I will start by stating that in this article I will criticize the use of artillery in this war, by both sides, but I will not support either side in this conflict. As a military officer for many years, I believe that a war is (sometimes) a necessary evil and that all parties must ensure that it is as short as possible and try to minimize casualties, military and civil.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have witnessed massive use of ATGMs and artillery. Speaking of artillery, we have seen many western countries sending massive artillery platforms to Ukraine, following their request and due to the shortage of artillery ammunition.
The Ukrainian army currently uses almost every type of NATO 155mm artillery gun available and the HIMARS as a guided rocket system. And the role of artillery is emphasized and praised by the Ukrainian army.
Observing the massive use of artillery during the invasion, I remembered an old article I had written in 2014 about one of the IDF operations in the Gaza Strip and the massive use artillery during the 2nd Lebanon War in 2006, stating that heavy use of fire is not necessarily a sign of good practice but rather a sign of abuse of military power.
During the 2nd Lebanon War in 2006, the IDF fired more artillery shells than during the 1st Lebanon War. In 2006, there was heavy use of artillery, although the IDF maneuvered only a few kilometers with three divisions compared to 1982, when they went as far as Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, to over 60 km, using five divisions.
This phenomenon of massive use of artillery is visible in any armed conflict that does not involve, determine and objectify directed maneuvers. To explain this phenomenon, we need to understand why armies maneuver and what they try to accomplish by using their forces.
Two main conditions can lead a country to resort to military power. First, when trying to achieve a diplomatic/political goal and second, when protecting their country from someone else trying to achieve their goals – a combination of “War is a continuation of politics with other means” by Clausewitz and “The object of war is not to die for one’s country but to make the other bastard die for his”.
If we take this for the current war, we can say that the Russians sent their army in order to achieve a diplomatic/political objective which was not achievable through talks and negotiations and the Ukrainians sent their army in order to prevent the Russians from achieving these goals. Goals.
As we can understand from the reports and the media, the next thing that happened was that the Russian army tried to accomplish its mission, the Ukrainian army defended its territory. But without any will or power to win this battle, the war entered a phase where it stood still and the armies on both sides had no plan on how to win their mission and a war of attrition began, resulting in the firing of ten of thousands of shells on both sides
At this stage, armies do not maneuver and if they do, it is minimal, short-range, short maneuvers, primarily to destroy micro-tactical threats and to flex their muscles.
Because nothing is happening on the battlefield at this point, the void, created by non-maneuvering forces, is filled with artillery fire without line of sight.
Ease of use and low personal risk when using artillery lead to inefficient and sometimes unnecessary use of this fire. In some places, this even leads to the expressive use of fire (the use of artillery fire, or military force, not to accomplish a military mission instrumentally but rather as a means of expressing anger or national sentiments).
I’m not referring to an individual soldier shooting everywhere but a political decision to “do something” in retaliation or an act of governments having to present a “we are doing something in retaliation for this terrorist attack” without really trying to realize something productive with this show of force.
Now let’s talk about the moral side. I’m sure this will sound strange to many readers, but one of the moral missions of the strong side in a war is to win the war and dictate to the losing side the terms of surrender.
The fight against LICs (low-intensity conflicts) with terrorist organizations in recent decades has blurred this idea. If the strong side doesn’t use its power to end the war, rest assured that the weak side will make sure it lasts forever… and wars that go on forever are a bad thing because they prolong suffering and cause loss of life on both sides.
Therefore, the obligation to end the war falls on the stronger side and when they fail to do so, we will see massive use of artillery which allows both sides to appear as if they “do something”, while serving no real purpose. .
And now for the artillery. The primary use of artillery should be to provide close support to the maneuver element and to destroy targets that support the enemy’s ability to control and sustain those maneuvers.
When there is no maneuver, artillery becomes the only thing an army can do to look like it’s doing something – it’s cheap, easy to use, doesn’t risk lives. .a perfect weapon for a lazy warlord.
One can understand the massive use of artillery in the Russian-Ukrainian war as follows:
- The Russians have no will to end this war, even if it is their moral obligation.
- The Ukrainians cannot defeat the Russians.
- Becoming a war of attrition, RIU sees the heavy use of ineffective artillery fire used, in part, as an expressive use of military force.
- The continuous flow of artillery and ammunition platforms will prolong the RIU and provide armies with the ability to use force irrelevantly and pursue endless attrition warfare.
If the Ukrainians have a plan on how to emerge victorious from this war, I suggest that they execute it – because if they don’t, we must remember that the Russians have much more artillery and ammunition , so continuing the war will result in more flattened cities – not sure if that’s a win even if the Russian will eventually leave Ukraine.
One last point. War is a tragedy. I would be happier if the West had provided the Ukrainians with more maneuver platforms, allowing them to counterattack and end the war, and then artillery platforms to support those maneuver efforts. As an artillery officer, I think we should look at this massive use of artillery for what it is, a massive and ineffective use of this capability.
Artillery officers cheering now and rebuilding their confidence in long range statistical fire should be careful in implementing RIU artillery lessons as it will eventually bounce back to them, when everyone finds out that this use massive artillery spawned nothing colossal.
Written by Zvi Koretzki, a former IDF artillery officer