Artillery types

The 200-year-old Russian ‘Artillery First’ doctrine that devastated Ukraine surpasses even US systems

Poland’s sale of its 155mm Krab (SPH) self-propelled howitzer to Ukraine to compensate for what appeared to be kyiv’s weakness and Russian strength in artillery systems, laid bare the centrality of the Weapon in Russian Military Doctrine.

With the Krab SPH, Ukraine can use five different 155mm artillery howitzers.

These include the American-made M-777 light howitzer, the Estonian FH70, the French Caesar SPH and the Norwegian M109A3 SPH. Ukrainian personnel also train on the German PzH-2000.

Not to mention the M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) that the United States donated to Ukraine.

Something that could save heartbroken Ukrainian soldiers who die by “100” every day, according President Volodymyr Zelenskyhowever, it will lack an army tactical missile system (ATACMS) with a range of 300 kilometres.

US President Joe Biden doesn’t want to arm the Ukrainians with weapons that can strike deep inside Russia and could indirectly escalate the war and draw in the United States.

But if it is artillery for the Ukrainians to reverse the war we are talking about, we should also talk about the artillery used by the Russians which inflicted a sad state of affairs on the battlefield in the first place.

File Image: 2S4 Tyulpan

While the Ukrainians have lost their Soviet-era howitzers and are nearly out of ammunition, Russia’s penchant for heavy artillery has restored its position as “god of the battlefield”, with brutal mass fire and devastating and precise strikes as your main weapon. If WWII Katyusha rockets were called “Stalin’s organs”, Russian howitzers are now “Putin’s hammer”.

The Russians use artillery (howitzer, tube rockets, tactical battlefield and cruise missile) as a combat weapon and not as a combat support weapon, the other weapons working to support their artillery and not the other way around.

This is their way of basing their ground forces doctrine around guns and rocket systems, where combat tactical group (BTG) maneuvers “fix” the enemy in the kill zone before calling in artillery strikes to mop up what’s left.

This runs counter to the Western and American approach where artillery and long range fire “softens” targets from infantry, armour, mechanized and special operations formations.

This also explains why the Raketnyye Voyskai Artilleriya (missile and artillery troops) of the Russian Ground Forces have been the main beneficiaries of Russia’s massive military modernization.

Part of the reason could be that Russia hasn’t fought vastly inferior non-state actors for an extended period of time, unlike the US military, which has rained lethal overkill through the air.

Consequently, the US Army lagged behind in the quality of its artillery. The M-109A6 ‘Paladin’ can only fire up to 22 km at one shot per minute, without the ability to conduct multiple simultaneous impact shots.

The Russian 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV, meanwhile, can fire 40 kilometers (unassisted) at a rate of 9 to 16 rounds per minute. The scope not only keeps you safe and clear of enemy fire, but also threatens the enemy with “counter-battery fire”.

Bombardments on troops can warn gunners behind them, who use observation spotters, UAVs, gun locating radars, and other electronic intelligence (ELINT) to locate and eliminate enemy artillery.

Russia also has other highly effective cannon and rocket artillery systems. These include the 9A52-4 “Tornado” multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) (range 90 km); BM-30 ‘Smerch’ MLRS (70–90 km); Thermobaric system TOS-1 220 mm (0.5-6 km) and self-propelled artillery (SPH) 2S19 Msta 150 mm (45-62 km).

Guns and rockets: Russia's 200-year-old unorthodox doctrine
File Image: Russian TOS-1 Bomb

There is also a variety of ammo for mass shots and precision strikes. The menacing slick of ‘white phosphorus incendiary’ ammunition that rained down on the Azovstal steelworks in May must have played a significant role in the surrender of around 2,000 fighters from the army’s neo-Nazi Azov Brigade Ukrainian.

The famous fortress could withstand a siege with its maze of underground tunnels that practically qualified as a small town.

The Russian military was baptized in heavy urban warfare, from revolutions to Syria in an 8-2 tally, while simultaneously executing Crimea/Donbass and Syria in 2015.

She had time to refine her unique Information Surveillance Targeting Reconnaissance (ISTR) mechanism integrating all artillery and missile systems from both conflicts to finally be used in her moment of truth in Ukraine in 2022.

But during the Battle of Zenopillya in Ukraine on July 11, 2014, observers marked the return of Russian artillery. The Ukrainian 24th and 72nd Mechanized Infantry Brigades were nearly wiped out as they attempted to retake them from the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The American army Major General Robert H. Scales (retired) described it as a “single Russian gunshot” nearly destroying two brigades “in minutes” in an August 5, 2016 article for The Washington Post. Russia had been leading with big guns since the beginning of the 18th century, when Marshal Ivanovich Shuvalov experimented with several types of guns in what has become a legacy of theoretically and intellectually sound and creative development in the use of artillery.

More than 200 years later, in April 2016, The American army Chief of General Staff Mark Milley admitted before a Senate Armed Services Committee: “Yes…technically (we are) outgunned, outgunned in the field.”