U.S. Army Chiefs Stress Importance of Artillery as Key Lesson of Ukraine War

The ongoing Russian-Ukrainian War that began on February 24 has seen artillery deployed by both armies play a growing role in determining the balance of power on the ground, with Ukraine set to receive growing numbers of towed and self propelled guns as aid from NATO member states to bolster its position. While some countries including China, South Korea and North Korea have invested heavily in fielding state of the art artillery systems, the field has long been overlooked by many major powers particularly in the West based on presumptions that air power would be far more decisive to determining the outcomes of 21st century conflicts. While Russia has invested in developing a new generation of self propelled guns, the 152mm 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV, these have entered service only in limited numbers while American plans to significantly enhance the ranges of its own ageing guns have yet to materialise. This has long left China and South Korea as the dominant players in the field using platforms such as the Norinco PLZ-05 and the Samsung K9 Thunder, the former which has a 100km engagement range which remains the world’s top by a considerable margin. 

Questioned before the House Armed Services Committee on May 12, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff General James McConville both concluded when asked “what are the systems that are going to put you into position to win that fight like the fight that’s playing out in Ukraine?” that long range precision artillery and tactical missiles would be essential. These systems have been key priorities for Army modernisation, with Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty also paving the way for the acquisition of ground based missiles with ranges of over 500km to complement its artillery forces. Russia’s own tactical missiles, most notably the Iskander and Kalibr, have been considered among its most successful weapons systems used in combat in Ukraine, providing a tremendous advantage over Ukrainian Forces which lack any similar assets. The U.S. Marine Corps has also placed a growing emphasis on the need for mobile ground launched and relatively long ranged precision strike weapons – namely anti ship systems which can be deployed with and remain mobile alongside units on the ground. Whether the U.S. can bridge the performance gaps with industry leaders in artillery and in tactical missiles remains uncertain, but with both areas potentially receiving more attention and funding in light of their importance in Ukraine the possibility may well increase significantly.