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NBC News has a story up this afternoon about one of the ways in which Ukraine has been able to hold off Russian advances thanks to a novel combination of very old and very new military tech.
The old part of the tech is howitzers. The US and other countries have started providing Ukraine with howitzers and training Ukrainian soldiers in their use but when the war started Ukraine had a supply of older model Russian howitzers which used a specific sized ammo only used by Russia and China. With no ability to resupply that ammunition, Ukraine turned to western nations who could supply the guns as well as the ammunition for them.
The innovation comes from how Ukraine is using modern drones to help them target enemy forces with those artillery shells.
Heavy artillery is typically deployed against enemy infantry and equipment. It uses an “adjusted fire” approach, meaning small changes to trajectory are made between each salvo until a target is hit. For decades, that meant armies sending personnel to the front lines and radioing instructions to the gunners several miles back…
But experts say Ukrainian forces are going one better by harnessing widely available drone technology to provide real-time surveillance data on Russian targets and fire their heavy weapons with unprecedented accuracy.
“Each drone provides the opportunity to destroy enemy troops,” said Valerii Iakovenko, founder of DroneUA, a Ukrainian tech firm that advises the government on drone use…
Small teams of soldiers control the drones from off-road vehicles near the front line, relaying location and topographic data to artillery batteries via military channels on Telegram.
“They are providing real-time information: ‘OK, guys, 100 meters to the left, 50 meters to the right,’ that kind of thing,” Iakovenko said.
A fellow from a US-based foreign policy think tank told NBC, “We’ve seen artillery being able to take out tanks, which is normally not done.”
But while the Ukrainians ability to innovate is helping them stay in the fight, they are still heavily outgunned until supplies of US howitzers arrive. The NY Times published a story yesterday about the importance of long-range artillery to the outcome of the war.
Through binoculars, the Ukrainian soldiers can see the Russian position far in the distance. But the single artillery weapon they operate at a small, ragtag outpost on the southern steppe has insufficient range to strike it.
These circumstances have imposed a numbingly grim routine on the Ukrainians, who are pounded daily by Russian artillery salvos while having no means to fight back. Every few hours, they dive into trenches to escape shells that streak out of the sky…
Military analysts say the battle now is riding not so much on the skill or bravery of Ukrainian soldiers, but on the accuracy, quantity and striking power of long-range weapons…
Russia’s 203-millimeter Peony howitzers, for example, fire out to about 24 miles while Ukraine’s 152-millimeter Geocent guns fire 18 miles.
But American M777 howitzers have a range of 25 miles and high precision. The US plans to send Ukraine 90 of the big guns. The Ukraine government issued a special thanks for the arrival of an M777 yesterday.
💬CinC AF of Ukraine:
Special greetings and thanks from our artillerymen to the American people for the M777 howitzer.
My guys know the price of artillery. First of all, they wanted to convey that this is a high-precision and very effective weapon.
Together to Victory! pic.twitter.com/x5mNB4YEmM
— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) May 13, 2022
Ukrainians also apparently crowdsourced the translation of the M777 operating manual so soldiers could read it.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians crowd-source the translation of manuals for the Western weapons – earlier I saw tweets searching for volunteers to translate the manuals for NLAWs, Javelins etc and reports on successful completion of the projects, now the one for the M777 howitzer is ready https://t.co/8oWk3Uk6aK
— English Luhansk (@loogunda) May 11, 2022
So the M777 should be a game changer but for the moment there is a kind of stalemate. Russian tanks can’t advance on Ukrainian lines for fear of being hit by British NLAWs or US Javelin missiles. But at the same time, Ukrainians can’t advance any closer to the superior Russian artillery without being pounded.
Russia cannot capitalize on its artillery superiority to advance. Its tactic for attacking on the open plains is to hammer the opposing positions with artillery, then send armored vehicles forward on a maneuver called “reconnaissance to contact” aimed at overwhelming what remains of the defensive line.
But because of Ukraine’s wealth of anti-armor missiles and weapons, Russia cannot advance and seize ground.
Ukraine, meanwhile, also cannot advance, though its tactics differ. The Ukrainian military relies on small unit infantry with armored vehicles playing only supporting roles. Though Ukraine could seize ground, it could not hold it or use it for logistical support for further advances, as any new territory would remain under Russian bombardment.
So this is now a war of long-range artillery and for the moment Russia has the advantage. But that will change as the M777s start showing up on the battlefield and forcing Russia to move its own artillery out of range. Once that happens, Ukrainian units should be able to start advancing again and also shelling Russian supply lines.