coordinates to the battalion, which passes them—and any targets it acquires on its own—through battery commanders to junior officers accompanying the guns.

The main thing is that the battalion advantages of the brigade but need this. And the battalion certainly doesn’t need an echelon above fire brigade. The battalion is only a few kilometers from the enemy. The brigade is much further away. Guns and rockets at the division and army level would be even further away.

This tight integration of tanks, infantry, and artillery allows the guns to fire quickly at enemy troops who might be taking cover for less than a minute at a time.

That’s all the time the Russian gunners need. “Today the cycle [from reconnaissance to engagement] literally takes 10 seconds,” said Major General Vadim Marusin, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Ground Forces.