Russia’s artillery crews are suffering from logistical deficiencies as they seek to defeat Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive in the southeast of the country and prevent a breakthrough that Kyiv hopes will bring down the Russian defense network.
A report published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) this week said that deteriorating battlefield conditions are forcing Russian gunners to break from long-established doctrine. This is muting the impact of Moscow’s “God of War,” as Russian artillery has been nicknamed.
Russia’s firepower traditionally relies on volume over precision. Though this remained true though the first part of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the RUSI report said this is now changing.
“First, the Russian forces lack the ammunition to sustain this volume of fire,” the report read. “Second, the logistics enabling such a volume of fire is too vulnerable to detection and long-range precision strike.”
“Third, the loss of counterbattery radar and barrel wear have meant that this mass approach to fire suppression is of diminishing effectiveness.” Now, RUSI said, Russian gunners are pivoting to precision over volume. This is demonstrated, the report added, in the recent prioritization of Krasnopol 152mm laser-guided munitions and the increasing use of drones to adjust artillery fire.
“The trend appears to be towards maximizing accuracy and reducing the number of rounds necessary to achieve the desired outcome rather than resorting to saturation fire,” RUSI wrote. The report added that the increasing use of precision munitions, drones, and efforts to improve communication all represent “a concerning trend, as over time it will likely significantly improve Russian artillery.”
But more precise artillery fire using more advanced weapons will demand better training of Russian troops, something that has long posed a problem for Moscow. The challenge is even more daunting now amid wartime conditions, with the Kremlin prioritizing reinforcements regardless of their preparedness.
“The poor training does not have solution in a foreseeable future,” Pavel Luzin, a Russian military analyst and visiting scholar at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told Newsweek. “The human capital of the Russian army is very low. It doesn’t matter if it is soldiers or officers.”
Even if Russia was able to breed a well-trained force, it will be limited by its production capacity, Luzin added. “The changes in approach to artillery derives from the limited number of artillery rounds. However, Russia is unable to produce too many precision rounds.”
“If you produced 1 million dumb rounds of all types and only hundreds of precision rounds, you cannot increase your precision round production to tens of thousands,” Luzin said. “Moreover, Russia faces the decrease of artillery itself; the number of howitzers, multiple launch rocket systems, and even artillery barrels is decreasing.”
Russian forces under pressure in southeastern Ukraine are struggling to bring their big guns to bear. Ukrainian commanders have been focused on enemy batteries for several months, looking to erode Russia’s defensive capabilities and isolate its frontline defensive units.
Recent figures from the Oryx open-source monitoring outlet suggest that Ukraine is destroying around three Russian guns for each one it loses. Though Russia still has more artillery pieces, Kyiv’s forces are eating away at the advantage. Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry by email to request comment.
Both sides have been suffering from shell hunger throughout the full-scale conflict, either, in Ukraine’s case, largely due to diminishing stocks or, in Russia’s case, often because of logistical pressures exacerbated by long-range Ukrainian strikes on ammunition storage sites.
Ukraine’s Western partners are mobilizing to provide more munitions, with both the U.S. and the European Union announcing efforts to vastly expand their production of artillery shells. The U.S., too, is now providing 155mm shells armed with cluster munitions, the destructive spread of which have been credited with a rise in the number of Russian guns being destroyed in recent months.
Russia, meanwhile, is turning to North Korea and Iran to replenish its stocks. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in 2023 that Tehran has agreed to provide 300,000 shells, while the planned visit of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Russia later this month might see Pyongyang provide more ammunition.