Russian forces target M-777 howitzers that the United States donated to the Ukrainian military. The Russians destroyed at least three of the 155 millimeter towed howitzers, including 126 that the United States pledged to the Ukrainian war effort.
These losses contradict the impressive performance of the Ukrainian artillery in the face of difficult conditions. According to the best outside analysis, the Russian army has lost more artillery than the Ukrainian army as Russia’s wider war in Ukraine enters its fourth month.
Ukrainian gunners excel in “counter-battery” fire, that is, in responding quickly to Russian guns. “The M-777s were absolutely deadly,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters last week.
The Ukrainian army entered the war with 1,800 artillery pieces, almost all ex-Soviet models which the army inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The ex-Soviet guns are mostly 122 millimeter and 152 millimeter calibers.
It was with these weapons that the Ukrainian military repelled the Russian army’s attempt to seize Kyiv in the first six weeks of the wider war that began in late February. “The anti-tank missiles slowed down the Russians, but what killed them was our artillery,” a senior adviser to General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, told Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds of the Royal Services Institute in London.
But old Soviet guns lack range and explosive power compared to their Western counterparts. More importantly, the Ukrainians never had enough shells for their 122 and 152. The transition to NATO’s 155 millimeter artillery, with its vast ammunition production base, quickly became a top priority. for the Ukrainian army.
“Relying solely on Soviet weapons was definitely a losing strategy,” said Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
To date, foreign supporters of Ukraine have pledged no less than 267,155 self-propelled and tracked vehicles, half of which are M-777s. A 4.5 ton M-777 can fire an unguided shell up to a distance of 19 miles. That’s several miles more than a 152-millimeter 2S3 can pull.
These extra kilometers help Ukrainian gunners target Russian gunners while remaining out of range of Russian counter-battery fire. The statistics tell the story. In just over a hundred days of fighting, the Ukrainians have destroyed or captured at least 283 Russian heavy mortars, guns and rocket launchers. In the meantime, the Russians knocked out or seized 95 Ukrainian heavy guns and launchers.
But war is dangerous. And the new Ukrainian M-777 batteries suffered losses. In May, a Russian KUB kamikaze drone targeted and damaged an M-777 battery. Video circulated online yesterday showing Russian artillery hitting another M-777 battery, destroying one of the guns.
The United States could compensate for these losses. The M-777s given to it so far are mostly ex-US Marine Corps cannons that have been rendered redundant by the Corps’ accelerated shift to rocket launchers. The Marines and the US Army still have a thousand M-777s between them. It is possible that some or more of them will travel to Ukraine.
“We, together with allies and partners, are pushing long-range artillery fire to the front as quickly as possible,” an unnamed US defense official told reporters last week.
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Post expires at 4:46am on Monday July 4th, 2022