Artillery vehicle

US sends artillery to Ukraine to destroy Russian firepower

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Washington (AFP) – US pressure to send artillery to Ukraine is aimed at degrading Russian forces, not only in the immediate battlefield but in the longer term, according to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and military experts.

The United States, France, the Czech Republic and other allies are sending dozens of long-range howitzers to help Ukraine thwart Russia’s growing offensive in the eastern Donbass region.

Backed by better air defense, attack drones and Western intelligence, the allies hope kyiv will be able to destroy much of Russia’s firepower in the looming confrontation.

After returning from Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian defense chiefs and President Volodymyr Zelensky, Austin told reporters in Poland early Monday that Washington’s hopes were higher than that.

Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want them not to have the ability to replicate that capability very quickly,” Austin said.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the point that it can’t do the kinds of things it did by invading Ukraine.”

‘War of attrition’

This is a change from Washington’s initial approach, when they simply hoped to help prevent Moscow’s capture of the Ukrainian capital and the overthrow of Zelensky’s government.

In fact, aided by anti-aircraft and anti-armour missiles supplied by the United States and its European allies, Ukrainian troops forced the Russian military to withdraw from northern Ukraine within six weeks of the February 24 invasion. .

But Moscow now controls significant swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine, apparently aiming to expand into the center of the country by sending in more troops and equipment.

According to experts, their plan is to use long-range bombardments to repel most Ukrainian forces and only then to send in ground troops and tanks to secure the territory.

The best option for Ukraine is to retaliate with superior artillery – backed by protection against air assault – to destroy Russian firepower, according to Mike Jacobson, a US civilian field artillery expert.

Jacobson predicted this would lead to a “war of attrition” in which the Ukraine, with allied-supplied equipment with longer ranges and more precise targeting, could stop the Russians.

“I believe superior artillery will diminish the ability of the Russians to sustain this fight,” Jacobson told AFP.

Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews who posts daily analyzes of the war on Twitter, wrote that the coming artillery combat will resemble World War I, with each side trying to exhaust the other with grueling bombardments.

The Russian army “is considerably smaller and has suffered significant equipment losses. The Ukrainian army is smaller, but on the verge of being much better armed,” he said.

“Russia must change this dynamic or it loses the war of attrition.”

Rapid deployment

The United States and its allies are advancing rapidly with supplies to take advantage of the slow regrouping of Russian forces after their setback in northern Ukraine.

Already at least 18 of the 90 towed artillery pieces pledged by Washington over the past two weeks have been delivered to Ukrainian forces, with more being shipped early this week, according to a Pentagon official.

Washington also provides nearly 200,000 rounds of howitzer ammunition and organizes the supply of ammunition to the Russian-made artillery that Ukrainian forces currently operate.

Some 50 Ukrainian soldiers have already been trained to use US howitzers, and more are in training this week.

Meanwhile, France sends its ultra-advanced Caesar mobile howitzer, and the Czech Republic delivers its old self-propelled howitzers.

Canada also sends advanced “Excalibur” howitzers and guided shells that can travel over 40 kilometers and deliver ammunition precisely to the target.

“The fight they’re fighting in Donbass is going to rely heavily on what we call long-range fire, artillery in particular,” a senior US defense official said.

“That’s why we are focusing them on getting artillery as well as tactical drones,” the official said.

It was a reference to allies supplying “suicide drones”, unmanned aerial vehicles armed with bombs that can be steered for hours to seek out and then explode on Russian targets.

But no one is saying that such a strategy will allow Ukraine to completely drive out the Russians.

If Kyiv wins in the artillery confrontation, it “will end up forcing them (Russia) to step up or negotiate realistically,” Jacobson said.

“Russia will be frustrated but not defeated.”