Russia Is Using Howitzers to Destroy Ukraine’s Cities – The Russians are holding Ukrainian cities under siege and one of their main weapons to punish military and civilian targets is the self-propelled howitzer.
The biggest and most casualty-producing of these weapons is the 2S7 Pion (Russian for Peony) with a deadly 203mm gun. Shells from this large tube can lay waste to targets over 20-miles away. This super-heavy gun, one of the most powerful in the world, will be a mainstay of armaments that will continue to pound Ukrainian military installations and civilian structures.
Russian Artillery Is the King of Battle
Since the war in Ukraine has already entered the aerial bombardment phase against non-combatants, Russian self-propelled and towed howitzers will become the king of battle. The Russians have depended on field artillery barrages to supplement attacks from fighters and bombers that are flying in contested skies. Kharkiv and Mariupol have seen the brunt of artillery attacks and Kyiv is the victim of these strikes as well. For example, artillery shelling in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv, has already killed a family of three on March 6. Expect more of these indiscriminate artillery attacks that are stopping civilian evacuations from cities.
Cold War Dinosaur Back for More
The 2S7 Pion is a monster. It’s the biggest armored artillery piece in the Russian arsenal. This is a Cold War relic, but the Russian need for firepower has kept it from being retired. It entered service in 1975 and it’s estimated that around 1,000 have been built. The Pion has since been updated to the 2S7M Malka that has an improved fire control system, internal communications, and a better shell-loading apparatus. Both 2S7 models are seeing use in Ukraine.
Versatile Gun Could Even Fire Tactical Nuclear Rounds
The 2S7 variants are mounted on the T-80 tank chassis – the heaviest of Russian tanks. The 2S7 carries seven soldiers, which gives you an idea about its size. Its massive recoil means that it needs to be dug into the ground snugly to fire. The gun’s range is 23-miles, but this can be extended to 30-miles with rocket-extended shells. It can fire high-explosive, concrete-busting, and even tactical nuclear rounds. One shot can create a 16-foot hole.
Slow-rate of Fire and Only Room On Board for a Handful of Rounds
The 2S7 can fire at a rate of two rounds per minute. The rounds are so big that the Pion only carries four shells while the Malka has eight. They must be replenished with ammunition from support vehicles.
This vehicle is slow. There is only a 780 hp V-46 four-stroke diesel engine. Such a heavy vehicle can easily get stuck in the mud and is susceptible to attacks. If that happens the howitzer has the space for a Strela-2 anti-aircraft MANPAD (man-portable air-defense system) and an automatic grenade launcher against troops in the open.
Russians Had to Knock the Cobwebs Off to Hit Ukraine
Another downside is that many of these weapons systems have been stored in reserve. There were some that have been used to assist pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region beginning in 2015. But others had to be removed from storage and brought back to life as they needed extended maintenance and new parts.
The 2S7 Pion/Malka is bad news for Ukrainian civilians. They will be deployed in encirclements of cities and while they fire slowly, the size of the shells make it a formidable weapon. If it continues to target residential areas, it could be considered evidence of Russian war crimes. Even though the Kremlin continues to claim that it is only firing against military targets. The Ukrainians may want to make this a priority target for artillery counter-fire, drones, and fighter-bomber ground support.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, Ph.D., is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.