Artillery in Ukraine: observations from the line of battle.


Since 2014, many observers noted that the conflict in Ukraine had showed unusually high role of cannon and rocket artillery. First of all, this was due to the action of effective anti-aircraft systems, which almost limited the role of Ukrainian aviation to transportation of personnel and equipment and evacuation of the wounded.

In order to analyze the direct experience of the participants of the conflict we gathered the opinions of Belarusian volunteers of Tactical group “Belarus” on the Internet (especially with the use of “Zhurtavannie patryjotau” Facebook group) about the use of artillery in Donbas conflict.

We believe their experience and observation will be interesting and useful for the Belarusian army and other military institutions, whose purpose is to protect the independence of our country.

It should be noted that among the volunteers, in their own words, there are no professional gunners, so their opinions, is rather a view of the infantry men, who interact with artillery.

Also Belarusian volunteers stress that at the front in Donbas it is unlikely, that all the skills and techniques, which are taught in military schools and academies, are used. In their view, this is due to a lack of attention to military in Ukraine since 1991 and the lack of discipline in many parts of the Ukrainian army, often irresponsible attitude to official duties, the lack of systematic combat training, etc.
At the same time the Belarusian volunteers noted that the Ukrainian army, both cadre and mobilized members, had got a great combat experience during the war.

The role of artillery in the various stages of the conflict from 2014 to the present. Throughout the nearly two years of conflict, the artillery has played a crucial role in the warfare. No operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) were carried out without the participation of units and formations of missile troops and artillery.

The degree of participation was different, depending on the goals and objectives of a particular military operation.

As a result of intensive use of artillery (both cannon and rocket ones) the losses in manpower of the enemy — Russian troops and terrorists, became high. The losses of the enemy in the military hardware, including exclusive units, should be noted as well. For example, in July 2014 in the district of Gorlovka an anti-aircraft missile system “Tor” of the Russian army (hereafter — RA), the photos of which near Rostov appeared about a year ago, was hit by artillery fire on a tip-off of special reconnaissance forces.

However, there are also very negative aspects. The most sad experience happened from the 20 of June to beginning of September 2014, when the Ukrainian Army in cooperation with the Border Guard units performed combat missions to restore control of the border areas in both partly occupied districts of Donbas. The categorical ban on the opening of the return fire on the positions of the Russian artillery that conducted massive rocket and artillery strikes on the troops of the AFU from Russian territory, eventually led to a natural and actual defeat as well as partially encirclement of AFU troops.

Influence of fortifications. Available fortifications could reduce the role of artillery to a low or almost zero level. Such situation was admitted by the volunteers during the battles near Debaltsevo. If the troops could dig in properly, even massive attack of enemy artillery on a particular area would not allow him to break through the positions of the AFU. The main factor there was simply the presence of stockpiles of ammunition and food.

Calibres, types of guns. Workhorse of the artillery on both sides of the conflict is a howitzer D-30. An the “main” war calibre is 152 mm. At the same time, the gunners, who were able to change positions several times faster, of course felt much more comfortable.

Mortar fire allows to perform a number of tasks, unbearable to “classic” artillery, quickly. 82mm and 120mm mortars were effectively used in accordance with their capabilities and purpose.

Tactics of using the artillery. Tactics depends entirely on the commanders of batteries/divisions. Due to the considerable number of personnel with war experience by the autumn of 2014 a sufficient coherence in action of the troops was observed, volunteers say. During the battle near Debaltsevo, the support of artillery was provided quite quickly, when asked for.

Quick change of position was vital, when the artillery of the Russian army started acting.

The effectiveness and survivability of towed artillery. Except the summer of 2014, when Ukrainian troops along the border with the Russian Federation were attacked from the territory of the Russian Federation, the Belarusian volunteers have no records of losses from counter-battery fire.

However, this does not relieve the officers of the need to equip the positions properly. Of course, self-propelled artillery is much more effective in terms of active defence operations. As the fighters underline, it all depends of supply: towed artillery, with all its slowness, requires little attention in terms of the material and technical support.

Counter-battery fire of the enemy. On the part of the terrorists, its effectiveness is minimal (except for mortars). From the Russian troops it is expectedly high.

Adjustment of fire. In the situation of the general neglect of affairs in the Ukrainian army at the start of the war, the use of the ARC-1 “Lynx” (in 2016, the purchase of counter-battery radar “Zoopark-2” for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is planned) in combat conditions was observed only at the final stage of battles near Debaltsevo, and during local clashes in May and August 2015.

Belarusian fighters admit, that serious military assistance in this area was provided by volunteers. Thanks to this assistance AFU succeeded in establishing a network of volunteer units of an unmanned reconnaissance. With the help of “volunteers scouts” the artillery fire was adjust as well.

The presence and training of military spotters. Spotters of artillery fire are present in all troops of the special intelligence, two or three separate reconnaissance battalions and in airborne units. There were also present in several infantry battalions. According to the observations of Belarusians, in the infantry there are no trained professionals in this sphere and their appearance there is not expected in the short term.

For all the merits of Ukrainian civil society it should be noted that it can’t fully compensate for the lack of effective work of the state.

Misfire and detonation of old ammunition in the cannons. Belarusians mentioned two cases of explosion of the cannon: in the D-30 and 2A65.

The artillery units in the Ukrainian army. The Belarusian volunteers speak positively about the presence of artillery in the Ukrainian artillery units, linking it with Soviet traditions of the organizational structure. The organizational and staff structure of mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian Army is characterized by a high level of artillery presence — up to 20% of the total number of payroll. As a part of each mechanized brigade and airborne brigade, a brigade artillery group – shortly BrAG, is present.

Each BrAG consists of: battery of D-30, battery of 2C1, battery of 2C3, battery of BM-21, battery of MT-12 “Rapier”. The mechanized battalions have mortar batteries.

Andrei Kmitits, specially for Belarus Security Blog.