Perhaps Russia’s most revered domestic weapon is its 152 mm MSTA-B howitzer. Some even refer to it as a ‘city killer’ for the damage it can do.
The Kremlin claims to have wiped out many Ukrainian armored vehicles and fortified strongholds with these robust artillery weapons in the last year-plus of war.
Last May, Russia’s Ministry of Defense circulated footage on social media showing the Soviet-era howitzer in action targeting Ukrainian positions. “Footage shows the combat work of the 152-mm ‘Msta-B’ howitzers of the Western Military District when performing firing operations to destroy armored vehicles and fortified positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” the Ministry said.
While the purpose of videos like this is to fuel the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, the MSTA-B mobile howitzer is truly a formidable weapon.
An Overview of the “City Killer”
The 152 mm howitzer was developed by the Soviet Army during the height of the Cold War.
The U.S. and other Western nations were ramping up efforts to advance artillery systems, so the USSR launched a state-run design bureau to create a counter. Since the artillery system was only ever exported to former Soviet republics like Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, accurate production numbers of the howitzer remain unknown.
Following a typical howitzer layout, the MSTA-B is relatively simple to operate. It has been enhanced over the years. Each trail on the howitzer hosts large spades to better secure the gun prior to firing. Two pivoting trailing wheels are positioned near the spades to improve the weapon system’s mobility. The MSTA-B can be loaded on an armored vehicle or a truck, and it can be hauled at speeds reaching roughly 80 kilometers per hour.
As detailed by Military Today, “The Msta-B can fire the same rounds as the older D-20 and the self-propelled 2S3 Akatsiya. It was also designed for delivering all types of suppressive fire, be it cluster munitions or low yield nuclear warheads. A laser-guided munition, the Krasnopol, was introduced for targeting armoured vehicles, buildings, bunkers, fortifications and warships.”
The artillery system has a maximum range of roughly 15 miles with standard high-explosive ammunition, and around 18 miles with base bleed shells. Initially, the MSTA-B howitzer was developed to counter NATO militaries.
However, the artillery system was not used until 2014, when Russia deployed this weapon to the war in the Donbas.
Both Ukraine and Russia appear to be using the MSTA-B howitzer in the ongoing invasion. Kyiv has also received several Western artillery systems, including the M-777 155 mm towed howitzers, L119 UK-supplied howitzers, and several M101 howitzers. The U.S. and other NATO members have delivered Soviet-standard ammunition to Ukraine to replenish its diminishing stockpiles. However, since Moscow and Beijing are the biggest producers, shortages could be imminent.
Last month, TASS claimed that Russian artillery had destroyed a Ukrainian MSTA-B howitzer in the Kherson region. Ukrainian officials have also claimed to have taken out hundreds of Russian weapon systems, including MSTA-B howitzers, throughout the conflict.
As hostilities between the two countries continue to heat up, the Russian MSTA-B artillery system may make more appearances.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.