On March 7, the United States announced that it would send 400 troops to Lithuania to compliment 600 already there. On April 7, we saw American artillery passing through Poland.
At the time, people wondered if that was equipment headed to Ukraine, but nope, it was part of that American reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank.
That unit was around 100 Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers with 10 M109 Paladin howitzers and supporting equipment. So not a particularly big column. Yet from the announcement of the new deployment to arrival, it took five weeks. Moving heavy equipment, its logistical support, and tons of ammunition takes time. This isn’t Amazon Prime. Russia’s pre-invasion buildup itself took at least five months, and they have a robust rail system to internally move material.
That’s why it’s a little frustrating seeing things like this:
We can concede that material isn’t getting there fast enough. But that has nothing to do with a “lack of urgency.” Logistical challenges don’t disappear just because Ukraine is one of the good guys. Moving enough material to equip and sustain an Army that has grown to half a million strong takes time. Take a look at the latest $800 million aid package from the United States:
- 18 155mm Howitzers and 40,000 artillery rounds;
- Ten AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars;
- Two AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel air surveillance radars;
- 300 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
- 500 Javelin missiles and thousands of other anti-armor systems;
- 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers;
- 100 Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles;
- 11 Mi-17 helicopters;
- Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels;
- Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear protective equipment;
- Medical equipment;
- 30,000 sets of body armor and helmets;
- Over 2,000 optics and laser rangefinders;
- C-4 explosives and demolition equipment for obstacle clearing; and
- M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel munitions configured to be consistent with the Ottawa Convention.
An M113 weights 12 tons. So we’re talking about moving 2,400 tons of armored personnel carriers. A Hummer is 3 tons, so another 300 tons. Those howitzers are around eight tons. There’s only 18 of them, but the ammo? Around 2,000 tons. The rest of this stuff adds up to thousands of additional tons. There is only so much transport capacity available. The fact that the United States can move this much material in a month is incredible. Remember, the last $800 million aid package was announced on March 16, while this latest one was announced April 13. Pentagon delivers the aid as quickly as it can, after which the next package is announced.
The Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) community tracks every flight to Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in Poland, the global hub for the Ukraine equip and resupply effort, about 90 miles from the Ukrainian border. It is a never-ending parade of American, British, Canadian, Ukrainian, and other allied planes planes delivering goodies for the war effort. Here is a Ukrainian cargo plan flying in new TB2 drones from Turkey on Friday.
For fun, I looked up that plane to see what it was up to Saturday, and it made a run from Romania to Rzeszów. Weird, given that Romania shares a border with Ukraine, but a clear sign that logistically, it’s simply easier to manage everything out of the Rzeszów hub. You can see all the Ukrainian cargo runs to Rzeszów since the war began here.
On Friday, Rzeszów hosted two Canadian cargo planes (one from Macedonia, the other from Prestwick, England), one American cargo flight from Dover Air Force base, one charter cargo flight from Sweden, that Ukrainian flight from Tekirdag, Turkey, with the TB2 drones, one MEDAVAC flight likely shuttling war wounded to Oslo, Norway, and assorted smaller craft from several NATO militaries, perhaps bringing in trainers and other VIPs aiding in the war effort.
The day prior, on Thursday, the airport hosted three American cargo flights, and one each from Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Ireland, and Turkey.
On Saturday, this Australian Air Force cargo plane brought Bushmaster armored cars to Rzeszów. Australia announced this donation of 10 Bushmasters on April 4, arriving on the 16th. Moving heavy equipment takes time, and this was just 10 vehicles, not several hundred.
Meanwhile, NATO is rubbing Russia’s nose in these shipments. Those planes could turn off their transponders and arrive in secret, but they’re actively broadcasting their presence, their source, and their destination. They want Russia to know what they’re up to, repeatedly reminding them of Western resolve, perhaps hoping it erodes Russia’s own. Russia is certainly helpless to do anything about it.
Meanwhile, we haven’t talked about ammo yet. Vehicles and killer drones and aircraft are the sexy big-ticket items. But an army runs on its stomach … and on ammunition.
A Note on Munitions Consumption:
Much discussion is currently happening on the level of support given to Ukraine in terms of munitions and ordinance. Often we will see support discussed in dollar amounts, or it number of rounds. Rarely is the rate of consumption addressed.
I believe some context would be beneficial here. The basic load for a rifleman when I was deployed was 210 rounds—7 mags of 30. Many of us carried more depending on circumstances & expectations. Add 2 pistol mags for another 30 (2x15). So 240 rounds at bare minimum.
You'll notice we're leaving out machine guns, SAWs, and other platforms for the moment. Ukraine has mobilized reserves, territorials, militia, and has increasing numbers of volunteers joining its ranks. For ease of math, let's ballpark their forces at 100K combat personnel operating in an infantry capacity. Just to give those personnel a SINGLE basic combat load is 24 million rounds of ammo. In heavy fighting, especially in urban areas, infantry can burn through that basic load in less than a day.
Now let's talk artillery. The UAF uses a similar organization to the Russians when it comes to artillery, on paper. [Self-propelled] Artillery Battalions (for example) consist of 3 companies of 6 self-propelled guns—18 total. This is easy math, 1 battalion firing a measly 11 rounds/gun eats 198 rounds. In a prolonged or support fire intensive engagement, a single battalion can easily burn a thousand rounds in a day.
24 million rounds weighs around 11 tons. And remember, that’s a single combat load! A thousand 152mm artillery rounds weighs around 48 tons. And that doesn’t include machine gun ammo, anti-tank and anti-air missiles, grenade launchers, tank rounds, Infantry Fighting Vehicle cannon rounds, and mortar rounds. In WWII, an estimated 45,000 rounds of small-arms munitions were fired for each enemy kill. It was 50,000 in Vietnam. A lot of ammo is fired in combat. A LOT.
Bottom line, fighting a conventional war eats ungodly amounts of ammunition, and Ukraine can’t manufacture it for itself. Some of it gets captured from the Russians, but most of it has to come from outside, eating into the logistical chain feeding Ukraine’s war effort. There is only so much Ukraine can pick up from Poland and shuttle back home at any given time, and how do you even begin to prioritize this stuff? Ukraine desperately needs it all and more, and it needs it yesterday!
That’s why NATO has prioritized certain shipments over others, like anti-tank, anti-aircraft missiles, and small arms munitions the first month of the war. Ukraine was demanding aircraft, but the logistical footprint could’ve displaced the missiles that turned the tide in the Battle of Kyiv. Indeed, the Pentagon has repeatedly referred to logistics as the reason for holding back certain weapons. For example, it’s great we’re finally sending artillery howitzers to Ukraine, but NATO artillery uses 155mm rounds, which are incompatible with the 152mm Soviet-era guns Ukraine already has in service. Now Ukraine has to make sure the right caliber rounds get to the right units, and god forbid Russia takes out the storage depot they’re stored at, Ukraine can’t grab existing stock from elsewhere to feed their American-sourced guns.
However paternalistic it may sound, American logistical prowess is the best in the world. And there’s something to be said about dispassionate decision making, as callous as that sounds. One might not make the best calls while in fight-or-flight mode. I trust the Pentagon to make the right calls, just like I trust their decision to green light NATO-standard 155mm artillery guns. Hopefully it means other NATO nations are emptying their stocks of similar guns and ammunition.
Anyway, I wrote this because I was triggered by people who think big, heavy, and voluminous military gear and ammunition magically show up after pressing an order button on a phone app. There are people around the globe busting their asses to get gear to Ukraine as quickly as humanely possible. Could “more” be done? Perhaps, but people need to stop acting like nothing is being done. When the story of this war is written, this massive international logistical effort will be a major reason Ukraine triumphed against the Russian bear.
This was before the Moskva sinking, but ummm, are we sure they’re telling him what’s really going on in Ukraine?