Ukraine’s New Heavy Artillery Will Cause Russia a World of Pain

Defense contractors in the West have spent decades making artillery smarter and more lethal. Here’s how Ukraine can use it against Russia.

  • Ukrainian military forces have credited their artillery with making the biggest dent in the war with Russia.
  • The Western coalition supplying Ukraine with weapons is now shipping NATO-standard heavy artillery into the theater to bolster Ukrainian field artillery units.
  • The shift to NATO equipment will also make a whole slew of smart artillery shells available that will make Kyiv’s artillery deadlier than ever before.

As Western countries ship increasingly heavy arms to a beleaguered Ukraine, one of the most important transfers so far is an arsenal’s worth of field howitzers. Unlike the Ukrainian army’s existing big guns, these artillery pieces come in NATO calibers and are the key to unlocking the West’s precision-guided artillery technology. The tech, which includes GPS-guided artillery shells and tank-hunting munitions, could make Ukraine’s cannon-cockers exponentially more powerful.

Ukraine’s army has halted Russia’s advance into the country, and in some cases—like northwest of Kyiv—even sent the Russian Ground Forces scurrying back across the border. The Ukrainians have relied heavily on field artillery to hold off Russia’s invasion and consider it their most effective weapon. A recent study from the United Kingdom-based Royal United Services Institute cites a Ukrainian military official as saying “anti-tank missiles slowed the Russians down, but what killed them was our artillery. That was what broke their units.”

The Ukrainian Ground Forces have a considerable number of artillery, both traditional tube and rocket artillery. The total includes 2S3 Akatsiya 152-millimeter and 2S1 122-millimeter Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers; 122-millimeter BM-21 Grad truck-mounted multiple launch rocket systems; and D-20 152-millimeter and D-30 122-millimeter towed artillery pieces. Although theoretically numerous, the pieces are almost all old, produced by the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991. The guns are also produced in Soviet-era calibers, which a dwindling number of countries (including Russia and Ukraine) continue to operate.

NATO forces, on the other hand, use standardized 155-millimeter artillery shells. Those three millimeters make a world of a difference, rendering Western and Soviet-derived shells incompatible with one another. But now, as the West grows bolder in sending advanced weapons, Ukraine is set to receive more than 100 155-millimeter artillery pieces. The United States is slated to send 90 M777 towed howitzers, the current towed artillery piece in use by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps; Australia is sending six M777s, and Canada is sending four. The Netherlands has promised six Pz2000 155-millimeter self-propelled howitzers, while France will send between 10 and 12 CAESAR truck-mounted 155s.

Ukrainian army 2S1 self-propelled howitzers on parade, 2018. The 2S1 design dates back to the 1970s.

Ukraine will almost certainly get Western precision-guided rounds as part of the package. The American-developed M982 and M982A1 Excalibur artillery shells can home in on a set of GPS coordinates, and unlike artillery of the past, can hit a target with the first round. Excalibur is so precise, the U.S. Army claims, it will hit within two meters of the target “regardless of range.” This level of accuracy will allow Ukrainian artillerymen to hit more targets faster and without so-called “collateral damage” to civilians still living in combat areas.

The M829 Excalibur guided shell is the holy grail of artillerymen: a shell that can hit a target with the very first round.

Excalibur will allow Ukrainian forces to take out enemy forces quickly and more efficiently than ever before—a major asset for a defending force that might find itself outnumbered. A Bayraktar-type drone, for example, could act as a spotter for an Excalibur-armed artillery unit, locating dozens of enemy targets in a single sortie and sending back GPS coordinates for nearby artillerymen to service. Excalibur could take out stationary enemy vehicles one at a time, or even rain down a curtain of well-placed explosive shells along a trench line of enemy troops. A target that might take one battery of six howitzers to destroy might well just take one Excalibur-armed howitzer to destroy.

A trio of CAESAR artillery trucks, Iraq, 2017.

Another round likely winging its way to Ukraine is the UK/French BONUS artillery shell. BONUS was developed for one thing and one thing only: to kill tanks and other armored vehicles. BONUS, once fired from the muzzle of a howitzer, flies downrange and ejects two smart submunitions. The two submunitions use a multispectral sensor package to detect enemy armor across an area of up to 32,000 meters. Once an enemy tank or armored vehicle is detected, the submunition fires a self-forging warhead that lances down through the top of the vehicle, penetrating the thin armor and destroying it.

BAE Systems, which is in the process of supplying BONUS to the U.S. Army, says one shell will on average take out one target. Imagine a Russian tank company of ten tanks advancing across an open Ukrainian field. A nearby battery of six M777 howitzers responds to the attack, firing six BONUS at the column. The Russian tank company could lose up to six tanks in a single salvo, instantly rendering the company combat ineffective. BONUS would be devastating against Russian artillery units in firing positions, seeking out and destroying howitzers, ammunition carriers, and headquarters vehicles alike.

Marines of the 12th Marine Regiment fire an M982 Excalibur round from an M777 howitzer during a fire support mission, Helmand, Afghanistan, 2011.

The United States and its allies believe Ukraine can win, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said late last month. The new generation of field artillery on its way to Ukraine, as well as an equally new generation of smart shells, will go a long way toward victory for Kyiv. Russia has faced serious setbacks in its “special military operation,” many of its own making, but the hurt inflicted by Ukraine’s new artillery could cause the Russian Army a whole different level of pain.


  1. They did not even mention some of the techneques that can be used with western artillery.

    Air burst- The artillery shells burst above ground spreading shrapnel over a wide area. Not sure if Soviet artillery can do this but I have not seendigital any videos of showing it. great for hitting infantry in trenches.

    Time on Target- Normaly for artillery missions a Forward Obsever (FO) gives approximate corrdinates of a target. A “Senseing round is fired by the artillery battery. when it hits the FO radios back afjustments. depending on the taget area it can take several sensing rounds before the full strike is close enough to fire the full mission. When sexconds count this process can take minuets. With GPS positioning of the guns and digital fire direction of the corrfinates none of this is nessary. the FO or drone or satillite imaging for stationary targets the the corrdinates afed to the guns and they all fire at once.
    With no warning time to scamper to trenches or bug out of the area.
    BOOM! the enemy’s life turns to shit. (insert evil chuckle)

    Cluster Munitions.The best is the Duel Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) Basicly small shaped charge bomlets that dispers over a wide area and land on the top of vehicles and other things.
    A single artillery Battalion can fire a Time on Target with DPICM and clear a 1000 x1000 meter square of everything above ground. We used to call them “Grid Square Cleaners” backin the day. In 91 the Iraqis called it ‘Iron Rain”.

    FASCAM- Family of Air Scatterable Mines. The artery round is packed with dispersable mine. They have wide range of uses.they can be dropped on an advancing enemy to bring them to a halt and make them sitting ducks for conventional artillery strikes. Dropped on an assembly area to stop an attack before it starts. Used to quickly block an exposed flank or block a main supply route. The possiblities are endless and limited only by your imagination.

    “Make a Hip Shot.”-Much has been said about “Shoot and Scoot” with Artillery moving into a position. Firing a mission and then quickly moving to another position before Counter battry fire can target them. The US has taken this to a whole new Level. Traditionally a artillery unit moves in to aposition. the gun positions have to be survayed just like for a construction site. Then the they can fire.
    Thanks to GPS a battery can be moving down a road. Get a fire mission. pull off the road with in a few minuets fire the mission and be back on the road out of the area. Zero chance for counter battery.

    Lastly the M-777 and others come already networked to the Q-36 Counter Battery Radar. The Radar detects a launch by the enemy. It back tracks the point of orgin and then sends the cordinats to a designated battery which can than send return fire. They say it can take only 3 minuets. According to a former artillery officer friend of mine a well trained team can do it much faster.

    So lets put these peices together. A designated counter battery battery is cruising down the road. It’s designated countery batter radar locates a firing enemy artillery group. The battery pulls off the road. With in minuets it fires a Time on Target mission on the enemy. Without being aware they are being targeted the enemy’s world suddenly errupts in to hell. If a TB2 has the exact coordinets of the fire direction center and an Excalliber round is used to take it out. (with out it the artillery are just a bunch of idol gun bunnies picking their noses.) Then before the enemies counter battery cna locate them the heroic Battery is safely on the road again.

    That’s a lot.
    I could have just said “The Western artillery is going to fuck up Russia’s world.”
    But I wanted you to know exacty how badly it was going to happen.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I can imagine that we’re not being told the full scale of help Ukraine is getting. I strongly believe that, seeing their competencies, high morale and fighting spirit, they are getting the full program of munitions.
    I can already see the Ukrainian artillerymen licking their chops!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. There are many features in western equipment that are still classified. Putin’s thugs are in for a very big surprise when the western equipment finally comes on line.

    VT fuses can be set for many things. airburst is great for unprotected infantry. It can be set to explode after digging in, which is great for troops dug in as it can collapse their structures. A properly dug in unit, however, can withstand a great deal of punishment. An infantry friend told me that properly dug in the kill radius of a 500 pound bomb is less than 50 meters.

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.