The war in Ukraine has turned into an artillery duel, where each side seeks out targets of opportunity.
In past conflicts, such artillery strikes that were beyond the visual range required massive bombardments that could last hours or longer, often with thousands of rounds fired in the hope that something would be hit.
Today, small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can provide an “eye in the sky” that serves as a forward spotter. Unlike observation balloons or aircraft, these can often be small enough to remain largely undetected. In addition, the drones can record the actions to confirm that a kill occurred.
Both Kyiv and Moscow are using drone footage as a form of propaganda.
Make it Melt: Artillery Strike Was Revenge for Bakhmut
In the one-minute-and-eleven-second-long clip, posted to social media by Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons), the drone is seen tracking the movements of a Russian S24 Tyulpan 240mm self-propelled mortar and supply vehicle.
As the gun crew takes up position near a tree line, the Ukrainian artillery strike begins – hitting the mobile mortar, which is seen burning at the end of the video.
The destruction of the Tyulpan could be seen as a form of payback for Bakhmut as Russia had employed the platform – along with other artillery – to essentially level the urban center. The city was captured by Kremlin forces last month following a lengthy siege, but it has been seen as a Pyrrhic victory due to the high Russian losses. Fighting has continued on the city’s outskirts.
Massive Mobile Mortar
The 2S4 Tyulpan is currently the largest mortar system in use in the world today, and it has been described as a “city killer.” It has a range of 9,650 meters (6 miles) using standard high-explosive rounds, and a range of 20,000 meters (12.4-miles) using extended-range munition – and in addition to the high explosive rounds, the Tyulpan can also fire armor-piercing, laser-guided, and cluster munitions, as well as chemical, neutron and tactical nuclear rounds.
The 240mm mortar system is mounted on a modified tracked chassis that was first employed with the SA-4 Ganef 2K1 Krug air defense missile system. The vehicle is operated by a crew of five, including a driver and commander along with three support troops to operate the mortar.
It is unclear if any of the Russian crew survived the strike, but it did appear that 2S4 Tyulpan was disabled and possibly destroyed. This could bring the total loss to nearly a dozen of the 60 that Russia had in active service at the start of the conflict 16 months ago. However, the Kremlin had another 400 or more in storage that could be refurbished and deployed to Ukraine.
An Imperfect Weapon For a Defense
Some military experts have also suggested that such “city killers” may have limited value for the Russian military as it goes on the defensive. This is because the 2S4 has a slow rate of fire of only a single round per minute – due to the large size of the mortar and the weight of its ammunition, which is 130 kg (290 lb) for a standard HE rounds and 228 kg (503 lb) rocket-assisted HE rounds.
A small crane is even required to load the mortar.
While it packs quite a punch, in the era where a drone can be used to find targets of opportunity, the 2S4 is little more than a sitting duck waiting to be targeted.
— ???????? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) June 22, 2023
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.