The war in Ukraine is seeing artillery exchanges, the likes of which have not occurred since the war in Korea. According to NBC News, a senior US defense official has told them Russia is shooting an almost unbelievable 20,000 rounds a day on average. The Ukrainians are returning fire with approximately 4,000 to 7,000 shells of their own. To maintain this burn rate, both sides must have a constant source of resupply, or else their guns will be silent.

The unnamed official commented,

“Ukraine still needs a significant amount of artillery going forward. Consumption rates in this war are very high.”

Ukrainian artillery weapon
Ukrainian soldiers plug their ears as they pound Russian positions with artillery—screenshot from YouTube and Sky News.

Multiple sources have commented that artillery stockpiles used by Russian forces have been running low for some time now. Nevertheless, the US and several nations from all over the globe keep supplying the Ukrainian side with what they need to keep up the fight.

There is one downside, however, to fire that many rounds of field artillery; the weapons, as with all things mechanical in nature, break down and need repair. Some of the artillery pieces in use by the Ukrainians are being pushed to their limits and beyond, and, according to The New York Times (NYT), at any given time, up to a third of their western made howitzers are out of the fight because the need to be fixed.

As you might imagine, this is no easy task. Barrels on these weapons can be up to 29 feet long (in the case of the M109) and weigh many thousands of pounds. You can’t just take them to your local gunsmith. Repairing and maintaining them has become beyond the abilities of Ukrainian soldiers in the field. That’s why in June of this year, the Pentagon set up a 50-member military repair team at a base in Poland. The team has trained Ukrainian armed forces to service and repair US-supplied weapons. US officials are hesitant to talk much about the program.

A spokesman for the US European Command, Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Day, has commented to NYT,

“With every capability we give to Ukraine, and those our allies and partners provide, we work to ensure that they have the right maintenance sustainment packages to support those capabilities over time.”

Not long after the invasion, Kyiv’s supply of 152 mm shells fired out of Soviet-era artillery pieces began to run out. The US and other western nations quickly supplied them with newer parts, such as the M777 towed howitzer, which fires a 155 mm shell. Regional allies of the US have stockpiled many tons of these rounds over the years and are now funneling them to Ukraine. We’ve provided them with 142 M triple sevens and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, including several M982 Excalibur extended-range precision munitions.

Image of Excalibur shell
The M982 Excalibur is a 155 mm extended-range precision-guided artillery munition capable of taking out targets up to 35 miles away with a circular error probable (CEP) of about 13 feet. This makes it ideal for close-in support of friendly troops where every foot counts—image from Wikimedia Commons.

US military officials report that some non-US supplied artillery rounds are shortening the life of howitzer barrels. When this happens, the only fix is to send them to Poland for repairs. Unfortunately, to get there, they might have to cover several hundred miles. Ukrainian commanders, of course, would like to be able to make the necessary repairs and barrel swap-outs closer to the front lines. For the time being, however, the only solution is to send them to Poland.

NYT quotes Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, as saying, referring to Ukrainian armed forces, “They didn’t get a full training package for them and then were thrown into the fight, so you are going to get a lot of wear and tear.”

Germany has decided to set up a repair hub in Slovakia to work on all of the equipment that the nation has sent to Ukraine to support its war effort. The New Voice of Ukraine quotes German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht as saying, “We have reached agreement, and work can start immediately so that all the equipment which has been supplied (to Kyiv) can be repaired after coming out of battle.” She made this announcement in Brussels during a meeting with her European Union colleagues. The repair stations will be set up not far from the border, and work will begin in December.