By Ellie Cook
August 9, 2023
Russian forces have lost more than 5,000 artillery systems in the almost 18-month-long war, according to Kyiv’s military, as the Ukrainian counteroffensive eats up artillery supplies on both sides.
Moscow’s troops have lost 5,013 artillery systems since the start of the Kremlin’s invasion in February 2022, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Wednesday. Russia lost 17 artillery systems in the previous 24 hours, it added.
Newsweek could not independently verify this figure and has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment. In Moscow’s latest update on its count of Ukrainian losses, it said Kyiv had lost more than Russia.
Artillery quickly emerged as a decisive part of both sides’ military operations in the ongoing war—and this hasn’t changed with Ukraine’s grinding counteroffensive.
“Artillery has been hugely important in this war,” Davis Ellison, a strategic analyst with the Hague Center for Security Studies (HCSS), told Newsweek . “Rear-area strikes have been some of the most decisive actions undertaken by the Ukrainians so far, to include during this current offensive.”
“Artillery was, and looks to remain, important for land warfare,” agreed Paul van Hooft, another strategic analyst with the HCSS.
Artillery and munitions have always featured high up on Kyiv’s military aid wish lists, and recent Pentagon security assistance has included extra ammunition for U.S.-supplied HIMARS, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and other artillery systems. The U.S. has also supplied controversial cluster munitions, which disperse when fired from artillery, in tranches of military aid that aims to keep Ukraine’s artillery working.
On the Ukrainian use of artillery, Van Hooft told Newsweek : “Having to restrain itself to not run out of munitions might turn out to be a real problem.” He added that it is not a problem NATO forces have recently had to contend with during conflicts in which the alliance has been involved.
“The current expenditures by both Russia and Ukraine have not been seen in Europe since the Second World War,” Ellison said.
However, it is very difficult to pinpoint just how many artillery systems have been taken out on the battlefield on both sides.
It is hard to work out just how much Russia’s artillery has been degraded, but they are tending to fire artillery less than before, according to Nick Reynolds, a research fellow for land warfare at the London-based Royal United Services Institute defense think tank. Part of this could be drawn up to a loss of systems, but also constraints on ammunition supplies, he told Newsweek .
The Ukrainian General Staff’s figure of 5,000 systems lost could be “pretty close to the mark,” said retired British Army Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who previously commanded U.K. and NATO chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense forces. It is unlikely Russia is able to replenish its artillery systems as quickly as they are being taken out, he told Newsweek .
Some experts suggest Ukraine’s use of artillery to attack Russia’s firepower puts Kyiv’s military ahead of Moscow’s tactics. Ukraine has fitted 21st-century drone technology into its artillery targeting, making it a far more effective force for the defending Russian troops to deal with.
Ukraine is particularly adept at using its drone fleet to monitor where artillery shells land, and how close they come to Russian targets, De Bretton-Gordon said. If the shell misses its intended target, the artillery operators can spot this from the drone’s camera, before adjusting and refiring.
This move towards more precision artillery in this way is a “fundamental change” that Western militaries are taking note of, he added. “It’s been really effective.”
“Ukrainian armed forces seem to be more innovative and effective than their NATO counterparts,” Van Hooft commented. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Artillery has been made more potent by integrating drones and other technology, such as smartphones and apps, into Ukraine’s modern warfare, Van Hooft said.
Russia, on the other hand, does not have a burgeoning drone fleet available to follow the same tactics, De Bretton-Gordon said, adding that Moscow’s conscripted soldiers would not have the training and expertise to follow in Ukraine’s footsteps with drone-backed artillery warfare.
In the early stages of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, experts said both sides were searching for the enemy’s artillery and high-value assets.
Weeks later, Ukraine’s slow pace of progress has been criticized as it gets delayed by dug-in Russian troops, minefields and robust static defenses.
Ukraine’s artillery does get into trouble with in-depth, heavily fortified defenses, Ellison said, which is the case along many parts of the current front line in eastern and southern Ukraine.
“Ideally, artillery fire is combined with maneuver to cover infantry or armored assaults on positions,” he said.