8 months of war in Ukraine has led to concrete evolutions regarding the management of high-intensity confrontations in strategic thinking and a re-prioritisation of armament programmes. Most striking of all, has been the sudden, dramatic rebirth of artillery as the bastion of tactical prowess in the battlefield when coupled with the latest technologies. Its effectiveness in both offensive and defensive roles is undoubted, and has led to several countries looking to renew their artillery equipment in the coming years.
Images being shared on social media and in news reports from the frontlines in the Donbas and the Kherson region are striking in that they remind us of the despairing Western Front of the First World War. Trenches, shell holes, muddy fields… A far cry from an idealistic vision of modern warfare.
These images are however indicative of one perhaps unanticipated result of the current war: artillery and big guns have returned as the foundation of modern tactical warfare, both offensive and defensive. Stalin once referred to it as ‘the God of War’, and with the limited role of air power in Ukraine, it has been revived as the dominant weapon of choice. Artillery is being used in a hybrid way by both sides, through precision strikes and area denial tactics. A war of attrition has set in and European militaries have responded in kind. The Ukrainian army itself has benefitted, with shipments of European guns like the CAESAR self-propelled howitzer on the rise as European powers continue to step up their support for the country. Lessons from the Ukrainian battlefield are certainly being heeded…
The Ukrainian effect
Each side on the battlefield in Ukraine has been using artillery in a number in different ways. The Russians, with a superior number of guns, has been using artillery as its primary attritional offensive weapon, used to target the Ukrainian military, be they defending or attacking units, or dug-in command posts, etc. The Ukrainians, with a smaller number of guns, but better trained infantry units and heavy armour divisions has relied on mobility, precision accuracy and more modern technologies with help from the West. The effectiveness of this approach was highlighted during the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region.