Artillery price

Ukraine has replaced airpower with artillery, but that has its own challenges

French Caesar self-propelled artillery guns.

It’s been a logistical war, and when I say that, I mean it’s an artillery war.

Logistics involves moving troops, food, water, fuel, lubricants, ammunition, weapons, spare parts, and whatever else is needed to fight a war to the front lines. How to wage a logistics war? By preventing these supplies from moving. How do you prevent these supplies from moving around? You disrupt supply lines by destroying supply depots, trucks, railroads and bridges. And how do you do that? Actually it depends.

If you’re NATO, you’re using air power. First you remove air defenses, airbases and enemy planes. Then you systematically degrade those logistical targets.

If you are Russia, you… you don’t. Apart from a few random warhead strikes here and there, Russia inexplicably prefers blowing up playgrounds and apartment buildings rather than suppressing Ukraine’s ability to transport supplies to the front.

What if you are Ukraine, devoid of significant air power? You use artillery. The arrival of HIMARS/MLRS longer-range rocket artillery dramatically changed the trajectory of the war, creating the conditions that enabled the resounding success of the battles of Kharkiv and Kherson. This meant destroying ammunition dumps, key bridges and disabling rail transport within 80 kilometers of the front. Russia struggles with truck logistics more than 25 kilometers from a railhead.

But HIMARS/MLRS is not Ukraine’s only long-term option. Its extended-range precision-guided tube artillery munitions can reach 40 to 50 kilometers from the front lines. French self-propelled artillery guns Caesars can hit this distance with ordinary artillery shells. Most Russian artillery peaks at around 25 kilometres. (They have longer range products, but in smaller quantities.)

Just as the debate about the future of the tank rages on, there will be new debates about the role of air power in a future battlefield. Why maintain horribly expensive fighter-bombers when much cheaper HIMARS/MLRS and drones can perform much of the same tasks? An F-35 jet, the world’s most advanced warplane and one most NATO members are transitioning to, costs around $78 million per unit and costs $33,000 per hour to fly. Factoring in logistics costs such as spare parts and maintenance facilities, the actual unit cost is approximately $110 million per aircraft, with an estimated lifetime cost of three times that amountor $1.27 trillion dollars by 2036 for the US fleet.

Suddenly, HIMARS’ unit cost of $4 million seems like the biggest bargain in the Pentagon’s budget. Maintenance is infinitely cheaper. And yes, ammo is expensive, but these F-35s fire their own expensive precision-guided munitions. However, I do not want to enter into this debate. It’s complex, and it’s academic for Ukraine. It does not have many aircraft, so it has managed to effectively replace air power, in NATO’s combined arms doctrine, with its expert use of artillery.

Here’s the problem: NATO’s artillery is not designed to be pushed as hard as Ukraine did. For the West, the artillery supplements air power. For Ukraine, artillery is all ball game. And that has consequences.

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The PzH 2000 is one of the best artillery systems in the world, but it has been pushed to its operational limit, putting the entire fleet out of action. Lithuania has offered to repair it, but there is no indication that it has the spare parts that Germany is scrambling to find. I’ve made this point many times: the real challenge with war equipment isn’t the initial cost or the training to operate it, it’s keeping the flow of spares and training the team of maintenance. This is why the West has been reluctant to deliver Western tanks and planes. What good is it if everything is sitting in repair yards?

Meanwhile, Russia understands the importance of these artillery pieces and knows of their limited supply in the West.

This is the first confirmed success of a French Caesar. The Oryx database of confirmed equipment losses also lists 20 American M777 howitzers destroyed (out of 142 delivered). The M777s are towed howitzers, therefore less mobile and more vulnerable to counter-battery fire and Russian drones. Three of the 18 Polish Krab self-propelled artillery guns delivered were also destroyed. There is some attrition, both logistical and military.

Earlier in the war, Slovakia set up depots to service and maintain Ukrainian equipment in a safe location, out of harm’s way. War weighs heavily on all equipment, but modern Western equipment, dependent on complex electronics, is even more severely affected. This makes it more important for Ukraine to get additional artillery units (France is sending more Caesars, new Krabs are being delivered regularly, and don’t be surprised if the US prepares a new batch for delivery), as well than longer range HIMARS/MLRS. ammunition. And understand that while we all want Ukraine to get even more western gear, the PzH 2000 challenges show us why it’s so difficult to send the most modern gear.

PS A “logistics war” is also an artillery war in the other direction: feeding artillery batteries puts an extremely heavy load on a supply chain. Russia would fire more than 20,000 artillery shells a day. (Ukraine, with more accurate western weapons and precision-guided rounds, doesn’t need to shoot as much to get the same effect, but it’s still in the high four digits and low five digits per day.) Indeed, Russia withdrew from Kherson when its compromised logistics could not supply its guns.


Speaking of logistics…

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I really don’t understand why Russia still has this kind of calendar that helps Ukraine assess the effectiveness of its strikes (“battle damage assessment”). It’s hilarious. Either way, notice how accurate those rocket shots were. Some of the rockets landed dead on the rails, centered on bridges, making them all the more difficult to repair.

The map is also useful as it shows how this rail junction intersects an entire logistics line from Russia. If Ukraine can cut the Russian lines from Belgorod to the north by releasing both Svatove and Starobilsk, and if Crimea remains cut off, Russia will be forced to move all its supply lines to this eastern approach. Ukraine has just demonstrated how easily it can degrade these lines.

With the Kherson front now inactive, both sides are rushing these liberated forces towards the Donbass, towards the Bakhmut and Pavlivka route. This railway probably feeds both approaches. Just as Ukraine did in Kharkiv and Kherson, they are now “shaping the battlefield” in southeastern Donbass to finally quell Russian ambitions on this front once and for all.


Snow has arrived in Ukraine.

It’s a muddy mess, making it hard to get around off the roads. And the roads are easy to target with artillery and ambushes. Ukraine can’t wait for this ground to freeze, although the snow can act as insulation and delay this freezing.


I am this about to begin regular coverage of the Iranian protest movement. Time is the challenge, as with everything, but I’m so inspired by it that I think it would be justified. It wouldn’t be every day, but maybe several times a week. I will probably test it next week.


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I really wish Twitter survived despite all of Elon Musk’s sabotage because it’s by far the most effective way to tell stories like this. Lili “hung yellow ribbons in Kherson when the Russians patrolled the city and gathered a team of like-minded people, painted graffiti, pasted leaflets and passed information to the Ukrainian Defense Forces. A resistance fighter doesn’t always look like what you might expect. “Evorog bot” is an application that Ukrainians in the occupied territories can use to report on Russian troop movements.