Russian VDV unit got mauled somewhere in Kherson oblast:
Don't worry, the widows were well compensated.
It’s a popular refrain: Why doesn’t the West supply Ukraine with “X,” where X are advanced weapons platforms like NATO battle tanks, advanced infantry fighting vehicles, Patriot and other air defenses, and fighter jets. Some will darkly mutter that NATO doesn’t want Ukraine to win, that the West prefers Russia to bleed out slowly, that Putin is being protected, etc.
Yet the real answer is the same answer I’ve been giving since the first weeks of the war—operating such gear might not be too hard, but maintaining it is a monumental challenge for Western armies. For Ukraine, dealing with myriad new weapons systems in the middle of a brutal war? Impossible.
Take the M777, a basic piece of military equipment.
This is a simple weapons system. No wheels or tracks. Has to be towed. Electronics are basic and modular (not deeply integrated into the howitzer, but snap on externally to help aim better). There is no automation. The howitzer is manually aimed by turning wheels and pulleys. It is the military equivalent of a bicycle. And yet, as The New York Times has found, Ukraine is struggling to maintain these pieces.
A third of the roughly 350 Western-made howitzers donated to Kyiv are out of action at any given time, according to U.S. defense officials and others familiar with Ukraine’s defense needs.
To stress, that’s over 115 of those howitzers out of order at any given time. And it gets worse—since Ukraine doesn’t have the expertise and logistical chain to maintain them, they have to be shipped out of the country to facilities in Poland, Slovakia, and Romania to be serviced. Just think about how inefficient that is.
The same is happening with Germany’s highly touted PzH 2000 self-propelled artillery guns. At one point, it was rumored that all of those guns Germany had given Ukraine were down for servicing. Same with Polish Krabs, etc.
What about MLRS? The New York Times is wrong about this:
The Western artillery weapons provided to Ukraine, in the form of rocket launchers and howitzers, have sharply different maintenance needs. Of the former, HIMARS vehicles need little work to keep firing their ammunition, which is contained in pods of pre-loaded tubes.
I wrote this a while back:
I joined my MLRS unit, A/76 Field Artillery, 3rd Infantry Division, in 1989. This was just six years after the M270 first entered service in 1983. And even then, all of them relatively new, keeping our battery’s nine M270s all up and running at the same time was impossible. They were perpetually broken down—both the drivetrain and the mechanism which swivels the launcher around. I can’t speak to the exact problems with the machinery, but as fire direction, it was my job to send mechanics to a launcher every time it broke down, and I’m not kidding when I say that, out of nine launchers in the battery, three of them were typically out of commission at any given time.
Perhaps that’s why we see so few videos of Ukraine’s M270s in action. They’re likely broken down, maybe even shuttled back to Germany for repair. HIMARS may or may not be more reliable (wheels instead of tracks undoubtedly helps), but the reason Ukraine wanted more launchers wasn’t the ability to hit more targets—the bottleneck is ammunition, not launchers—but having functioning launchers becomes a challenge when a significant number of them are down and being sent back to third countries for maintenance. HIMARS’ electronics and hydraulic swivel system inevitably break down in peacetime conditions, exponentially so in combat conditions.
Remember, the M777 is like a bicycle. That means an F16 fighter jet or M1 Abrams (with its jet turbine engine) are like a Ferrari. If Ukraine is struggling to maintain a simple towed howitzer, how is it going to maintain infinitely more complex Western battle tanks, fighter jets, or Patriot air defense systems (where the basic training for its maintenance crews is over a year)?
Again, the problem isn’t training fighter pilots, tank crew members, and air defense operators. That stuff is easy and can be managed in weeks or a few months. Maintenance is the real challenge, and will continue to be Ukraine’s biggest headache no matter how much people want to claim that Ukraine is “motivated,”
“resourceful,” “scrappy,” and other adjectives suggesting Ukraine can simply “figure it out.” Meanwhile, back in the real world, they still haven’t figured out the M777 nine months in.
None of this is meant to cast aspersions on Ukraine and what they’ve been able to accomplish. It’s just that even they aren’t immune to reality, and the monumental challenges of maintaining any modern complex weapons system, and especially so a brand-new one for them.
In another New York Times article, we have this whopper:
To shell Russian positions at Snake Island, for instance, the Ukrainians put Caesars, with a 40-kilometer range, on barges and towed them out 10 kilometers to hit the island, which was 50 kilometers away, astonishing the French.
LOL that’s not a thing that happened. The author doesn’t even bother trying to source that.
The Caesar has a 42-kilometer range. Now look at what is within 42 kilometers of Snake Island:
Snake Island is well within range of the Caesar on the Ukrainian mainland. And while that part of Ukraine is marshland, extended-range Caesar rounds can hit out to 50 kilometers, which is roughly the distance to that little town of Vylkove at the edge of the swamps on the Romanian border.
So what do you think is more likely: that Ukraine placed one of its most prized artillery assets on a floating barge and towed it onto Russian-controlled waters, where an unstable platform would render it half as accurate as normal, or … they just drove the darn thing to the tip of the Ukrainian mainland and accurately shelled the island?
I wrote a big-picture overview on Friday of the state of the current front lines.
What was five original axes is down to one: the Donbas, where there are five active lines of advance. Ukraine is pushing forward in Svatove and Kreminna directions, while Russia is pushing forward in Bakhmut, Adviivka, and Vuhledar directions. Read that update for more details.
Compare the map above with today’s heat map of Russian shellings:
It’s a big front, but we’re down to a one-front war, at least until Ukraine decides to push south toward Meltipol, Mariupol, and/or Crimea.
In case you missed it (it was a holiday weekend after all), this story will help orient you for the coming coverage in the weeks and months ahead.
“Why doesn’t the West provide Ukraine with long-range rockets like ATACMS.” Okay, that refrain I agree with. Better munitions for Ukraine’s existing weapon’s platforms for sure, please.
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