Russia and Ukraine might be bitter enemies, but due to their shared heritage, the two countries adhere to much the same doctrine for ground warfare.
One principle they share is the use of artillery. Armour, reconnaissance and electronic warfare units isolate an enemy force; cannons and rockets finish it off.
Thus, it is a problem for Kyiv that the artillery of the Ukrainian army is routed amid growing fears that Russia is preparing to deliver a probably horrific solution to seven years of escalating war in the east. from Ukraine.
Outdated, disorganized and out of ammunition, the artillery corps could struggle to do its part in an open war between the Ukrainian army and the larger, more modern and better organized Russian army.
On paper, the Ukrainian army of 145,000 men, a mix of volunteers and conscripts, has a powerful artillery arsenal with no less than 1,800 guns and rocket launchers.
They are not unable to shoot. The proof is in the lists of dead in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, where Kiev’s army is fighting Russian-backed separatists shortly after Moscow’s forced annexation. from the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula at the beginning of 204.
In just two years, starting in April 2014, Russian and Ukrainian artillery in and around Donetsk and Luhansk killed around 9,000 soldiers and civilians on all sides and injured 21,000, according to Human Rights Watch.
But the grim statistics belie the poor state of Kiev’s weapons. Many artillery pieces of the Ukrainian army do not work or lack crews or ammunition. This might not matter in a low intensity war with lightly armed rebels. This will certainly count in a mechanized clash with the Russians.
Ukraine inherited vast munitions infrastructure from the Soviet Union when the latter collapsed in 1991. But a generation of underinvestment has strangled the industry. Today, according to a recent study by the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C., “Ukrainian artillery units are completely out of ammunition and front-line troops are at high risk of operational failure”.
The 2014 crisis revealed the true state of the artillery corps. “The artillery entered the war with structures, equipment and manpower totally unsuited to combat,” said Jamestown analyst Glen Grant. “In some cases, units had to fight with less than a quarter of the manpower of their Western counterparts.”
“The weapons are also Soviet-produced weapons, reaching the end of their useful life,” Grant continued. “They fire old and totally unreliable ammunition. They lack technical support, such as modern weather systems or muzzle velocity radars, to track firing velocities. Ballistic accuracy is therefore extremely limited.
Supplies of shells — and especially rockets — are low, according to Grant. Frequent accidental explosions in ammunition dumps only exacerbated the shortages. “The loss and failure of resupply of artillery gun and rocket ammunition has been a very contentious issue in Ukraine,” Grant explained. “Rarely a day goes by without a comment about this being made in the Ukrainian media.”
An adequate supply of artillery ammunition can be the deciding factor in battle. Consider the August 2014 battle for the city of Ilovaisk, pitting Ukrainian troops against Donetsk People’s Republic rebels and supporting Russian forces. “Our artillery fell silent”, a Ukrainian survivor of the battle reminded. “And then the Russians came.”
Kiev knows he has a problem. “Modernization of equipment is also a priority, in particular the artillery and missile capabilities of land forces,” noted the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London in its latest annual report. The military balance to guide. “This reflects the military leaders’ emphasis on Soviet-era artillery systems.”
The most significant development came in 2018, when Artem, a branch of the Ukrainian state arms company Ukroboronprom, announcement he was beginning to test new 152 millimeter shells.
But Artem’s ability is limited. The company can only produce 14,000 rounds a year, according to Grant. “It’s a small number if the war gets serious again.”