Artillery price

Russian artillery wears out and explodes

Russian artillery batteries in Ukraine appear to be running low on ammunition as Ukrainian rockets blast more and more supply dumps.

And that’s not the only problem Russian gunners face as Russia’s wider war against Ukraine enters its fifth month. Their artillery tubes also explode.

Photos that have appeared online in recent days represent two Russian cannons with what Mark Hertling, a retired US Army general who commanded forces in Europe, described as “banana peel” barrels.

That is, split and curl after bursting halfway through use. According to Hertling, the banana-peeled tubes of a towed gun and a self-propelled gun are proof that the Russians are wearing out their artillery pieces – not repairing them.

“Here’s what happens when you don’t do maintenance”, Hertling tweeted. “You can bet there were associated casualties.”

The artillery failures are just one data point in a larger set of indications that the Russian military is exhausted and increasingly fatigued, after months of intensive operations aimed at capturing the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

The Russians and their separatist and mercenary allies finally seized Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in early July. The Ukrainian battalions defending the towns withdrew westward in good order, essentially trading space for time, but at great expense in personnel and equipment.

Time is one thing the Kremlin does not have in abundance. The Russian military has mobilized around 150,000 soldiers – 85% of its frontline forces – for the war in Ukraine. After losing at least 15,000 soldiers killed and several times that number wounded, the army is exhausted.

It is not without reason that the Kremlin hastily raises dozens of volunteer battalions, trains new recruits for just a month, and then sends them to the front. Russian leaders must repair their losses, quickly, to prevent a more forceful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south.

And it is not without reason that the Russian artillery explodes. The front line formations are in bad shape. The big guns supporting them are also in bad shape.

First and foremost, gunners struggle to get ammunition. The Ukrainian military has aimed its new American-made GPS-guided rockets at Russian supply dumps. Kremlin logisticians withdraw supplies, far from the front. Up to 60 miles in some cases, beyond the range of the best Ukrainian M30/31 rockets.

But longer supply lines – three times longer, in places – mean slower delivery. Truck battalions cannot meet the usual demand for shells from artillery batteries. Analysts examining data from NASA fire detection satellites have noted a sharp drop in artillery barrages in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.

Maintenance backlogs could contribute to this artillery slowdown. Artillery tubes wear out with heavy use and can even break. Crews must eventually replace a tube or risk an explosion.

The life of a particular artillery gun depends on the frequency and intensity of use, the power of the propellant, and other factors. US Army gunners tend to replace their barrels after around 1,500 rounds.

It is safe to assume that the Russian army, which arrived in Ukraine without adequate logistics, is struggling to replace the artillery tubes in time. Pictures of peeled tubes simply represent perception catching up with reality.

This reality? “Russia is in a sorry and losing state” according Hertling.

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