“Artillery Is Breaking in Ukraine. It’s Becoming a Problem for the Pentagon.” – TTG

Ukrainian soldiers fire a U.S. supplied M777 howitzer at Russian positions in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on June 21, 2022. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian troops fire thousands of explosive shells at Russian targets every day, using high-tech cannons supplied by the United States and its allies. But those weapons are burning out after months of overuse, or being damaged or destroyed in combat, and dozens have been taken off the battlefield for repairs, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials.

One-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. Swapping out a howitzer’s barrel, which can be 20 feet long and weigh thousands of pounds, is beyond the capability of soldiers in the field and has become a priority for the Pentagon’s European Command, which has set up a repair facility in Poland.

Western-made artillery pieces gave Ukrainian soldiers a lifeline when they began running low on ammunition for their own Soviet-era howitzers, and keeping them in action has become as important for Ukraine’s allies as providing them with enough ammunition.

The effort to repair the weapons in Poland, which has not previously been reported, began in recent months. The condition of Ukraine’s weapons is a closely held matter among U.S. military officials, who declined to discuss details of the program. “With every capability we give to Ukraine, and those our allies and partners provide, we work to ensure that they have the right maintenance sustainment packages to support those capabilities over time,” Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Day, a spokesperson for the U.S. European Command, said in a statement.

When the ammunition for Ukraine’s Soviet-era guns, which fire shells 152 mm in diameter, grew scarce shortly after the invasion, NATO-standard howitzers that fire 155 mm shells became some of Ukraine’s most important weapons, given the vast stockpiles of compatible shells held by Kyiv’s partners.


Comment: The NYT’s headline for this article leaves the impression that this is a shocking development. I seriously doubt the Pentagon is shocked or sees this as anything more than normal military logistics. A listing of aid for Ukraine from last summer noted an unspecified number of replacement barrels for the M777. The Pentagon set up a repair depot in Poland to expedite the replacement of those barrels. Lithuania is repairing the German PzH 2000 self-propelled guns as they wear out. They already returned two of them to service in September.

Even in peace time, artillery barrels wear out as do mortar tubes. In the one year I led a weapons platoon with three three 81mm mortars, we replaced three tubes. One was worn out of tolerance. One had a broken firing pin. All just normal wear and tear. The third was a burnt out tube during a near 30 min FPF on the Big Island. This was during a company defense night live fire exercise. A battery of 105mm artillery also fired in support. The Division Commander, MG Willard Scott, an old cannon cocker himself, was there as was our battalion commander and the artillery battalion commander. We fired one tube with illumination and the other two with both HE and WP. We fired every round we had left far faster than the recommended sustained rate of fire. The barrels glowed. We swabbed the tubes with wet rags and cooled them by pouring water on them. I saw the clouds of steam in the muzzle blasts. All the commanders witnessing our FPF were in awe, including the artillery battalion commander.  

One tube ended up discolored and burnt out. Someone wanted to do a report of survey. MG Scott directed there will be no report of survey. Rather he visited us the next day and commended us for our actions. We said it was our job to fire those mortars as we did and his job to keep the tubes and the rounds coming as needed.


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23 Responses to “Artillery Is Breaking in Ukraine. It’s Becoming a Problem for the Pentagon.” – TTG

  1. JamesT says:

    I would be interested to hear how the Russian artillery is holding up. The Russians have a reputation for lower tech but more reliable gear – or at least so I have heard.

    With electricity in short supply it will be harder for the Ukies to ferry those guns to Poland and back.

    • TTG says:


      For months I’ve seen shots of Russian artillery with blown out barrels. That indicates they’re using them well past the point of needing replacement.

      The Ukrainians don’t rely on electricity to ferry those artillery pieces to the Polish border. They go by truck transporter or diesel trains.

    • Pat Lang says:

      “more reliable?” What a joke! Oversized, overweight, clunky. Those would be the terms I would use to describe them. I have collected intelligence against many different Soviet/Russian systems. I remember standing on the Tank Deck of a US LST with some foreign officers who had been trained in the USSR. We were looking at the USMC amphibious tractors. The visitors laughed and said that if these were Soviet made, they would be twice as big. As for the arty gun barrels it is normal to see a pile of old gun barrels lying on the ground inside a battery position if the battery is firing a lot.

    • Jimmy_W says:

      It appears that Western artillery tubes use some kind of tension casting, with a lot of residual stresses, so that the barrels can be as light as possible while still withstanding the launch pressures. On the other hand, the barrel wears out faster, and has more potential for catastrophic failures at end-of-life.

      Whereas Soviet artillery tubes had a lower-tension casting with little stress, so the Soviet barrels are heavier. On the other hand, they have less possibility for catastrophic failures. The barrel rifling still wears out, so there’s accuracy issues over time. Unknown if the Soviet projectiles can compensate for looser barrels.

      China is trying to do Western-style barrels, but unknown if they want to do that for all of their new barrels.

      Unknown which technology new Russian barrels do.

  2. Fourth and Long says:

    My LaMer Broad Spectrum Sunscreen is warranted to have SPF 15. Sun Protection Factor. Please omit to inform as to the meaning of FPF if there is any foul or unsavory languages required to do so. I am only familiar here with FFPF which is French Fry Protection Factor. I am continuing in search of FSLPF which is better known as Flip Side LP Factor which is for my record collection. FPF looks like it means First Private First, which sounds very sensible, though something tells me it could equally represent Fellows Prefer Females. However that last is ambiguous because Females Prefer Fellows is .. well .. hopefully not entirely out of style.

    barrel (n.)
    “cylindrical vessel or cask, generally bulging in the middle and made of wooden staves bound by hoops,” c. 1300, from Old French baril “barrel, cask, vat” (12c.), with cognates in all Romance languages (Italian barile, Spanish barril, etc.), but of unknown origin. Also a measure of capacity of varying quantity.

    The meaning “metal tube of a gun” is from 1640s. Barrel-roll (n.) in aeronautics is from 1920. To be over a barrel figuratively, “in a helpless or vulnerable condition,” is by 1914 and might suggest corporal punishment.

    In Elmore James’ Classic “Done Somebody Wrong” as sung in the performance linked below, you can hear Greg Allman sing, at the very opening … “The barrelhouse told … my baby caught that train an gone .. .”

    Done Somebody Wrong – The Allman Brother Band Live at Fillmore East

    barrelhouse (n.)
    “cheap saloon, often with an associated brothel,” by 1875, American English, so called in reference to the barrels of beer or booze typically stacked along the wall. See barrel (n.) + house (n.).
    Q. What was this place you rented? — A. It was a room adjoining a barrel-house.
    Q. What is a barrel house? — A. It is a room where barrels of whisky are tapped, a very inferior kind of whisky, and the whisky is sold by the glassful right out of the barrel. It is a primitive coffee house. [Committee Report of the 43rd Congress, Select Committee on Conditions of the South, 1874-75]


    • TTG says:


      FPF = final protective fire, “an immediately-available, prearranged barrier of fire to stop enemy movement across defensive lines or areas.”

  3. Peter Hug says:

    Has anyone ever tried putting radiator fins onto the mortar barrels? If that’s something that is compatible with actual use, it would allow a significantly higher rate of fire without barrel damage.

    • TTG says:

      Peter Hug,

      I never heard of cooling fins on a mortar tube. I doubt they’d be worth the extra weight. Our M29A1 mortars had ribs/grooves on the outside of the tube. I don’t know if they were bands or spiral cuts, but I’m pretty sure their purpose was to reduce the weight of the tube while retaining strength.

      The four deuce mortar didn’t have ribs/grooves, but it made no pretensions of being man-portable. Our modern mortars, both 81 and 120, also have smooth tubes. An interesting note, the four deuce had a rifled barrel and had a reputation for extreme accuracy.

      Ha! I spoke too soon. I just took a closer look at our newer M252 81mm mortar and I see ridges on the lower half of the tube similar to the ridges on our old M29A1 tubes. The new 60mm mortar may have the same ridges on the lower end of the tube. My money’s on it being a strength-weight thing.

      • Peter Hug says:

        Apparently, at least part of the justification of those structures are to cool it. (Scooped again…) – although the Wiki article claims that they are ineffective, and given the small surface area, that wouldn’t surprise me.


        • TTG says:

          Peter Hug,

          It does appear that those machined ridges are designed to aid cooling. Even if it’s just to remove mass from the tube, it would aid cooling in the long run, less thermal mass as that Military Times article alludes to. Being that those ridges/grooves are only two mm deep, I still find it hard to see them as cooling fins. If I ever have to keep up a near max rate of fire for an extended period of time, I’ll stick with my sergeants’ technique of wet bore swabs and jerry cans of water. Luckily, I’m too old to have to worry about that ever again… I hope.

          • Peter Hug says:

            I propose developing a phase-change cooling system along the lines of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_cooling#Phase-change_cooling

            I would expect that this might need a development budget of several hundred million dollars. Perhaps I should become a defense contractor. (Actually, I think that is pretty much what they did with the M252A2, although getting that robust enough to survive in real life would not be easy.)

          • TTG says:

            Peter Hug,

            Mortar tubes are elegant in their simplicity and robustness. Tinkering around with that is just asking for a logistical headache. Other than playing with the alloy, they’re best left alone.

          • Peter Hug says:

            If it’s a solution looking for a problem to solve, it’s a waste of time – but if there really is a problem, there are approaches that could be considered. In general, I try to limit myself to projects where I KNOW that a solution will remove some significant pain from someone with enough money to buy my solution (I DO prequalify that before going down the rabbit hole…).

        • Bill Roche says:

          Never carried a mortar. Teletype was my weapon of choice. But wouldn’t fins on mortar tubes make them more difficult to carry?

  4. walrus says:

    This wouldn’t be the first time that equipment was found wanting in actual service conditions – far from spare parts and overhaul depots.

    Col. Lang and TTG may remember a relatively light weight air portable 105mm gun/howitzer that wouldn’t withstand heavy use. From memory in Australian service they fell apart if towed excessively over rough tracks.

    • Pat Lang says:

      Purpose built for airborne operation.

      • Peter Williams says:

        You can trust the ADF to misuse equipment. They replaced the 2″ RFL on Patrol Boats with a 81mm Mortar with a co-axial Browning .50 cal. The 81mm Mortar was useless for illumination in any sea state, and the mass of the Mortar made the .50 cal useless.

  5. JK/AR says:

    Well, at least this development “ought to” bring some holiday cheer to my neck of the woods:


    And in other news – y’all might remember some goodly while back Colonel Lang putting up some post, along the lines of “Who will rid [us] of that pesky priest” and I mentioned a fellow Arkie? (This was before the dream team of Mrs. Noem & I forget). Anyway I suggested here *we might keep an ear out for more from this guy?


    Yeah I *know – some of – y’all have missed my brilliant input on these posts but to tell you the truth I’ve lately got to thinking my participating on the blogs hasn’t been particularly helpful to my mental/emotional well-being so I’m figuring taking a break from the world, so to speak, might do me some good. And candidly I think it has.

    *Hope[?] TTG, Fred, Leith, Deap, possibly Barbara Ann. Colonel Lang.

    But. So how do we reckon “we’ll” celebrate February 24th come next year, whoops of See we were right all along! or will it be more like Ooh boy, the butcher’s bill karma to our GDP-Prospects is gonna be hell to pay?

    Seeing as to how I blanked on wishing y’all a happy T’Day I reckon I should ought end this one with a Merry Christmas Turcos and best o’ the New Year for us all.

    Keep the happy thoughts coming folks, sings the Fat Lady.

  6. the Pentagon’s European Command, which has set up a repair facility in Poland.

    Lithuania is repairing the German PzH 2000 self-propelled guns as they wear out. They already returned two of them to service in September.

    I see,
    And if Russia should launch missile strikes on those repair bases, and only those repair bases,
    would that be considered “an attack on NATO”?

  7. d74 says:

    “Artillery Is Breaking in Ukraine.”

    One word too many. I suggest: “Artillery Is Breaking Ukraine.”
    Russian artillery seems to have a very wide scatter. From field photos/video: 1 in 10 shots on target. (Shots guided by an observation drone, they say).

  8. Lars says:

    It is not only Russian equipment that is breaking down. There are some curious videos of Russian troops acting rather sluggish and hypothermia is suspected. If they have problems with that now, it will be much worse in January. Unless they can quickly produce proper gear, which is doubtful, their losses may increase substantially.

    Ukraine has gotten a lot of Canadian winter gear and I am sure it is adequate since it is made for all those Canadians who do not go to Florida in the winter. I have also seen reports that Sweden and Finland are shipping winter equipment to Ukraine.

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