The recent moves by the U.S. to send weaponry to Ukraine to support its defense against Russia may seem positive on the surface, but experts fear that the country won’t be able to use these weapons properly and could be setting itself up for a devastating failure.
Last month, Congress passed legislation designed to help the U.S. supply weapons to Ukraine on loan quickly. The action came shortly after President Biden approved a further $33 billion in military aid, in addition to nearly $3 billion that had already been provided to the country since the conflict with Russia began.
However, while most of the earlier weapons shipments involved light weaponry such as man-portable air-defense systems and anti-tank missiles, the new support package is focused on heavy weaponry such as armored fighting vehicles and howitzers that are needed by Ukraine to replace other equipment that has been damaged or destroyed in battle.
Unfortunately, some experts believe that Ukraine simply does not have the means to maintain these weapons. With military equipment prone to breaking down frequently, particularly under the stress of combat, it could be rendered useless to them in very short order with no way of being able to use it again.
Former UN weapons inspector and U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence Officer Scott Ritter cites the example of the 90 M777 155mm towed howitzers the U.S. is giving Ukraine. Meant to be easily transportable and lighter replacements for the M198 howitzers that were popular from the 1980s through the mid-2000s, the sacrifices made to reduce their weight mean they are prone to experiencing instability when firing, damage from recoil and metal fatigue. A fact sheet about the system explains that its recoil absorption mechanisms tend to wear out “dangerously fast in combat conditions.”
This is supported by real-world data. U.S. Army experience at the Fort Irwin National Training Center shows that the combat effectiveness of the M777s starts to degrade around the fourth day of operations due to maintenance issues, and those that are not properly attended to can be completely ineffective within about a week. And while the U.S. army can counter this with extensive field level maintenance and the forward deployment of highly trained personnel and critical spare parts, the Ukrainian army lacks the training and logistical infrastructure to pull off a similar move. Although the Ukrainian army is being trained on the M777 system at a U.S. Army training center in Germany, the work there is focusing on operating the equipment rather than maintaining it.
Ritter writes: “But even if these weapons make it to the front lines, the complexity of the system will ensure inefficient operations, which sooner rather than later will result in the M777 howitzer breaking down with no means of repairing it.”
These problems, he fears, are not unique to the M777 and will likely be encountered with all of the heavy military equipment the U.S. and NATO allies are sending to Ukraine, many of which are now obsolete and are extremely likely to break down in combat and be rendered completely useless because of the lack of a logistical support plan.
Ritter says that while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told Ukrainian President Zelensky the U.S. stands with them until the fight is done, our efforts may not have the intended effects.
“But the reality is far different—by providing Ukraine with equipment which is all but guaranteed to break down shortly after entering combat, and for which Ukraine has no infrastructure on hand to maintain and repair, Biden and Pelosi are doing little more than feeding the Ukrainian military suicide pills and calling it nutrition,” he cautioned.
It’s just one of the many problems with sending aid to Ukraine, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. There’s also the fact that the U.S. has few ways of tracking the weaponry it has sent to the country and that it could end up on the black market or in the wrong hands at some point in the future.
Sources for this article include: