Ukrainians forces will be firing US Army and Marine Corps artillery in a matter of days, Pentagon officials say, once US experts have a chance to “train the trainers” outside of Ukraine.
US 155mm Howitzers
The addition of 155mm artillery could be quite significant for Ukrainian forces who have thus far been largely unable to strike Russian force concentrations from stand-off ranges. Most US 155mm Howitzers can fire a range of at least 30km, which is much farther than the reported range of Ukraine’s Soviet-Era older artillery systems. For the Ukrainians, longer-range artillery could enable them to attack force “massing,” “staging” and preparation areas for Russian forces preparing to invade. Also, by being used as suppressive “area fire,” the artillery could enable Ukrainian forces to maneuver and deny entrance or passageway for Russian forces along key routes into Donbass.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was clear to emphasize that US military personnel will not go into Ukraine to train the Ukrainians on how to use the artillery, but will rather familiarize a group of Ukrainians with the weapons outside of the country.
“Training will occur outside of Ukraine. It'll be more of a train the trainer's kind of environment. So, it'll be a small number of Ukrainians that will be trained on the howitzers. And then they will be reintroduced back into their country to train their colleagues,” Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby told reporters, according to a transcript.
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The training should not be too laborious, Kirby said, in large measure because there is much commonality between most kinds of artillery.
“They don't use American howitzers in artillery. They understand how to use artillery, and it won't -- we don't believe will take very long or require much detailed training to get them up to speed on American howitzers. An artillery piece, so I've been told, is not unlike other artillery pieces. The basic outlines of the system are the same,” Kriby said. “We'll just have to get them up to speed on the particulars of our howitzers. These are 155 howitzers. The Ukrainians typically use 152, it's different caliber. But it doesn't mean that it's going to be overly laborious to get them up to speed on this,”
In effect, Ukrainians will now be able to bombard Russian forces from safe distances, yet the ultimate effectiveness of the artillery may in large measure rely upon targeting and surveillance. Should ground-based radar, fire control systems and artillery be networked with drone video feeds near Russian troop locations, artillery shells can be directed at those locations.
Artillery of any kind is likely to be of great help to Ukrainian forces who have to a large extent been ill-equipped to counter long-range Russian missile attacks, yet one interesting question is whether the Ukrainians will have an ability to fire precision rounds. Of course detail related to the kind of ammunition or artillery targeting systems are not likely to be available for security reasons, GPS-guided precision artillery has been used in combat since 2007 by the US Army. Given that the ability to guide 155mm rounds has existed for many years, it certainly seems within the realm of the possible that Ukrainians might be able to pinpoint high-value Russian targets from significant standoff ranges.
An ability to do this would also, just like regular artillery, rely upon the fidelity, range and speed of networking technologies and the specifics with which target details can be quickly transmitted. Regardless, a more heavily armed Ukrainian force might be positioned to do quite well against Russian invaders, given Russia’s ground war track record thus far in the war.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.