The heavy artillery is coming in as France and Poland begin a trickle heavy weapons supplied to Ukraine. French 155mm CAESAR howitzers and thousands of shells are making their way to Kyiv following an announcement last Friday by the French government. MILAN anti-tank guided missiles were also reportedly being sent to Ukraine.

Prior to the election win of French President Emmanuel Macron, he disclosed to the regional newspaper Ouest-France that an unknown number of “substantial equipment” were agreed upon to be sent to Kyiv as it repels Kremlin forces in eastern Ukraine.

“We are delivering significant equipment, from Milan (anti-tank missiles) to Caesar (howitzers),” Macron said. “I think we have to continue on this route.” Always with the red line that we will not become parties to the conflict.”

However, like other nations who donated weapons to Ukraine, he stated that his “red line” was not to become official parties in the conflict. The French remain major players in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Macron having direct contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin. France also has nearly half a billion dollars in contracts to provide weapons and equipment to Russia along with other EU member countries. In this war, EU member nations like France, Germany, and Italy are in the uniquely awkward position of arming both sides in the conflict.

Following the interview, French Defense Secretary Florence Parly announced via Twitter that the French government was indeed sending “several Caesar artillery guns and thousands of shells” and that the French people continue to stand with the Ukrainian people.

The CAESAR 155mm Self-propelled Howitzer

The CAESAR self-propelled howitzer, short for its French name, “CAmion Équipé d’un Système d’ARtillerie,” which literally means a “truck equipped with an artillery system,” is manufactured by partly-state-owned weapons manufacturer Nexter (formerly known as GIAT Industries). It’s a self-propelled 155mm howitzer mounted on a 6×6 truck chassis. The French version utilizes a Renault Sherpa 10 chassis, while those for export use the 6×6 Unimog U2450L. It is operated by a six-man crew but can still be optimally operated by four men.

A CAESAR Howitzer Unimog U2450L 6x6 chassis (Wikimedia Commons). Source:
A CAESAR Howitzer Unimog U2450L 6×6 chassis (Daniel Steger (Lausanne, Switzerland), CC BY-SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The CAESAR howitzer can reportedly maintain a firing rate of 6 to 8 rounds per minute or three rounds in 15 seconds in rapid-fire. It utilizes a FAST-Hit computerized fire management system with an Intertechnique ROB4 muzzle velocity radar system.

Its munitions are conventional high-explosive rounds or new-generation cargo rounds. Its Orge shell is an anti-tank fragmentation bomblet that can dispense 63 bomblets capable of penetrating 90mm of armor with the capacity to reach targets of 3 hectares, with a range of 22 miles.

Furthermore, a unit of 8 Caesar howitzers can dispense 1t of projectiles, 1,500 bomblets, or 48 smart anti-tank munitions on targets with ranges reaching 25 miles. Additionally, Bonus rounds developed by Nexter, Intertechnique, and Bofors feature two smart anti-tank weapon submunitions with a range of 21 miles. These rounds can be used with tanks and medium to heavily armored vehicles. There is also no need for topographical teams and goniometers as it is fitted with SAGEM Sigma 30 navigation systems and GPS.

A new version of the Caesar was announced last February 2022, featuring a more powerful engine, an automatic gearbox, new fire software control, and a level 2 mine and ballistic armored chain. An 8×8 Caesar also exists, mounted on a four-axle Tatra Force truck chassis, and operated by the Danish armed forces.

The MILAN Anti-Tank Guided Missile

The MILAN ATGM (Milan is the French term for “kite”), officially known as “Missile d’Infanterie Léger Antichar,” is a system born out of the Franco-West German missile development program Euromissile, now known as MBDA. It was once the standard anti-tank weapon for NATO and is in service with more than 40 countries.

A MILAN ATGM used by the Estonian Army (Strategic Bureau of Information on Defense Systems)

It has five main variants: the MILAN 1, which is a caliber 103mm missile; the MILAN 2, a caliber 115mm missile that features a standoff probe for increased penetration; the MILAN 2T, a tandem shaped-charge warhead designed for reactive armors; the MILAN 3, also a tandem shaped-charge warhead with an electronic beacon to use against Shtora jammers.

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The MILAN ER, also known as the MILAN ADT/ER, is the latest version of the missile system that utilizes a digitized firing post and a thermal imager with video output. It can also be equipped with an optional MIRA thermal sight, with a detection range of over 2.5 miles. The MILIS thermal sight for the MILAN 3 has a detection range of 4.4 miles. This latest version has over 1860 miles of range and can penetrate 1,000mm explosive reactive armor or rolled homogenous armor. It also has an anti-jamming capability for better delivery.

The system can be operated by two people, a gunner, and a loader. A gunner carries the firing post while the loader carries two missiles. Perhaps the French’s pride in this weapon is that it boasts a 95% reliability rate, with a hit probability of 94%.

This French donation comes on the back of flak drawn from a recently discovered loophole from the 2014 arms embargo on Russia, which the French and the Germans have been exploiting to deliver weapons to Russia.

Macron stated that he supported the German doctrine of not sending heavy weapons directly to Russia.

“This is a debate that goes to the heart of Germany’s political life, it’s a sovereign choice that belongs to Germany, and we respect it,” Macron said while emphasizing that they had the same strategy as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“We have the same strategy as the chancellor, which is to say that we will aid the Ukrainians as much as possible but must be careful never to become parties to the conflict.”