Although its fundamentals have changed little since the Chinese discovered gunpowder technology in the ninth century, artillery has long been known as the “King of War” for its important role in warfare: Using explosive force, propel a heavy object through a pipe towards the enemy. But military strategists say the staggering course of the three-month Russian occupation has added a new, potentially game-changing aspect to the power of artillery in modern warfare.
While Russian forces have so far struggled to gain any traction in the conflict, the Pentagon has supplied Kiev with 90 first-class 155mm M777 howitzers to assist in the battle, and is recruiting hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in special training classes to retrieve them. to speed up systems. Meanwhile, other NATO members also supplied Ukraine with howitzers for the next phase of the conflict there.
“They know what they’re up against,” a senior Defense Department official said on Thursday. “We pull the artillery out of battle to learn about these howitzers, and then we put them back in.”
Weapons in the military can broadly be divided into two categories: direct and indirect fire. An infantry rifle or a tank gun is a direct-fired weapon used to shoot what the operator can see. Artillery, by contrast, is an indirect fire weapon. With a bit of math and a forward observer who can read maps, operators of the M777 howitzer can hit a target about 20 miles away.
Just before embarking on an extended diplomatic tour of Asia, President Biden formally authorized a $100 million security aid package for Ukraine on Thursday, which would mean 18 additional 155mm howitzers and enough tactical vehicles to tow them to Kiev. A separate $40 billion US economic, security and humanitarian aid package was approved by the Senate on Thursday and is expected to be signed by the president in the coming days.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told Defense Minister Lloyd Austin that US-supplied artillery artillery is “forward in battle” and provides long-range indirect fire capability to the country’s forces as they fight Russian and separatist forces in the country’s eastern Donbas region. , the focus of the current war after the advance of Russian forces in Kyiv and other major cities was blocked.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dedicated an estimated 80% of the total battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to Ukraine. Pentagon officials said that although their losses were high, Russia still has 140 BTGs and at least 106 operational in Ukraine.
In the early stages of the conflict, Russia’s armored advantage proved of little value, as the Kremlin’s hoped-for lightning victory was thwarted by fierce Ukrainian resistance. Local forces can come out from behind a corner and take down a Russian tank or armored personnel carrier before reintegrating into the community.
As the focus of the conflict shifted to the east, the flat open terrain there only magnified the role of artillery in the war. While Russia’s supplies are running out in the war, NATO countries are taking action to fill the gaps in Ukraine’s arsenal.
The command role that artillery can play on today’s battlefields has not been as clear as on May 13, 2022, when the Russian army repeatedly tried to cross the Severodonetsk River near Luhansk. Ukraine opened an artillery fire on Russian positions, neutralizing dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
The artillery “has been the largest casualty in Ukraine up to this point,” said retired Army Lieutenant General Stephen Lanza, a board member of the Army Artillery. “When you send 90 howitzers, it’s a significant impact on the battlefield.”
The Pentagon says the 155 mm howitzers it sent to Ukraine are ideal for the army and the terrain they are fighting. Unlike a self-propelled gun like the M-109, there is no need to train its soldiers in basic automotive maintenance. If necessary, a farmer’s tractor can tow an M777 howitzer to a desired firing position.
“The type of conflict we look at in Ukraine has changed,” said Brad Bowman, a former Army officer and now senior director of the Center for Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “There is now a different topography with more open areas. It looks more like Kansas than what we saw north of Kiev.”
Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said artillery will become increasingly important as the conflict in Ukraine sinks more and more into “positional warfare.”
“In war, artillery does most of the killing, infantry do most of the casualties. “There is no reason to think that this war will be any different,” he said. “His contribution to modern warfare is underestimated because it is not that exciting.”
In addition, artillery units can operate day or night and in all weather conditions, giving them an advantage over air support missions.
The flow of arms may also have a political dimension, in light of Ukraine’s long-voiced hopes of one day joining the NATO Western military alliance. Mr Putin from Russia said this would be a red line for the Kremlin, but the invasion only increased Kiev’s familiarity with NATO weapons, training regimes and military doctrine. For example, the recent influx of US-supplied artillery means that the Ukrainian military, long thought to be too unprofessional to be a NATO candidate, is steadily moving away from the NATO standard caliber system and the Soviet standard.
“This unlocks a series of shells they weren’t able to access before. This includes precision-guided missiles,” said Mr. Cancian. “There’s no point in giving them a 155mm howitzer and not giving them the precision ammunition that comes with it.”
Is it overloaded?
The US has sent billions of dollars worth of security aid to Ukraine for everything from artillery to radar systems used to locate enemy weapons. Despite the widely admired method of the Ukrainian military keeping its larger and better-armed neighbor at bay, some say there is a danger of too much coming too quickly.
Mr. Cancian said he was worried whether the abundance of military equipment could simply overwhelm the Ukrainians.
“The Ukrainians were not very good at equipment maintenance before the war started. Now they are even more tense,” he said. “It takes some time to master and understand a new piece of hardware.”
The Pentagon is on the rise in its training program for M777 howitzers. However, Mr. Cancian questioned whether such an impromptu operation would bear much fruit.
“The idea of ’training a trainer’ barely works at the best of times, and those are not the best times,” he said. “I think we will have to provide operational contractors in Ukraine to maintain this equipment. It’ll just overwhelm them.”