Artillery aiming technology that works like the Uber app helped Ukrainians to destroy almost an entire Russian battalion in a single attack this week. GIS Arta, an advanced situational awareness system developed by Ukrainian programmers in collaboration with British digital-mapping companies, has cut the military’s targeting time from 20 minutes to one.
Similar to Uber’s ride-hailing technology, which locates a passenger and assigns the nearest driver, the system identifies a Russian target and rapidly selects artillery, mortar, missile or combat drone units that are within range. Real-time data from reconnaissance drones, rangefinders, smartphones, GPS and Nato-donated radars is fed into the system to pinpoint enemy positions. This is then processed by “shooting calculator” software that determines which weapons in the area are most suitable to carry out the strike.
The developers said yesterday that the system was used this week to distribute targets to units that unleashed one of the heaviest bombardments on the Russians since the war began. More than 70 tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and personnel carriers were obliterated in two days of coordinated shelling and airstrikes as they tried to bridge the Siverskyi Donets River in eastern Ukraine. Military analysts described the attack as a serious setback for Russian forces.
GIS Arta was developed by Ukrainian programmers who shared knowledge of digital mapping with British companies years ago. The system was integrated into the Ukrainian army in May 2014 after Russia invaded Crimea. A commander has access to an encrypted electronic map that displays the live data from the battlefield. After a target is confirmed, HQ chooses which unit to send coordinates to and it is under fire in seconds.
Aiming systems used by other militaries can take 20 minutes or more to fire after receiving a report of an enemy position but GIS Arta reduces “call to trigger” time to one to two minutes. The system operates contrary to the traditional Russian method of firing, which involves positioning artillery batteries in a single location. Instead, Ukrainian units can be scattered across the battlefield, threatening strikes from any direction. The system calculates when missiles and shells will hit the target, allowing simultaneous strikes originating from different positions, confusing Russian counter battery efforts.
The sections of the Ukrainian military that use GIS Arta cannot be disclosed, nor can information about the total number of targets it has identified. However, Volodymyr, one of the developers of the system, said: “I can tell you that the amount is a lot. Some of them you can see in the news. Russians can’t hide on the battlefield because we find them everywhere, even in Russia.” Victor, another developer, said: “If we are working with radars, we know not only the point where our enemy is, but also if it shoots, the radar can forecast the point the missile will target. While the rocket is in the air, we can warn our forces to leave.”
Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system is being used to allow the artillery aiming system to continue operating securely. The GIS Arta team said they “appreciate Musk’s urgent assistance in solving communication problems in Ukraine” in the first days of the war.
Comment: I predict when this is over, US and other NATO artillery officers will be flocking to the Ukrainian artillery school. This and several other articles linked below describe an artillery battle management system that puts accurate fire on target within one to two minutes of target identification. And it’s done with guns scattered across the battlefield similar to what we call a time on target (TOT) fire mission. This makes Russia’s counter battery strikes extremely difficult to execute.
I was first intrigued by Ukrainian artillery capabilities from the accounts of the defense of Mykolaiv earlier in the war. There were several mentions of a smartphone app used by the locals, not trained forward observers, to spot for artillery. I figured this app enabled a user or users to message a nearby artillery unit with triangulated target data. But this app is probably an integral part of the GIS Arta system.
This method of artillery employment is made even more effective by a heavy use of 152mm Kvitnyk and 122mm Karasuk laser guided artillery shells coupled with laser designating drones and ground spotters. This is why there are so many drone videos of single artillery strikes hitting targets with a first round hit. But even without these laser guided shells, the GPS spotting of targets by drones or ground observers fed into the GIS Arta management system allows widely distributed artillery pieces, also precisely positioned by GPS, to execute a TOT fire mission without the time consuming need for adjusting fire.
And all this is made possible by Elon Musk’s Starlink network. At the beginning of the invasion, Russia knocked the existing satellite communication networks in Ukraine out of service. Without the quick deployment of Starlink ground stations and modifications in the Starlink satellite constellation, the GIS Arta artillery management system would be useless. No wonder Dmitry Rogozin and others have threatened Musk’s life. Both Ukraine and Starlink must have massive cyber defense forces in place to protect the GIS Arta and Starlink networks.
I saw a report a few days ago saying that the M777s we gave Ukraine did not have the latest targeting computers. I thought that was kind of a shitty thing to do until I learned about GIS Arta. The Ukrainian system certainly sounds as good or better than our TACFIRE and AFATDS. They’ve obviously learned to do just fine without those latest targeting computers, if that story is true.