Artillery types

Ukraine’s ability to resist Russian artillery is key to fighting for Donbass

As Russia begins its efforts to capture a wider swath of Donbass, the ability to masse and continue to supply its artillery and other long-range fire capabilities will play a huge role in the success of its latest campaign.

Massive indiscriminate fire, intended to kill, confuse, soften and destabilize an enemy before an advance, has long been a key part of Soviet and Russian military doctrine. This was as true during World War II (in much of the same territory) as it is today.

“Any time you fire any type of projectile, you want to inflict casualties on your enemy,” said Connor Crehan, a former Army artillery captain. The war zone. “But I think there are a lot of benefits to using artillery besides trying to inflict pain on individual humans. You can destroy equipment. fighting positions. And there’s the overall psychological impact you can have on your enemy if you can do mass fires. They’ll really play a lot of head games with your enemy.

You can read more about the types of Russian artillery systems that Ukraine will face here.

A senior US defense official on Tuesday morning could not offer The war zone details on how many long-range fire pieces Russia amassed in its latest push. But, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues, the official said The war zone that Russia has “more than 80%” of its artillery alone “still at their disposal”.

A 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled gun during a counter-terrorism simulation exercise by the Baltic Fleet., Vitaly Nevar/TASS via Getty Images

It’s one thing to have the tubes, but powering them up, especially at a rate required to soften up an enemy before a thrust through a wide swath of open space, is something else entirely. The failed initial phase of Russia’s all-out invasion, in which its ground troops were sent in without the proper supplies or logistical tail, is an example of how bad things get even when you have the power of upper fire.

The Pentagon notes Russian ground movements “southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum”, the senior US defense official told reporters on Tuesday morning. “These are real ground offensives and they are supported by long-range fire, mainly artillery, which is quite out of Russian doctrine.”

Early in the war, parts of Russia’s now notorious 40-mile-long convoy shredded to shreds became a symbol of its planning and logistical failures that ultimately resulted in a total retreat.

A large deployment of Russian ground forces, containing hundreds of military vehicles, is seen in convoy northeast of Ivankiv, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. (Photo by Maxar/GettyImages)

But this time around, Ukraine will face greater challenges in Donbass, where Russia has dug in for more than eight years of war in an area adjoining its homeland with, in some cases, longer supply lines. shorter and easier to secure.

Russia, the top US defense official said, “will have a shorter tooth-to-tail ratio, if you will, but that doesn’t mean they’ve overcome all of their logistics and sustainment issues.” .

Yet, the official said, “we’ve seen them try to learn from the mistakes they’ve made. Obviously when I talk about shaping operations and them evolving into enabling capabilities before they even start limited offenses, it shows you that they are trying to learn from their mistakes and will have shorter lines to deal with.

In a Twitter thread, Mark Hertling, who retired in 2013 as the Army Lieutenant General in charge of Army Forces Europe, noted that Russian artillery had a range of over 50 miles.

“RU artillery can fire up to about 30 miles (if using Rocket Assisted Projectiles, or RAPs) to 22-50 miles (like Uragan’s multiple launch rocket systems),” he said. he tweeted. The largest Russian rockets can reach the aforementioned 50 miles.

“The only way to stop: find them (through counterfire radars or aerial drones) and then shoot them,” he noted. “Ukraine also has artillery – tubes and rockets. But not as much as the Russians.

Ukraine, he added, also has AN/TPQ-36 counterfire radars to “find” Russian artillery locations. And Ukraine “has proven to be very adept at connecting intelligence to targeting.”

The United States recently sent Ukraine 10 additional AN/TPQ-36 systems as part of a recent $800 million aid package. You can read more about it here. The Ukrainian military has been using the AN/TPQ-36 for seven years in very limited numbers, but it has allowed them to master its use to deadly effect.

The AN/TPQ-36 counterfire radar system has been used effectively by Ukraine since 2015.

Meanwhile, Hertling said, “Russian artillery preparation can take hours, days, or weeks (depending on the amount of ammunition).”

Russia will likely “stagger” these barrages “in different areas along the Donbass front line, so the AU must be prepared for a breakthrough by RU ground forces at many points along the front.”

Civilians watch as a storage facility catches fire after being hit by Russian artillery north of kyiv on March 17, 2022. (Photo by Narciso Contreras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The attrition of its air defense systems, combined with the distance of operations and the greater density of Russian air defenses in the Donbass, add to the challenges for Ukraine. according to RUSI.

“Due to these factors, the Ukrainian Air Force will have much less ability to influence the course of the ground war in Donbass over the next few weeks than it had around kyiv or in the south. -west around Mykolaiv”, RUSI reported.

A Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot, known as Juice, standing next to his plane. Juice / Ukrainian Air Force

“Airstrikes on Russian troop movements or front line positions in the east will carry a very high risk and will therefore likely be rare. security of central and western Ukraine will extend the already short range of Ukrainian Mig-29 fighters.

It is unclear exactly what influence the Ukrainian Air Force had on the ground war during the early days of the conflict. At best it is limited.

You can read a Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot’s account of the air war here.

But Ukraine is not without the ability to endure and defend itself against long-range fire from Russia, the senior US defense official said. The war zone.

“The Ukrainians also have a lot of their available combat power always accessible and always in combat,” the official said. “And it’s important to remember that they are replenished every day with a variety of systems and weapons and that flow is going to continue.”

While Ukraine “certainly faces a numerically superior Russian force, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own advantages or the ability to actively defend itself. You don’t need to look any further than what they’ve been able to do around Kyiv to see just how capable they can be, even if they’re outnumbered.

The official added that the United States “will continue to provide them with the kinds of systems they need to continue to defend themselves and their territory in the Donbass.”

And while Russia overtakes Ukraine, has learned a few lessons and has a much larger ammunition supply, the official scoffed at any sense of an early conclusion to the Russian victory.

“People are talking about it like it’s inevitable,” the official said. “That Mariupol will fall. It is inevitable that the Donbass will be taken by the Russians. We don’t see it that way. And we’re doing everything we can to make sure it’s not inevitable.

While proximity to Russia makes it easier to supply its Donbass attack, “it’s also an area the Ukrainians know well”, the officials said.

Although overshadowed by its Russian adversary, Ukraine has its own artillery capability which is reinforced by allies. (Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP via Getty Images)

“This is their country and they have been fighting for this region for eight years,” the official said. “So they know the terrain. They know they have good inside lines themselves, and they use them and we know that the material still comes to them every day, even as they refocus their own defensive priorities on Donbass and they still have good internal lines of communication and a strong ability to replenish their own stocks in their own forces.

It is too early to tell how successful Russia will be in this phase of the war.

“You’ve heard the president talk about the possibility of this becoming a protracted fight,” the senior US defense official said of concerns raised by Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. joint. “I don’t know how long this could last. But certainly there is a real possibility that this will continue for a while because both sides can be pretty entrenched.

This has been the case since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine.

The main difference is that there is now an all-out war.

And that means long-range fires and the ability to sustain them will be even more important.

The senior US defense official noted that this is one of the reasons the United States is sending Ukraine 18 howitzers of 155 mm and 40,000 rounds of ammunition.

The United States is sending 18 155mm howitzers, like the one seen here at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, to ​​Ukraine on March 2, 2020. (US Army photo by SPC Derek Mustard)

This supply of howitzers should prove useful to Ukraine, said Crehan, the former army artillery captain who left the service in 2011.

“If you were walking into a fight and your enemy had a bat and someone said, ‘Hey, here’s a bat,’ you definitely feel a lot more prepared for that fight,” Crehan said, who commanded a Paladin 155mm howitzer platoon in Iraq from June 2008 to June 2009. “So I think, certainly from a moral point of view, it will build their confidence, they can do better on their own.”

The 40,000 rounds supplied by the United States, he added, “represents a significant amount of rounds for them to inflict damage on Russian forces.”

And that, the top US defense official said, is the goal of US aid to Ukraine.

“Our goal is to make sure we get Ukrainians the kinds of weapons and systems they need to defend themselves at the time they are,” the official said. “That’s why you’ve seen howitzers and artillery shells as part of this latest package. We’re focused on their current needs and we’re in constant conversation with them about those capabilities and what they have. need for the future.

Whether that is enough remains to be seen.

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