ERR in Donbas: Even older Western artillery is a help to Ukrainian forces

Anton Aleksejev inside the M109 turret.
Anton Aleksejev inside the M109 turret. Source: ERR

While even dated Western military equipment aids Ukrainian soldiers in the Donbas area to hold off ongoing Russian offensives, newer weaponry, particularly artillery, is still very much in need, ERR correspondent Anton Aleksejev reports.

Reporting from the Donbas, Aleksejev, along with ERR cameraman Kristjan Svirgsden, describes how a Norway-supplied M109 A3 Self-propelled (SP) howitzer moves its location at least five times in a day.

Ukrainian fighter "Naaskel" told Aleksejev that: "We have set up around five positions, which we change depending on target range.

The need to move around, more easily attained by a tracked SP artillery piece than the towed variety, takes into account another factor also.

"We try not to work from the same position constantly, because the enemy can detect it and then respond," "Naaskel" continued.

While a welcome addition, the 50-plus-year-old M109, which Aleksejev noted made it around the same age as he is, could be replaced or augmented by newer equipment.

The M109 A3 version dates to 1971, while the weapon itself was first rolled out nearly a decade earlier.

A Ukrainian artillery officer told ERR that: "We need newer equipment. [The M-109s] won't last long. They break down all the time, and we have several machines under repair right now. While they are being fixed, since they are worn out, they tend to break down again.

"We would like something newer, such as the Paladin A6. The M777s have also given a good account of themselves; a great machine. Speaking of SP guns, the Krabs and Caesars work wonderfully," adding that these pieces use computer targeting functions, while the M-109 uses the old school manual method.

The Paladin A6 is a more recent version of the M109, while the M777 is a British-produced towed artillery piece. The AHS Krab is a Polish SP howitzer; the CAmion Équipé d'un Système d'ARtillerie (CAESAR) is a French-made, truck-based gun. All use the same 155mm caliber.

The older Western models do, however, in any case find some fans among Ukrainian artillery soldiers.

One, "Hetman", told ERR that "I prefer it. It's comfortable to work with, the maneuverability is good, it shoots accurately, and is not capricious. It's comfortable. Yes, it's dated, but we can rely on it."

Another factor is that ammunition supply for the older guns is not an issue.

The M109 in action in Donbas. Source: ERR

"Naaskel" told ERR that: "Thanks to our Western partners, there is no problem with ammunition. However, when it comes to Soviet-era equipment, such as the D-30 howitzer, whose caliber can set at 122mm or at 152mm, ammunition is lacking. This (Western) gun uses 155mm ammunition, and we have the supplies," he went on.

While a crisp frost has just hit the Donbas area, Aleksejev reported, the last few weeks of milder weather have left soldiers bogged down in the mud. From Tuesday, the temperature dropped below zero, which may have firmed things up a bit on the ground, but how does cold weather impact the use of technology?

"Hetman" answered that: "It's bad for tech if it drops below -10 degrees outside."

This applies to the older weaponry just as much.

"Engines won't start, and it can be hard to warm things up. However, it is easier to move more quickly, when everything is frozen over. When conditions are rainy, damp and muddy, this is harder," "Hetman" continued.

"Naaskel" concurred. "When things are muddy, it's harder as the vehicle doesn't behave as it should. Things are best in the summer."

The M109 uses a 8-cylinder water-cooled supercharged diesel engine.

While still chatting to ERR, the soldiers received orders and coordinates, and immediately set about nullifying an enemy target – in this case a mortar and ammo depot.

"We hit the target. We fulfilled the task 100 percent, and, since the ammunition exploded, that building is no longer standing," "Hetman" said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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