Artillery types

With new cannons and long-range rockets, Ukraine is transforming its artillery. But maybe not fast enough.

As many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying every day in the battle for Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said announced Thursday.

This casualty rate, which matches figures provided by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this month, highlights the intensity of the fighting in the Donbass and helps explain the growing urgency of Kyiv’s requests for military aid.

“We have already received, purchased on the market, manufactured and handed over to the Ukrainian Armed Forces a significant number of weapons,” Reznikov said. “These numbers would have been enough for a successful defense operation against any army in Europe. But not against Russia.

“That’s why we insist that Ukraine desperately needs heavy weapons, and very quickly,” Reznikov added. “We have proven that, unlike many others, we are not afraid of the Kremlin. But as a country, we cannot afford to lose our best sons and daughters. »

In particular, Ukraine needs howitzers and rocket launchers, Reznikov said. Since the slow and fierce battle for Donbass is mostly an artillery battle, that makes sense.

The Russian army has concentrated its best guns and rockets in the Donbass and is relentlessly bombarding Ukrainian positions before sending tanks and infantry there.

Ukraine’s guns and rockets, including hundreds of the latest Western-made examples, not only reinforce the defenders, but also fire back at Russian artillery. A practice called “counter-battery”.

So far, Ukraine’s allies have provided almost all of the artillery requested by Kyiv, Reznikov said. But the demand is about to get much bigger. “As the circumstances on the battlefield change, the needs also increase.”

To match the firepower of the Russians and their allies in the Donbass, the Ukrainians need two things, Reznikov said. To continue replacing its older, increasingly difficult-to-maintain vintage Soviet 122 and 152 millimeter guns, several hundred of them, with more modern Western 155 millimeter guns.

And to complete this tube artillery with rocket launchers like the Americans High mobility artillery rocket system, or HIMARS. “A significant amount” of them, Reznikov said.

The 155 millimeter guns can fire further (about 20 miles) and with more powerful ammunition than the older 122 and 152. The extra range helps keep Ukrainian gunners out of range of Russian gunners. The extra explosive power reduces pressure on ammo supplies. “These new shells are more effective than their Soviet equivalents, and therefore their consumption is lower,” explained Reznikov.

HIMARS and other rocket launchers meanwhile are ideal counter-battery weapons, as they can fire twice as far as 155s with cluster warheads that scatter small explosives over a wide area.

Each cluster munition packs enough power to disable a delicate piece of artillery. The Russians recently fired their fragmentation rockets on Ukrainian artillery in the Donbass, seemingly damaging at least one of the new ex-Norwegian Ukrainian M-109 howitzers.

“We already have a clear artillery supply plan until the end of July,” Reznikov said. The plan includes weeks of training on each new system for a cadre of Ukrainian troops.

But even if foreign donors promise enough weapons and rockets and the training goes well, there is another complication. As the Ukrainian army transitions from Soviet-style artillery with its particular ammunition to Western-style artillery entirely different ammunition, there are bound to be logistical problems.

Reznikov described the process. “The weapons and equipment supplied are transferred centrally by the Ministry of Defense to the warehouses of our armed forces,” he said. “The distribution is carried out by the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine because they are exactly the ones who see the big picture, develop operation plans and set priorities.”

But the logisticians have a right of veto on everything. After all, a new howitzer is useless if the front-line battery using it cannot repair the gun and keep it supplied with a sufficient number of suitable shells. “Let me remind you that in order to obtain the appropriate weapons, commanders should apply to the command of the logistics forces,” Reznikov said.

As losses mount, Ukraine needs artillery, wrong. But the new guns and rockets can only move at a certain speed from the warehouses of the allies to the combat brigades. The open question is whether Kyiv can re-equip its artillery batteries before the rising death toll in the Donbass causes irreversible damage to the army.