Ukraine Is Making Its Own Howitzers. Now They Need Shells.


Ukrainian industry is on track to churn out at least 72 wheeled howitzers next year. If only they had enough ammunition.

The tractor factory in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s biggest producer of armored fighting vehicles, is completing six 2S22 Bohdana howitzers a month, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky announced Monday.

“Efforts to increase own production give results,” Zelensky wrote. “And we can already see how to increase it even more.”

The 28-ton 2S22 has a major advantage over the Ukrainian army’s ex-Soviet guns. The six-wheel howitzer fires NATO-standard 155-millimeter shells rather than Soviet-standard 122-millimeter or 152-millimeter shells—allowing it to tap into foreign ammunition stocks.

But those stocks are running low, and efforts to replenish them increasingly are running into political obstacles.

The prototype 2S22 narrowly survived the initial attacks as Russia widened its war on Ukraine starting in February 2022.

With Russian regiments closing in, officials at the Kramatorsk Heavy Machinery Plant, the eastern facility that designed the 2S22, prepared to blow up the prototype. “Destroy it so that [it] does not go to the enemy,” is how Ukrainian politician Serhiy Pashynskyi described the officials’ thinking.

But the Russian offensive met stiff resistance and ground to a halt—first in the south, then in the north. For the 2S22, the risk of capture faded.

The 2S22 had fired a few rounds in testing in October 2021. It worked just fine. So in early May 2022, the Ukrainian army packed up the gun and deployed it along the front, presumably somewhere in the east. Pashynskyi circulated videos depicting the 2S22 firing at Russian targets spotted by drones.

Two months later the 2S22 redeployed to southwest Ukraine, which at its closest point is just 20 miles from Snake Island—well within the 2S22’s 25-mile range with standard ammunition. Russian forces had occupied the island since the war’s first day; from there, they controlled the western Black Sea.

The Ukrainian navy and air force had spent months softening up Snake Island before the 2S22 opened fire. The 155-millimeter shells rained down, ultimately scraping the last Russian occupiers off the island—and liberating the western Black Sea.

Kramatorsk tweaked the 2S22’s design, swapping the Kraz chassis for the Tatra chassis, the Czech heavy-duty truck that’s becoming Ukraine’s standard military truck. Kramatorsk eventually also addressed the biggest flaw in the 2S22’s design: its lack of an automatic loader.

The autoloading 2S22 on the Tatra chassis is the ultimate 2S22—and it’s equipping more and more units. We can confirm three brigades that so far have received at least a few 2S22s: the 1st Special Purposes Brigade, the 47th Mechanized Brigade and the 57th Mechanized Brigade.

Ukraine went to war with 2,500 howitzers and rocket-launchers, versus the 4,500 in Russia’s pre-war arsenal. In 22 months of hard fighting, the Russians have lost around a thousand of these systems; the Ukrainians have lost around 300.

Both sides are restoring old guns and building new ones and, in Ukraine’s case, acquiring artillery pieces by the hundreds from foreign allies. But in every sector of the front, every day and on both sides, demand for artillery outstrips supply.

Ukraine might deploy its new 2S22s are replacements for existing older guns; more likely, the Bohdanas will complement older guns.

A shortage of howitzers isn’t really Ukraine’s problem, however. Ukrainian forces need at least 1.5 million artillery shells a year. But Ukraine has received from its allies maybe 2.5 million shells in the last two years, and has struggled to make up the difference with local production.

American and European firms are ramping up ammunition production and, with luck and sustained funding, might meet the Ukrainian demand for shells.

But sustained funding is unlikely. Authoritarian Hungary at least temporarily has vetoed the European Union’s latest aid package for Ukraine; authoritarian Republicans in the U.S. Congress likewise have refused to approve the latest American aid package.

2S22s are modern and effective big guns. In time, they might become Ukraine’s main big guns. What’s less clear is whether they’ll have enough shells.

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