Recent posts on social media from Russian sources depict a striking image of a Ukrainian M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer severely damaged and seemingly beyond repair. While the time and place of the destruction of this Western-provided M109 in Ukraine remain uncertain, the focus lies elsewhere in this context.

According to Russian sources, a Russian Lancet loitering missile is credited with the devastating attack on this M109 Paladin. The aftermath of the drone strike presents a compelling sight. In comparison, German Leopard tanks and other self-propelled howitzers, including both Eastern and Western European variants, have sustained considerably less damage, albeit incapacitated.

The specific damage to this M109 is evident – its left drive chain is destroyed, with a portion of the upper left chassis split apart. The left side of the gun turret also bore the brunt of the attack, leaving little to no armored exterior remaining. The internal compartment, originally designated for the crew, is completely charred, devoid of salvageable parts. The explosion was so significant that it caused a large gaping hole on the parallel right side of the dome.

Comprised of a single steel composite known as Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA), the defense of the M109 measures 13 to 15 mm along its sides and a substantial 19 mm in the front. While this may not match the resilience of main battle tanks, it’s important to note that the primary role of the M109 is artillery-focused.

While it may not withstand powerful anti-tank weapons, the M109’s armor has proven effective against small arms fire and scattered shell fragments. The armor has undergone various iterations, each contributing to its progressive enhancement. For example, the newer variant, the M109A6 Paladin, features modular armor that can be upgraded as necessary, offering valuable protection against specific threats.

Despite these upgrades, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the fundamental structure of the M109’s armor does not enable it to withstand direct impacts from potent anti-tank weaponry. Specific details regarding the exact amount of TNT required to penetrate its armor are not publicly disclosed, as such information is typically classified due to military sensitivities.

While precise figures remain elusive, we can explore the underlying principles of armor-penetrating mechanisms. The effectiveness of an explosive in breaching armor depends on several variables, such as the explosive type, the distance of the blast from the target, and the angle of impact on the armor. Shaped charges, for instance, excel in piercing armor by directing blast energy into a concentrated stream, unlike conventional explosions.

The armor shielding the M109 has undergone progressive enhancements over time. Take, for instance, the M109A6 Paladin variant, which incorporates additional modular armor for heightened defense. This adaptable armor allows for enhancements tailored to counter specific threats. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that the M109’s armor isn’t engineered to withstand direct hits from heavy anti-tank weaponry. Its defense strategy pivots on mobility and the crew’s tactical maneuvers to evade incoming fire.

Developed by the Russian company ZALA Aero, the Lancet kamikaze drone can deploy an explosive payload to a designated target and detonate upon impact. Despite its compact size, even the Lancet-3, the largest model, carries a 3 kg charge, potent enough to cause substantial damage, particularly when striking vulnerable areas. Considering the destructive potential of the Lancet, envision a scenario where it successfully identifies a weak point on the M109 Paladin, such as the upper armor, rear engine compartment, or the gap between the turret and chassis. The video evidence suggests that the space between the dome and chassis endured the most damage, indicative of the precision exhibited by the Russian drone operator.

Regarding M109 losses in Ukraine, according to the LostArmour database, the initial Paladins, M109A3GN units from Norway, began sustaining damage in early November 2022, in the Nikolaev region, where they were targeted by Russian forces. The Russian Ministry of Defense has consistently reported incidents involving Ukrainian M109s since mid-January. Approximately every two days, the ministry updates on the destruction of several of these self-propelled artillery units at various locations. Records indicate that since September 2023, Russian forces have reported the destruction of nine such artillery units.

As per the Ministry’s reports, between January and September 2023, the conflict resulted in the loss of up to 58 M109 self-propelled guns, spanning all models. Conversely, the LostArmor database documents 14 incidents, complete with photos and coordinates of the destroyed machines. Intriguingly, 11 of these artillery units listed in the unofficial database were not mentioned in the defense department’s reports. Additionally, three more destroyed armored units appear in both databases.

In summary, the Kyiv administration has reported losses of at least 69 Paladin self-propelled guns across all models, representing over 40% of such artillery units. Visual evidence from LostArmour often indicates that these damaged units are beyond repair.

Regarding the delivery of M109s to Ukraine, Norway was the first to provide American self-propelled guns, announcing the transfer of 20 M109A3GN from their stockpile of 56. This transfer commenced shortly after the announcement, and Ukrainian operators swiftly acquired proficiency in operating these new machines. By mid-July, these guns were actively deployed on the battlefield.

In June 2023, news emerged about the forthcoming delivery of M109A4BE self-propelled guns. Until mid-2023, Belgium had been utilizing this type of equipment before selling it to various foreign entities. Last year, the UK purchased two dozen of these guns from OIP Land Systems to supply to Kyiv.

Latvia also contributed by providing Kyiv with six M109A5Ö modified armored vehicles, originally sourced from Austria. However, it’s important to note that the majority of such equipment, around 40 units, remains in Latvia’s possession. In October 2022, Italy began deliveries. Italy recently transitioned from the old American ‘Paladins’ to the modern German PzH 2000 self-propelled guns, freeing up around 200 M109Ls, with approximately half being allocated to Kyiv.

In total, the USA is the latest supplier of these M109 guns. In early 2023, they dispatched 18 of their newest version, the M109A6, to Ukraine. It’s confirmed that 164 Paladin self-propelled guns have either arrived in Ukraine or are en route. However, it’s plausible that there are additional deliveries yet to be disclosed, potentially increasing the total number of provided self-propelled guns.