Challenges From Ukraine’s Shift to NATO Artillery: British Army Out of Serviceable Mobile Guns After Donating All

The British Army no longer fields any serviceable AS-90 self-propelled artillery guns, after all units were donated to the Ukrainian Military, leaving the future of the service’s  artillery regiments in question. The local paper The Sun was among several sources to highlight regarding the consequences: “The decision to give them away has stripped two Royal Artillery regiments, based on Salisbury Plain, Wilts, of all their working weapons… If gunners don’t have guns we can’t fight, we can’t train.” Produced from 1992-1995, the Vickers AS-90 was operated solely by two Royal Artillery Regiments before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War, and saw combat solely in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequent occupation. The 155mm guns were produced on a small scale, and have very mediocre ranges, but are compatible with ammunition from across other NATO members. Ukraine by contrast primarily operated 152mm artillery before receiving a wide range of Western guns as aid. Supplies of Western artillery have had only a limited impact due to the massive scale that Ukraine already fielded these assets before the war began, in far greater numbers than any other European country, with the Ukrainians deploying one gun for every 85 troops compared to one for every 235 troops the much smaller British Army. 

As artillery has played an unexpectedly central role in the Ukrainian theatre, 155mm systems have been supplied from across the Western world ranging from the German Panzerhaubitze 2000 to the immobile American M777, although German weapons in particular have been singled out for their poor quality and lack of reliability. Military leaders among Eastern Ukrainian separatist forces supported by Russia have warned that guided artillery ammunition being provided for NATO-supplied guns, namely the M982 Excalibur, pose a leading threat to their positions on the Donbas frontlines, with compatibility with such munition types providing Western artillery assets with an important edge over Soviet ones. Ukraine’s Soviet artillery stockpiles date back to the 1980s, and thus lack access to modern guided types. Guided munitions are made effective by the vast network of several hundred NATO satellites bolstering the Ukrainian war effort, which provide key intelligence and targeting data.

Ukraine has quickly seen its supplies of 152mm artillery depleted, with this caliber produced primarily in Russia and North Korea, where by contrast 155mm weapons can be resupplied by its Western security partners. This has led to the expectation that the portion of Ukrainian artillery forces using 155mm guns will continue to grow with time to reflect the country’s post-2014 geopolitical alignment with NATO.  The erosion of NATO members’ military stockpiles due to the massive scale of arms supplies to Ukraine has been cause for considerable controversy, with the ammunition reserves of several members having fallen below minimum safety levels as a result. Indeed, the former head of the British Joint Forces Command General ret. Richard Barrons, was among those to stress that “years of cuts to ammunition production mean that, for some types of key weapons, the Army would run out in a busy afternoon,” and that Britain was “barely tier two” military power largely as a result. Russia has reportedly faced similar issues with artillery ammunition supplies, with American sources claiming that its frontline units are now supplied with North Korean artillery rounds which are from compatible 152mm calibers.