Civilians in America have spent nearly the last two years “hunting” for ammunition so that they can partake in various shooting sports and outdoor activities, and while some may have even felt that the lack of some calibers – not to mention the increasingly high prices – was bad, it fails to come close to what a lack of ammunition could mean for those in Ukraine. On the other side of the world, the lack of ammunition is far more serious, and as ordnance supplies dwindle, it isn’t clear how much longer some soldiers can keep up the fight.
In the battle for the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, it isn’t so much an issue of small arms calibers but of artillery shells that is the most serious of the issues. Earlier this month, Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence explained to western media, “This is an artillery war now.”
The fighting in the Donbas has turned into an artillery slug match, a type of war not seen in such scale since that of the Western Front of the First World War. Whereas the Kremlin has failed in other efforts in Ukraine, the artillery war is one that Russia is slowly winning.
Skibitsky added, “We are losing in terms of artillery. Everything now depends on what [the west] gives us. Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces. Our western partners have given us about 10% of what they have.”
Soviet Ammo Shortfalls
As part of the former Soviet Union, it isn’t surprising that Ukraine – much like Russia of course – has continued to rely heavily on Soviet artillery weapons and hence the ammunition to go with it. At issue is that the Soviet-era ammunition that Kyiv had stockpiled is running low and many of those big guns are essentially useless without the rounds.
It isn’t as easy as simply sending more ammunition either, as U.S./NATO and Soviet-era artillery are different calibers and are not interchangeable or compatible.
NATO’s standard shells are 105mm and 155mm, whereas the Soviet Union and much of the Communist Bloc utilized 122-152mm shells. Though some former Warsaw Pact nations – many of which are now in NATO – have sent their stockpiles to Ukraine, Moscow has reportedly attempted to stall the efforts to keep Ukraine supplied with ammunition from other users of Soviet-era artillery.
In addition, Russia has been targeting Ukrainian ammunition depots to further weaken Kyiv on the battlefield.
The Ukrainian government is now appealing to its allies to aid it in replacing its aging artillery with weapons that can utilize NATO ammunition, which can be more easily replenished. However, those weapons – including the American-made M777 155mm howitzer and longer-range multiple-launch rocket systems including the HIMARS – are only slowly reaching the Ukrainians, and even then Kyiv’s warfighters still need to be trained to use them.
The slug match of artillery will continue, but only if Kyiv has the ammunition to fire its guns of June and July.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.