Ukraine dominates the initial stage of the offensive: Artillery war turns in their favor

Photo: libkos

By destroying four Russian howitzers for every howitzer it loses, Ukrainian forces are winning a key battle—the counterbattery battle, an article with such a title was published in Forbes. 

That is the artillery-on-artillery fight that often determines which army prevails on a battlefield.

Seventeen months into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine, and almost five weeks into Ukraine’s long-anticipated southern counteroffensive, where the losses in tanks and combat vehicles seem to be balanced between the two sides. However, this hides the significant difference in artillery losses.

In the regions of Zaporizhzhia and southern Donetsk, both Ukrainian and Russian forces have written off over 150 vehicles each, according to outside analysts.

The Ukrainian losses are slightly higher, around 170. This is expected, as a defending army usually has an advantage over an attacking one. The defenders can fortify their positions, while the attackers typically need to cross open terrain. However, despite these slightly higher losses in vehicles, the Ukrainian side is holding its own, largely due to the disparity in artillery losses favoring Ukraine.

The disparity in artillery losses is noteworthy. Observers have documented 32 destroyed howitzers and rocket launchers on the Russian side, compared to just eight on the Ukrainian side. This suggests that for every large Ukrainian artillery piece lost, the Russians are losing four, indicating a significant imbalance.

Photo: Libkos. M777 Howitzer, Kherson region, Ukraine

Scale and context matter. Having begun the wider war with around 5,000 howitzers and rocket launchers—three times what the Ukrainians had—the Russians had more artillery to lose.

The Kremlin’s artillery supremacy has diminished over 17 intense months of conflict, with Ukrainian forces successfully neutralizing 600 Russian guns and launchers while losing only 200 of their own in return. This depicts a three-to-one loss ratio benefiting Ukraine. Importantly, Ukraine has effectively replenished its arsenal, thanks to more than a thousand howitzers and rocket launchers supplied by foreign allies. Additionally, both sides have supplemented their forces by deploying hundreds of older guns and launchers from long-term reserves.

To put it into perspective, on June 4—the onset of Ukraine’s counteroffensive—Kyiv had a formidable arsenal of at least 2,500 large-scale guns and launchers at its disposal. On the other hand, Moscow boasted around 4,500. Yet, in the weeks that followed, the Ukrainians methodically diminished this lead by destroying four times as many Russian howitzers and launchers as the Russians have destroyed Ukrainian ones.

Counterbattery is the practice of firing artillery at the enemy’s artillery to prevent the enemy from bringing to bear their most potent firepower. The army that wins the counterbattery fight in a particular battle more often than not wins that battle. This is why Ukraine’s steady destruction of Russian howitzers and launchers is so encouraging to proponents of a free Ukraine.

The reason behind Ukraine’s steady success in the counterbattery fire is clear. The significant influx of Western-made systems, which typically surpass Soviet-era systems in reliability, precision, and firing range, has dramatically enhanced the capabilities of Ukraine’s 13 artillery and rocket brigades. 

Perhaps most importantly, Ukrainians have benefited from substantial deliveries of counterbattery radars from countries like Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the US. These systems detect incoming artillery shells and rockets, pinpoint the source, and guide friendly howitzers and launchers to fire back, providing a significant tactical advantage. 

The radars, working in conjunction with small drones, make it very dangerous for Russian gunners to do their work. They have to shoot then scoot—fast—to have any chance of surviving Ukrainian counterbattery fire.

The Russians have their radars and drones, too, of course—but they are less effective.

The Russian army began a full-scale invasion with the superior artillery fire-control system. However, a year later, the advantage shifted towards the Ukrainian Armed Forces. As early as spring, it should have been evident that the Russians were facing challenges. In mid-April, the southern command of Ukraine reported “impressive results” in their efforts to clear Russian artillery from the left bank of the Dnipro River using counterbattery fire. 

The same command now directs the main axes of the southern counteroffensive – the very regions where the Russians are currently losing four times as many artillery units as the Ukrainians.

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