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Mobilising Artillery – Developments, Challenges and the Russo-Ukrainian War

Written by: Emile Clarke

Edited by: Manfred Sintorn

Supervised by: Syuzanna Kirakosyan

As a key instrument in the long-range destruction, neutralisation, and suppression of enemy positions, artillery has long been indispensable in warfare, evolving from early contraptions used to hurl rocks and shoot arrows to the modern battlefield’s exceptionally mobile and accurate cannons launching highly explosive projectiles (Defense Technical Information Center, 1983). On the modern battlefield, artillery possesses several unique abilities. It can operate close to and in cooperation with ground forces to destroy and degrade enemy ground capabilities near the front lines, its range allows it to target vast swathes of territory with heavy indirect fire, it can be operated day and night, is fairly mobile, and can be concealed to boost survivability (McGrath, 2013).

Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the subsequent more than two years of combat have put artillery back at the forefront of military thinking when it comes to land warfare. Though the Russo-Ukrainian War has its own unique characteristics that are unlikely to arise in a conflict directly involving the West, such as the lack of air superiority on either side (Gordon, 2023), it offers considerable insight into the nature of modern conventional warfare between two capable belligerents nonetheless. The key role of artillery in the conflict has created an urgent need for military support for Ukraine so that it can sustain its operations on the battlefield. The sheer scale of Ukraine’s ammunition needs and the West’s struggles in providing it has highlighted that Western allies – particularly European ones – lack the defence industrial base necessary to support full-scale conventional artillery warfare. Though the U.S. defence industry has more than doubled its output of 155mm artillery ammunition since late 2022 (Detsch, 2024), NATO intelligence estimates that Russia is currently producing about three times as many shells as the US and Europe combined (Bo Lillis, Bertrand, Liebermann & Britzky, 2024). Furthermore, the EU failed to deliver a promised one million 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine by March 2024, and instead only managed to deliver around 30 per cent of this number (Brzozowski, 2024).

This paper investigates various areas of interest within the realm of artillery as it reasserts itself at the centre of full-scale military conflict. The first part of this analysis reviews the overall state of artillery in Ukraine and outlines the significance of artillery and conventional munitions for both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces, also exploring precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and mortars on the Ukrainian battlefield. The second section evaluates recent developments in artillery, from the enormous increase in munitions production within Western countries to innovations regarding PGMs. Finally, the paper concludes by addressing the challenges associated with boosting production and mobilising artillery for the future battlefield.