Last week, the United States announced a military aid program for Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion. Among the weapons included in the package were 40,000 artillery shells, 18 howitzers and training to use heavy artillery weapons. An additional aid package including 144,000 artillery shells and 72 howitzers was declared on Thursday, signaling US commitment to Ukraine’s defense and a refocusing of military tactics.
A senior Defense Ministry official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirmed that around 50 Ukrainians would be trained in the operation of the howitzers. They also noted that the howitzer training would take place at an undisclosed location outside of Ukraine.
Artillery delivery and weapons training is not new to the war in Ukraine. The United States has already trained a small number of Ukrainian soldiers in the operation of Switchblade tactical drones, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
The switch to heavy artillery implies a change in tactics for recent offensives in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Harry Nedelcu, director of policy at political consultancy firm Rasmussen Global, described the Donbass region as “flat land that requires heavy weapons, such as howitzers and tanks”. Pentagon press secretary Kirby said the howitzers are intended to fight Russian artillery in the Donbass: “because of the terrain, because it’s open because it’s flat because it’s n isn’t as urban ― we can expect the Russians to rely on long-range fire, artillery in particular.”
Russian heavy artillery has largely contributed to the destruction of Ukrainian urban spaces. During the last battle of kyiv and the current siege of Mariupol, the destructive potential of heavy artillery was demonstrated in destroyed Ukrainian homes, hospitals, train stations and other non-military facilities. Ukraine’s acquisition of heavy artillery could push the war into a more destructive phase.
Russia has previously warned the United States against supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine. However, the United States continued to increase its aid programs in defiance of Russian threats. The Washington Post reported that last week Russia warned of “unforeseeable consequences” if the United States and NATO continued to supply arms to Ukraine.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that five US cargo flights have arrived in the region, and more than half a dozen are expected to arrive shortly.
Ukraine’s military aid programs, while helping to defend a nation against violent invasion, can also be an ineffective method of fighting war in Ukraine. For military aid to be effective, it must provide an advantage to Ukrainian forces that Russian troops cannot match. Russian military capabilities will likely allow a parallel escalation of Russian heavy artillery, leading to further stalemates but increased destruction. To end the war, military aid must be conclusive, or substantial negotiation efforts must be advanced.