Ukraine Situation Report: Ukrainian Troops Training With Howitzers Optimized For Guided Artillery Rounds

Having the M777A2 howitzer means Ukraine can more easily and effectively employ Excalibur guided-artillery shells in the heat of combat.

byDan ParsonsJul 14, 2022 3:43 PM
Ukraine Situation Report: Ukrainian Troops Training With Howitzers Optimized For Guided Artillery Rounds
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Ukrainian troops are now training on M777A2 towed Howitzer that is optimized for firing GPS-guided artillery shells. These are the same shells that were promised as part of Washington’s most recent $400 million military aid package. 

The M777A2 comes with a digital fire control system that includes GPS aiming capability along with standard digital fire control systems that come with the M777A1 already in Ukraine. The training is said to be occurring in Germany.

The more advanced cannons are optimized for firing the M982 Excalibur guided projectile, which can change course in flight using extendable fins and is, therefore, far more accurate than traditional artillery shells, especially over long ranges. To use the guided round, troops input GPS location data into the gun's guidance unit before sending it downrange. More complex salvos can also be programmed.

In the most-recent security assistance package, the U.S. Defense Department has only said it will be sending 1,000 rounds of 155 mm howitzer rounds that provide “greater precision” than standard shells for the M777. The New York Times on July 13 reported that the precision 155mm rounds were indeed Excalibur guided artillery shells.

Moving to Ukraine proper, seen for the first time in Ukrainian service were long-promised M113 armored personnel carriers. The U.S. included 200 of the Vietnam-era APCs in an earlier package of military aid. Several other countries, including Australia, are also sending M113s to Ukraine but the video below is the first time U.S.-donated vehicles — of which the U.S. military has hundreds in storage at pre-positioned depots in Europe — were seen being used by the Ukrainian Army.

All of that U.S. equipment and more have made a big difference for Ukrainian forces continuing to hold out against Russia’s push westward, but before we get into the details, catch up on The War Zone’s previous rolling coverage here

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After the past week, during which Ukrainian forces targeted huge stockpiles of Russian artillery ammunition and explosives in part with U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, the effects of those weapons can be seen from space. Using NASA data that pinpoints ongoing fires, the maps below show the almost-complete elimination of Russian fire on Ukrainian frontlines in the east. Dubbed by some war observers as the “HIMARS effect,” the Ukrainians have harnessed the weapon’s power to hone in on specific high-value targets and are using them so effectively that the U.S. is sending another four launchers. That will bring the number of HIMARS in Ukraine to 12, on top of tracked M270 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) donated by other NATO nations. 

The Ukrainians may have gotten some targeting help from the Russians themselves, according to a video that popped up on Twitter recently. It appears that one Russian soldier or collaborator filmed several others loading a truck with ammunition inside one of their massive ammo dumps in the Donetsk region. When the video was posted to social media, the Ukrainian Army was able to identify the location and target it with artillery.

If true, it is yet another example of Russian forces and their allies in Ukraine using non-secure communication to their detriment. To get an idea of the sort of destruction wrought when Ukrainians rain artillery on a Russian ammunition storage facility, check out this video of the aftermath of one such depot reportedly in Alchevsk, Luhansk.

In response, Russian forces continue to saturate a broad front with massed artillery and in some areas are launching probing assaults by small company- and platoon-sized units, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s latest intelligence assessment of the war. 

But Russia’s “aging vehicles, weapons and Soviet-era tactics … do not lend themselves to quickly regaining or building momentum unless used in overwhelming mass,” which Russian forces are currently incapable of mustering, the U.K. MoD said.

With all the loss of ammunition and vehicles, Russia still is likely focused on taking more towns and territory in the Donbas in the coming days, according to the U.K MoD. Russian forces likely will set their sights on smaller cities and towns to secure approaches on the way to larger targets like the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, the U.K. MoD said. 

The July 13 U.K. intelligence assessment also finds that Russia is working to “undermine the legitimacy of the Ukrainian state and consolidate its own governance and administrative control over occupied parts of Ukraine.” Further evidence is provided by photos online of confiscated Ukrainian passports, piled up and discarded by Russian officials in areas of eastern Ukraine under their occupation. 

Russian forces also continue to fire missiles into Ukrainian cities, with air-raid sirens being activated almost daily throughout the besieged nation. On July 13 the Zaporizhia Regional Military Administration claimed that two Russian missiles hit the city of Zaporizhia

Then the following day, at least a dozen people were killed and some 25 wounded in a Russian missile strike on the city of Vinnytsia, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine says. The area hit was near a hospital and most of the dead are civilians, children among them. The Ukrainian Army says the country already has suffered 3,000 Russian missile strikes.

The New York Times reported on July 13 that Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met in Belgium to work out a way to pry Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports. Although they failed to meet a formal agreement, UN Secretary General ​​António Guterres came away with a “ray of hope,” according to the Times. 

Commercial shipping traffic has risen sharply in the Black Sea over the past week, according to ship tracking maps. This could be a direct result of Ukrainian forces having run the Russian garrison off of Snake Island, from which they could hold ships at risk and enforce Russia’s blockade of grain inside ports like this one at Izmail, at the mouth of the Danube River.

Russian warships are still patrolling the Black Sea, however. On July 13, a U.S. Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aerial system took a relatively close look at some of those Russian naval vessels. The high-altitude, long-endurance drones have been flying reconnaissance missions over the Black Sea for weeks, gathering intelligence on Russian naval movements, though it is not known whether the information is then fed directly to Ukraine from U.S. sources.

Ukraine is putting Western-supplied weapons to good use in the ongoing fight but its government and military officials continue to cry for ever more munitions, which are flowing into the country at an alarming rate, according to European officials. That could be fueling a black market for smuggling weapons out of the country. The Financial Times recently reported that both NATO and European Union officials are concerned that weapons like these anti-tank guided missiles, which appear to be loaded in the trunk of a car with Albanian plates, are being smuggled from Ukraine to the Balkans. 

In another interesting twist on the proliferating-weapons narrative, Iranian-made HM-16 120mm mortars have now shown up in combat footage from the war.

Russian forces remain under threat from a variety of anti-tank guided missiles, or ATGMs, as well. Ukrainian forces continue to pound their armored vehicles with various ATGM designs, as seen in this incredibly clear view of a Stugna-P strike on a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile system.  

European countries continue to demonstrate their collective military might along the eastern border of NATO in response to Russia's war of choice in Ukraine. On July 13, British Challenger II tanks arrived in Poland, where they will support Polish units but remain under British command. Poland donated hundreds of its own T-72 tanks to Ukraine early in the nearly five-month war. Britain is sending its tanks on a temporary basis to backfill Poland’s armor capabilities while the U.S. is attempting to fast-track the sale of M1 Abrams tanks for the same reason.

War, as always produces bizarre and unlikely scenes, like the below X-ray of one very lucky Ukrainian soldier. Struck in the head by a bullet, but wearing a ballistic helmet, the round was unable to penetrate the skull. It can be seen in the X-ray film, lodged in the soft tissue of his scalp.

We will continue to update this post until we state otherwise. 

Author's note/correction: Headline and lede updated to reflect that the Ukrainian troops are in training on the M777A2 systems now and they are not yet on the battlefield.

Contact the author: dan@thewarzone.com

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