The United States May Have Found Another 5,000 Shells for Ukraine’s Biggest Artillery


The United States reportedly is going to great lengths to replenish the dwindling ammunition supply for Ukraine’s biggest artillery.

According to Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, the U.S. government is in talks with the Greek government to buy, for onward transfer to the Ukrainian government, 75,000 artillery rounds.

The $47-million deal would include 50,000 105-millimeter shells, 20,000 155-millimeter shells and 5,000 203-millimeter shells.

The biggest shells also are the most interesting. They would help to keep the Ukrainian army’s gigantic 2S7 self-propelled howitzers in action a little while longer.

The tracked 2S7 is the biggest gun on either side of Russia’s wider war on Ukraine. The Ukrainian army’s 43rd Artillery Brigade, the sole user of the 50-ton 2S7, has plenty of howitzers. What it doesn’t have … is enough shells.

The Ukrainian army inherited around a hundred 2S7s from the Soviet army when the USSR collapsed in 1991. Kyiv sold around 20 of them. The rest of the big guns went into storage as the Ukrainian army standardized on smaller-caliber howitzers.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 changed all that. The Ukrainians opened up dusty warehouses all over the country and dragged out a lot of old weapons. That process accelerated when Russia widened its war on Ukraine in February 2022.

The Ukrainian army initially recovered just a dozen or so 2S7s. These howitzers, cued by forward observers and even the occasional phone call from a patriotic civilian glimpsing passing Russian troops, helped to defend Kyiv in the first six weeks of the wider war.

Technicians meanwhile were restoring many, or all, of the 70 or so 2S7s that still were in storage before the wider war. Today Ukrainian gunners use drones to cue their restored 2S7s.

A 2S7 fires a 220-pound shell as far as 23 miles under ideal conditions. It doesn’t fire fast, however—just one or two rounds per minute as the 14-person crew hauls shells from a support vehicle and loads them four at a time via a hydraulic arm.

Still, the relentless demand for fire support from front-line battalions means a 2S7 battery might shoot for hours at a time, pausing only to relocate the guns in order to dodge counterbattery fire. According to the Ukrainian defense industry, each 2S7 that defended Kyiv in early 2022 fired around 50 shells per day.

Over the next year-and-a-half of hard fighting, the Ukrainians have lost at least five 2S7s and have captured one 2S7 from the Russians. Today the 43rd Artillery Brigade might have as many as 75 2S7s. They probably have fired tens of thousands of rounds.

Ukrainian industry produces 122-millimeter and 152-millimeter shells but it apparently doesn’t produce 203-millimeter shells. Luckily for Ukraine, U.S.-made ammunition works just fine with a 2S7 owing to the common British roots of both American and Soviet 203-millimeter howitzers. The U.S. Army retired its last 203-millimeter artillery pieces in 1994.

The Americans didn’t keep a lot of 203-millimeter ammunition in their war-reserves, however. So the United States so far has given to Ukraine, from its own stocks, just 10,000 203-millimeter rounds. Enough for each Ukrainian 2S7 to shoot 133 shells: maybe three days of hard fighting for each gun.

The paucity of their own ammo reserves have driven the Americans abroad in their search for 203-millimeter rounds. The Greek army still operates old American-made 203-millimeter guns and reportedly possesses large ammo stocks.

Barring some heroic industrial effort, in Ukraine or abroad, to establish a new production line for 203-millimeter shells, the Greeks might be the best source for the 43rd Brigade’s ammunition as the war in Ukraine grinds toward its third year. Most of the other users of 203-millimeter guns are in the Middle East and Asia, and surely aren’t eager to give away their ammo.

The U.S.-Greek deal involves too few shells to promise a long-term solution to the ammo-shortage. It’s more akin to a munitions band-aid. But given a choice between getting another 5,000 shells and not getting another 5,000 shells, the 43rd Artillery Brigade of course would take the shells—and keep shooting for at least a few more weeks.

Source: Forbes