Ahead of an alleged visit to Ukraine by U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, a trickle of Western-standard field artillery turned into a flood, helping Ukrainian heavy artillery units move from a crippling reliance to 152 mm artillery from Soviet standards to Western standards 155 mm weapons almost overnight. Barring immediate and substantial concessions from Russia at the negotiating table, the next “transformational” Western aid package may well include massive numbers of M-109 155mm self-propelled guns, continuing the irrevocable conversion of the Ukrainian army into a NATO-oriented force. ready for offensive operations.
Russia should be worried. Ukraine’s transition to NATO-compliant field artillery is progressing at incredible speed. Within days, the United States increased its initial supply of 18 155mm howitzers to a total of 90 artillery pieces, while Canada shipped four modern M-777 howitzers and the United Kingdom is committed to providing long-range artillery.
The same will happen to the Ukrainian fleet of large-caliber self-propelled guns. Self-propelled guns are essentially artillery pieces fitted to a tank or truck chassis, designed to “shoot and fly” before they can be targeted by an opposing force. Outside the limelight, smaller, less advertised donations are setting the stage for a wholesale refresh of Ukraine’s fleet of Soviet-era large-caliber self-propelled guns. And it’s not just for defense anymore; the arrival of a large fleet of NATO-standard 155mm self-propelled guns in Ukraine provides a solid foundation for future offensive operations.
To complement the Ukrainian 152 mm self-propelled guns, France sends an undetermined number of useful CAESAR 155 mm wheeled self-propelled artillery systems (reports vary between “less than 10” and twelve), the Netherlands provides an even number unknown to excellent German-made 155 mm Panzerhaubitze 2000 (Pzh-2000) self-propelled guns, and Belgium seems ready to offer an undetermined number of 155 mm M-109A4BE self-propelled guns as well. As this trial was about to go to press, reports suggest that Italy is about to outdo everyone by offering Ukraine both Pzh-2000s and M-109s.
The United States has been remarkably quiet about its potential contributions, but the United States has plenty of surplus M-109s available, including the relatively modern and still formidable Paladin M-109A6.
The scene is set for self-propelled guns to NATO standards. Alongside the new field guns, huge amounts of 155mm ammunition are already pouring into the country, and these supplies will soon offer Ukrainian long-range gunners access to an exciting new menu of specialized shells and rockets. The massive ammo transfer would even include a pallet or two of Excalibur 155mm guided munitions, capable of precision strikes.
NATO-compliant artillery detection radars and “command and control” coordination elements also enter the fight. If properly understood and exploited, these new assets will give Ukrainian forces an advantage in the quick battles and counter-battery engagements to come.
The new gear lays the groundwork for offensive operations:
In a few days, the donated towed howitzers will complement Ukraine’s set of Soviet-era 152mm artillery systems, a sprawling arsenal of 2A65 MSTA-Bs, 2A36 Giatsint-Bs and ex-D-20 howitzers from 152mm. While the new NATO-spec 155mm howitzers are not a 1:1 replacement for Ukraine’s many heavy field guns, the new artillery goes a long way to alleviating Ukraine’s supply problems given the decrease in the amount of 152 mm ammunition available on the world market.
The real trick will be to see how quickly and how effectively Ukraine takes advantage of its range of new radars, fire control systems and improved munitions capabilities. Once NATO’s sensors and command and control systems are mastered, and Ukrainian commanders really start to understand their new ammunition capabilities (for example, some 155mm ammunition can even be used to spread anti-tank mines), Ukraine’s new 155mm towed guns hit much harder than their larger legacy fleet of Soviet-era 152mm field artillery pieces. The same will happen once the 155mm self-propelled guns arrive in Ukraine.
While the new 155mm field artillery will enter the battlefield quickly, NATO-standard self-propelled artillery donations will likely be a little slower to start replacing the large Ukrainian contingent of 152mm self-propelled guns. from the Soviet era. But new platforms are coming, and once things get going, the transfer from Soviet self-propelled gun systems to NATO systems will be rapid.
As long as the Ukrainian self-propelled guns have enough ammunition, there is no need to rush; a deliberate pace towards full employment of NATO’s new self-propelled guns is acceptable. Ukraine currently has a good-sized set of 2S19 MSTA-S, 2S5 Giatsint-S, 2S3 Akatsiya and other systems like the Czech Republic’s new 152mm self-propelled guns. But the three mobile systems based on the NATO standard 155mm arriving in Ukraine are more complex. These are essentially new armored vehicles and until they are available in numbers and the supporting logistics are in place, the valuable early platforms are probably best kept for training, special missions and high priority set pieces.
As European nations hand over modern high-flying self-propelled guns, these systems are unlikely to be available in large numbers anytime soon. While Ukraine covets the capabilities of the German-made Pzh-2000 heavy self-propelled gun, donor nations will be reluctant to hand over the frontline platform in large numbers. But hundreds of retired old-school M-109s are still serviceable and are likely still available in US and European warehouses. If these older but still formidable self-propelled guns can be quickly refreshed, supported and integrated into Ukraine’s command and control networks, they could offer Ukraine the best option in the short term, particularly if More modern systems like the Pzh-2000 and CEASAR continue to infiltrate Ukraine, ready to fend off any troublesome threat from high-end Russian artillery. But large numbers of M-109s are likely to be one of the next big “gifts” the West offers as Ukraine goes on the offensive.
The arrival of a whole bunch of M-109s on the Ukrainian battlefield seems inevitable. The logistical framework for broader Ukrainian support for the M-109s is already in place. Many scoffed at the American donation of 200 ex-M113 armored personnel carriers, but they failed to realize that the M-109 is essentially a 155mm gun aboard an M113 chassis. The fielding of many M113s in Ukraine is reinvigorating the development of a new Ukraine-based logistics support network needed to eventually support a large fleet of hard-hitting 155mm M-109s.
For the scruffy Russians, it will again be a repeat of the 155mm towed howitzers – another hard-to-beat combat innovation they will struggle to cope with. And with many, many M-109s pouring in to support Ukraine’s existing fleet of Soviet-era 152mm self-propelled guns, Ukraine can begin to go on the attack, using its newest artillery, “King of the battle”, to face Russia. and win in the steppes.