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Why are U.S. weapons failing in Ukraine?

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

-On May 18, Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and artillery reconnaissance near Podgornoe in Sevastopol detected the firing position of the U.S. supplied 155mm the M777 towed howitzers firing position of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF).

The UAV operators fired a missile at the firing position causing damage to several guns. Being a lightweight gun, the UAF gunners quickly towed the M7772A guns into a wooded area to conceal.

A video released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, shot by an ariel platform, shows these concealed guns were destroyed by artillery fire, possibly a multiple rocket launcher (MRLS). The failure of the M777 gun is too early to predict. But it does show a pattern of failures of the American weapons, both operational and in doctrine.

Javelin was supposed to burn all Russian equipment

The United States has delivered about 7,000 Javelin anti-tank missile systems (ATGM) to Ukraine. According to the American Insider Magazine, the ATGM stocks in the U.S. reserves were reduced by about a third and now 20-25 thousand sets are left. At the same time, the fighting in Ukraine showed the insufficient effectiveness of this so-called man-portable weapon.

The FGM-148F Javelin anti-tank missile system was developed in 1989 to destroy armored vehicles and low-flying low-speed targets like helicopters, drones and light aircraft. An infrared homing head (GOS) detects the target and ensures its capture at any time of the day. After firing the Javelin missile, the shooter can immediately change his position to avoid being hit by return fire.

The target is hit by a tandem HEAT warhead capable of penetrating 600-800 mm of armor. The rocket hits a tank or other armored vehicle in the upper part, where the armor is the weakest.

Javelins did live up to a fraction of its fearsome reputation as it managed to knock off an unspecified number of tanks. However, it was the Ukrainian ATGM Skif or Stugna-P, developed by the Luch Design Bureau, that did the most damage.

While it should be a surprise for most analysts, Ukrainian soldiers are well trained in Skif ATGM handling. N-LAWs from the United Kingdom were comparatively better performers as they were lighter to carry around in urban combat.

Another issue was the limited space, and tall buildings interrupted the Javelin firings. One unverified issue is that the Javelins couldn’t distinguish the targets in the urban scenario. It was not a surprise for Ukrainians as one of the opposition members, just before the war, had stated that junk was being poured into the country, and Skif’s could perform better.

The problem with Javelins is both tactical and doctrinal. The Ukrainian Prisoners of War state that the U.S. help was overhyped. The Javelins were either outdated or unkempt and often misfired.

The instructors ignored the misfires and gave them basic information on how to fire the missiles. The heavy Javelins were unsuitable for urban combat, as well as in rural and remote areas.In rural and remote areas, the possibility of meeting Russian armor was remote, and the operators were exposed to spying Russian UAVs and helicopters.

The Javelins, which ended up as trophies with the Russians and Donetsk Militia, were termed ‘junk’. In fact, in the initial days of the war, the Russians spoke about the U.S. establishing an office in Lviv to prevent Ukrainians from speaking out on Javelins’ issues.

Russian tankers soon developed tactics against these man-portable ATGM’s. Russians argue that Javelins are weapons for infantry and not for large tanks. After the initial hype, even the Ukrainian propaganda department, which churns out ridiculous statistics, stopped talking about Javelins.

The U.S. assumption that the Javelins alone were enough to burn the Russian armor and military vehicles many times over was busted. Soon the U.S. started rolling out M777 155mm guns as their next doctrinal experiment.

As a side note, the Switchblade 300 loitering munition supplied to Ukraine for anti-armor uses is not much talked about, and the mythical Pheonix Ghost remains a myth.

Stinger Missiles that didn’t sting

Stinger MANPADS, which received fame in Afghanistan, were of very little effectiveness in Ukraine.

Just like the T-72’s on the ground, the Russian helicopters rule the air in Ukraine. There are few videos of Stingers shooting Russian helicopters, but largely they have been ineffective. The Russian MoD released a video of a Ka-52 gunship pilot who explained how to avoid a Stinger.

M777 Howitzers are too lightweight for this war

M777 howitzer represents a new high for the Ukrainian decision-makers as they often said in the past that the 155 mm was the ticket to NATO. Ukrainians used WW II era 152 mm guns before the U.S. donated the M777s.

152mm was the Soviet standard, and 155 mm was the U.K. standard used by the U.S. and NATO. The difference is just 3 mm, and they both fire the similar weight to a similar distance with similar types of explosives.

The United States has supplied Ukraine with 155-mm M777A2 towed howitzers. In total, 89 guns out of 90 donated were delivered. Some of the guns are already in the Donbas, and a few of them were promptly busted by the Russians today.

On May 7, the Pentagon reported that more than 200 Ukrainian troops were trained to use these howitzers. The deliveries are a part of the $800 million aid package to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The package includes 180,000 shells for the M777s, out of which 120,000 are reportedly delivered.

The videos and images from the UAF propaganda department show that the M777A2 howitzers delivered by the Americans to Ukraine are a simplified version of the gun, from which the digital fire control system (FCS), which made this howitzer a truly highly effective artillery piece with high accuracy, was removed.

In the Armed Forces of Ukraine version, aiming is carried out in the old-fashioned way, using optical sights and tables. The Americans removed the FCS from the howitzers, knowing that some of the guns would fall into the hands of the Russian army.

It means the M777 version delivered to Ukraine can’t fire the M982 Excalibur guided round and can’t use the M1156 guided fuze.

As per the visuals from Ukrainian positions, the gun fires M795 High Explosive projectile with M739A1 Point Detonating Fuze and M232 MACS charge, which aren’t the most modern M777 combination. M777 are regular artillery guns but with a lower weight for easy transportation.

It remains to be seen if the M777s will make a difference in the war or will be a myth buried in the Ukrainian propaganda books.

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