The look and feel of the war in Ukraine has been changing in recent weeks. There are fewer pitched ground battles of “army versus army” and a lot more Russian shelling and Ukrainian air defense missiles being fired in response. We’ve already seen evidence that Russia is probably running out of missiles, but that doesn’t mean that Ukraine is in much better shape. The artillery shelling in both directions is running nearly 24/7 and all of that action eventually takes a toll on the equipment. It’s now being reported that of the roughly 350 howitzers that have been donated to Ukraine by western allies, fully one-third of them are out of action on any given day. The howitzers are being fired so often that the barrels are wearing out, creating potentially dangerous conditions for the soldiers firing them. And there are no facilities to repair and maintain them in Ukraine, so they have to be shipped to Poland for maintenance. This is quickly becoming a serious problem for the defenders. (Task and Purpose)
The war in Ukraine has a rate of artillery shelling not seen in a war since the Korean War. That Intensity is so high that it’s putting a strain on the artillery pieces themselves, with a third out of commission at any point.
That’s according to the New York Times, which is reporting that a large portion of the approximately 350 howitzers provided by Western nations to Ukraine — including 142 American M777 howiterzers — are damaged, destroyed or simply breaking down from overuse. Citing multiple U.S. defense officials, the report said that repeated use is wearing down the barrels. The artillery pieces have to be taken out of service and sent to a repair center outside of Ukraine.
That facility is in Poland and overseen by European Central Command. Work most generally is on the howitzer barrels, as it’s work that can’t be done in the field.
Meanwhile, Russian news agency Tass complained that the Ukrainians had the nerve to fire shells into the Donetsk area, striking Russian forces there. Imagine the audacity.
This situation isn’t going to hold forever, though. In a separate, surprisingly realistic report from the New York Times, it’s noted that most NATO allies have not maintained significant amounts of tanks and artillery since the second world war. The general assumption among those European nations was that another land war of that sort wasn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. And if it did, everyone assumed that the United States would just take care of the matter for them.
That’s an assumption that America unfortunately supported, but now our own supplies of that type of ground-battle hardware are running dangerously low. Most of the rest of the United States inventory of tanks and artillery is located in Taiwan and South Korea at the moment and American commanders are unwilling to transfer those to Ukraine because of the ongoing tensions with China and North Korea.
The rate of usage is staggering. One military analyst told the Times that Ukraine is expending more shells and ammunition each day than was used in Afghanistan in a month over the course of our occupation there. Just how many rounds is that? During the summer, in the Donbas region, the Ukrainians were firing 6,000 to 7,000 artillery rounds each day. In response, the Russians fired an average of 40,000 to 50,000 daily.
Meanwhile, America’s domestic production is already running at near maximum capacity and we can only produce 15,000 rounds per month. As you can see, the math just doesn’t add up. We had been sitting on a significant stockpile of artillery rounds for years, but the well is running dry and we don’t have the domestic capacity to keep this up much longer.
This may wind up being a question of who runs out of shells and the hardware to fire them first. Back when I was younger, people arguing against nuclear proliferation had a saying that frequently made the rounds. “World War 3 will be fought with nuclear bombs. World War 4 will be fought with stones and spears.” We may be seeing something close to that in Ukraine before too long.