Unfulfilled Promises and Unmet Needs: EU’s Commitment to Ukraine in Question

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The European Union’s member states, particularly the Czech Republic, have been making public commitments to support the Ukrainian military with ammunition supplies, yet these promises are falling short in reality. Exactly one week prior to Czech President Petr Pavel’s announcement on securing funds to purchase 800,000 artillery shells for Ukraine, the reality took a sharp turn. The following day, the Czech Republic revised its statement significantly downwards, committing to only 300,000 rounds of ammunition. This situation underscores the broader issue of the EU’s inability to fulfill its promise of delivering 1 million rounds to the Ukrainian government by March 2024.

The European Commission prematurely celebrated its pledge fulfillment on January 31, but EU High Representative on Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell immediately countered this by stating that only half of the promised munitions would be delivered by the deadline. As the end of February approached, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky disclosed that the EU had only managed to supply 30 percent of the million projectiles initially pledged.

Across the Atlantic, the Biden administration’s $60 billion aid package for Ukraine has faced obstacles within the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The Republicans’ disenchantment stems from what they perceive as Ukraine’s ineffective counteroffensive and their retreats, prompting a shift in focus towards domestic issues and the crisis at the southern U.S. border.

On February 19, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba highlighted the dire need for at least 2.5 million artillery shells in 2024 to counter the Russian forces, who are reportedly using up to ten times more munitions on the front line. The Munich Security Conference saw President Pavel propose a solution, mentioning an unnamed third country capable of supplying half a million rounds of 155mm and 300,000 rounds of 122mm caliber ammunition, contingent on swift funding. He advocated for the Czech Republic to lead this procurement effort, contingent on financial backing from other EU members. Eighteen EU states, including heavyweights like France and Germany, initially supported Pavel’s initiative.

However, it soon became clear that Ukraine would receive only 300,000 shells through this Czech-led scheme, with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala stating that the procurement and delivery process might extend over several months, contrary to the weeks initially promised. On March 12, in an attempt to alleviate concerns, Fiala mentioned “non-binding commitments” for an additional 200,000 shells, though this fell short of Ukraine’s needs.

Foreign Minister Kuleba, on Wednesday, asserted that the Czech initiative was insufficient for the Ukrainian military’s requirements, indicating that at least two more initiatives of comparable size would be necessary shortly. The path to securing these additional munitions remains uncertain, as the U.S. aid package is stalled, the EU struggles with rapid munitions production, and third-party countries are hesitant to commit their ammunition stocks to the Czech-led effort. This ongoing saga of unfulfilled commitments and logistical challenges raises questions about the EU’s capacity and willingness to support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia effectively.

The Crucial Role of Artillery in the Ukraine Conflict: A Deep Dive into the Numbers

Since the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, artillery has been a dominant force on the battlefield, accounting for approximately 80% of the casualties incurred by both sides. This significant figure underscores the devastating impact and strategic importance of artillery in the ongoing conflict.

In the thick of the war, artillery systems, such as the Ukrainian M109 howitzers, have showcased their destructive potential. These units are capable of delivering around 530 pounds of high explosive over a distance of up to 15 miles within a mere 3 to 5 minutes. The versatility of artillery is further exemplified by the range of munitions it can fire, from shrapnel-producing rounds to bunker-busting projectiles that can undermine enemy fortifications.

The stark reality of the conflict is highlighted by the numerical advantage held by Russian forces, estimated at around 470,000 troops. These forces have been consistently engaging Ukrainian positions with relentless infantry assaults. Theoretically, Ukraine’s artillery, if adequately supplied, could repel these attacks effectively. However, the reality is grim: Ukraine’s artillery units are constrained to firing a mere 2,000 rounds per day along an extensive 750-mile front. Given the country’s inventory of approximately 350 artillery pieces, this limitation results in vast areas without adequate artillery coverage.

The scarcity of artillery ammunition has broader tactical implications. It not only hampers Ukraine’s ability to fend off Russian advances but also exposes Ukrainian artillery units to increased risks from Russian Lancet-3M drones and counter-battery fire. In stark contrast, Russia commands over 4,000 artillery pieces within Ukraine, maintaining a high operational tempo with around 10,000 rounds fired daily. This significant disparity in artillery firepower and operational freedom highlights the strategic challenges faced by Ukrainian forces.

Amidst these challenges, Ukrainian forces have adapted by integrating novel tactics and leveraging First Person View (FPV) drones. These drones offer precision targeting and maneuverability, presenting a tactical advantage. However, their effectiveness is limited by factors such as electronic warfare, adverse weather, and inherent operational constraints, underscoring that they are a complement rather than a substitute for conventional artillery firepower.

The ammunition crisis has forced the Ukrainian military into a precarious position, necessitating the occupation of more frontline positions to counter Russian assaults with infantry, thereby increasing exposure to casualties and diminishing the reserve forces available for training and future operations. This situation was notably exemplified by the tactical withdrawal from Avdiivka, signifying the severe limitations imposed by the ammunition shortage.

The international dimension of this conflict is crucial, particularly regarding the potential financial aid from the U.S. While the Senate has approved $60 billion in aid, its final approval remains uncertain. This funding is vital for Ukraine to sustain its defensive operations and prepare for potential offensives. Additionally, European efforts to augment production capacity are critical for long-term support, yet immediate needs hinge on timely U.S. assistance.

Conversely, Russia’s strategy has been characterized by a high volume of artillery fire, supported by substantial production capabilities. Despite potential future limitations due to depleting Soviet-era stocks and production constraints, Russia’s current artillery operations continue to pose a significant challenge to Ukrainian forces.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the pivotal role of artillery, with the current shortage of ammunition representing a critical strategic challenge for Ukraine. The ability of Ukraine to withstand and counter Russian advances is intricately linked to the resolution of this ammunition crisis, necessitating robust international support and increased production capabilities. As the conflict evolves, the balance of artillery power will remain a decisive factor in the battlefield dynamics.

An Affordable, Precise, and Lethal Weapon: The Rise of FPV Drones

First-Person View (FPV) drones, initially popularized through drone racing by hobbyists, have evolved into potent instruments of warfare. Operated via augmented reality goggles and antennas, these drones allow the pilot to navigate the environment with the precision of the drone’s cameras, transforming the skies into a new battleground. Initially designed for recreation, FPV drones have undergone a significant transformation, becoming a tool of lethal efficiency in modern conflicts.

These drones, capable of reaching speeds up to 100 kilometers per hour in seconds and executing complex maneuvers, can infiltrate through confined spaces like windows and chimneys. Their agility is further enhanced with the ability to navigate around obstacles at speeds reaching 200 kilometers per hour. The cost-effectiveness of these drones, particularly those mass-produced by companies like DJI, makes them accessible, as they can be acquired for a few hundred dollars without any licensing or regulatory oversight.

The war in Ukraine marked a turning point for the operational use of FPV drones, which were modified to carry explosive payloads. Although their size limits the payload to a few hundred grams—equivalent to a hand grenade—their impact can be devastating in enclosed spaces or when targeting personnel directly. The conflict zones in Ukraine and Russia have provided evidence of their capability to breach armored vehicles and claim lives, showcasing the lethal potential of these seemingly modest devices.

The technological advancements in drone capabilities over the past two to three years have been staggering. Today’s drones boast enhanced reach, precision, and stability, facilitated by reduced costs and improved navigational technology. These improvements have made drones not only more accessible but also highly effective in precision strikes, often outperforming traditional military hardware in efficiency and cost. Their ability to execute targeted assassinations with minimal collateral damage has been particularly noted, challenging the economic viability of more expensive military options.

The strategic importance of FPV drones is underscored by the ambitious production goals set by nations engaged in their development and deployment. Ukraine’s plan to manufacture one million FPV drones contrasts with Russia’s accelerated production rate, which is six times faster. Despite the high interception rates of drone missions by electronic jamming, the sheer volume of drones being deployed signifies a shift in the dynamics of military engagement, emphasizing the role of technological innovation in shaping contemporary warfare strategies.

The evolution of FPV drones from hobbyist gadgets to precision instruments of war represents a significant shift in the landscape of military technology. Their cost-effectiveness, coupled with advanced capabilities, positions them as a disruptive force in modern combat, challenging traditional notions of warfare and underscoring the growing influence of unmanned systems on the future of conflict.

Russia Understands the Importance of Artillery in a War of Attrition

Russia’s approach to artillery in the context of a war of attrition highlights a strategic reliance on volume to achieve a battlefield advantage. The use of artillery by Russia, while criticized for being crude and underperforming in precision, has been marked by the massive expenditure of shells, giving Moscow a significant edge in the conflict. In 2024, Russia is poised to produce an additional 1.3 million rounds of 152 mm caliber ammunition and around 800,000 rounds of 122 mm caliber ammunition. This production, combined with an existing stockpile of approximately 3 million rounds and over 1 million rounds procured from North Korea, solidifies Russia’s position of firepower superiority.

Moreover, Russia has engaged in production contracts with North Korea, Belarus, Iran, and Syria, ensuring a sustained supply of ammunition. This strategic alignment with multiple countries for ammunition supply indicates a long-term planning to maintain, if not augment, its artillery capabilities.

However, the trajectory of Russia’s artillery dominance faces potential challenges. Despite the capacity for increased shell production, Russia’s reliance on Soviet-era artillery systems, from which it has been drawing barrels, is a critical vulnerability. By 2025, these Soviet-era stocks are expected to dwindle, posing a significant challenge to Russia’s artillery capabilities. The country’s existing infrastructure for forging new artillery barrels appears inadequate to fulfill the forthcoming demand, which could lead to a decrease in the accuracy and availability of Russian artillery.

The diminishing efficiency and availability of Russian artillery by 2025 could provide a strategic window for Ukraine and its allies. This scenario hinges on the critical question of whether the United States, among other backers, will maintain its support for Ukraine in the ensuing period. The continuation of this support could be pivotal in shifting the balance of the conflict back in favor of Ukraine as Russia’s artillery advantage wanes.

In summary, while Russia currently holds artillery dominance due to its massive stockpile and production capabilities, the sustainability of this advantage is questionable due to the impending depletion of Soviet-era stocks and insufficient production capacity for new barrels. The evolving dynamics of artillery capabilities in the Russia-Ukraine conflict will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping the future course of the war, with international support for Ukraine being a decisive factor in the longer-term outcome.


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