True Detective: How the Russian Army “Hacked” Secret US Howitzers in Ukraine

NEW – May 27, 2022

American M777 howitzers were perceived as a miracle weapon capable of turning the tide of hostilities in Ukraine. However, after appearing at the front, these cannons were urgently recalled due to a critical defect.

< p>Cover art © Pixabay</p>

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Late in the evening, it became known that Canada will send to Kiev more than 20,000 shells for M777 155-mm howitzers, previously delivered by Western countries to Ukraine. The delivery of a large amount of ammunition was a logical continuation of the story with military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which lost 1,600 units of self-propelled and towed artillery in three months. However, the supply of American barrel artillery has been repeatedly criticised not only by domestic military experts, but also by foreign experts. There are many reasons for criticism.

The first and most important problem with the use of American howitzers is the shortage of ammunition. Most of Ukraine’s weapons depots in the eastern and central parts of the country have been destroyed, and “Kalibr” missiles and Russian aircraft regularly conduct raids to destroy “Western military aid” even as weapons are being brought to the intermediate point for distribution. But this problem is partially solved by sending 20,000 shells. However, their transfer and distribution among several divisions of 89 howitzers is unlikely to help the Ukrainian artillerymen.

M777 howitzer. Photo © Wikipedia

“Giatsint” and “Kub” vs M777

The first M777 howitzers were destroyed by Russian troops a week ago. Positions of the UAF artillery were spotted near the village of Podgornoye, and, according to some reports, at least three American-made 155-mm M777 howitzers were destroyed by the fire raid. First, the positions were hit by “Kub” drones, and then, when trying to move foreign weapons, by heavy “Giatsint-B” self-propelled artillery. The Ukrainian military is still trying to understand why the Russian army reached the M777 position so quickly — all the secrecy conditions seem to have been met, the transfer was carried out in compliance with all the rules of disguise.

At the disposal of Life News is a closed report of the centre for retraining of US personnel – “Naval Postgraduate School”, according to which the combat capabilities of the M777 are significantly worse than any similar systems. As a comparison, analyst Kyle Browne cites several foreign-made artillery systems – the French CAESAR self-propelled artillery, the Korean K9 and even the Russian BM-21 “Grad”.

Photo © Screenshot

The basic M777 self-propelled artillery delivered to Ukraine (it is first on the list) loses to self-propelled systems with a lot of restrictions on weight, ammunition and other features in everything. The American howitzer has the longest deployment time to the combat position, the most numerous crew (at least 7 people are needed to shoot), it cannot be used from cover, and the maximum firing range of 40 kilometres is achieved only with rocket-assisted projectiles, that is, those that have never been delivered to Ukraine. The firing range of conventional projectiles is 20 kilometres. By the way, the D-20 152-mm cannon-howitzer, developed immediately after the Great Patriotic War, has the same capabilities. Modern weapons of the Russian Armed Forces, such as “Msta” self-propelled artillery, “three axes” are also inferior both in range and in general. But the main difficulty for the Ukrainian Armed Forces is not even in this.

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Photo © Screenshot

Buy tickets to nowhere, or “weeker” officers

The first officers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to accept M777 howitzers into the army were transferred to US training centres in Germany a few weeks before the first deliveries of artillery to Ukraine. The transfer of knowledge from American artillerymen to Ukrainian ones took eight days, and the accelerated training course included only theory and a few test firings. At the same time, from the “Naval Postgraduate School” report it should be noted that the basic training course is at least 5 weeks and 25 training days with practical shooting. However, this time is not enough for combat coordination and interaction development: According to Edwin Willie [name may have been literally lost in translation from Russian – SZ], a Marine Corps veteran and former deputy head of the weapons storage service at Camp Pendleton, it takes at least six months to train an artillery company.

The skill of artillery shooting is trained for months and even years. Experienced marines and any other operators of these weapons know that it is impossible to overcome artillery firing on the spur of the moment, regular training is required. A week-long course will teach them how to properly unload such weapons; nothing useful can be learned from them in battle.

As a result, Ukrainian artillerymen who were trained in Germany and received American weapons not only failed to shoot at the specified coordinates, but also THREE-FOLD worsened the basic indicators for the rate of fire: instead of one shot per minute, they did one in three to five minutes. At the same time, Willie noted that most of the sergeants and lieutenants, whom American instructors in Germany called “weekers”, will not live to see the end of “Operation Z”, but also have every chance of dying in the first battle due to the lack of intelligence, surveillance and camouflage equipment, since M777 howitzers are used by the UAF “in an open field, without targeting, often even without reliable coordinates.”

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If you add reliability issues to this, then the weapon becomes dangerous, not effective. On August 12, 2017, half of the American crew of the M777 howitzer was killed while trying to fire at terrorist positions in Iraq. The chamber in which the projectile was located suddenly stopped locking, and the blast wave went left and right, immediately killing the crew commander and two other officers. The rest of the crew were wounded by shrapnel and were discharged from combat service.

Data leak

In the case of not the most outstanding mental abilities, American engineers have come up with DFCS – Digital Fire Control System. In simple terms, this is an electronic unit that works like a car navigator and tells the calculation what coordinates one needs to enter to accurately hit the target. However, 80% of American howitzers arrived in Ukraine without this device, and when the artillerymen began to complain that “they could not understand how to shoot”, an elegant solution was found. Instead of the original units produced by General Dynamics, Canadian GDMS were installed on the Ukrainian M777. Similar in characteristics, but without the American electronics inside.

The M777 howitzer brought to the position is detected in space using the onboard inertial navigation system, GPS and motion sensor, and coordinates for a combat mission can be “thrown” to the gun via a tactical communication channel. The Americans also equipped the Ukrainian army with communication systems in advance, about a year before the start of Operation Z.

M777 howitzer. Photo © TASS / U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Grace Gerlach

But it was not possible to solve the problem with the accuracy of shooting. Suddenly, it turned out that the American artillerymen used howitzers with the DFCS system to shoot at an enemy armed only with small arms. The positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Donbass were actively “processed” by the Russian Army, equipped, among other things, not only with air defence, but also with electronic warfare systems that suppress any electronic systems at a distance of tens of kilometres. After switching on the electronic warfare system, the Canadian GDMS units stopped working, and the positions of the M777 howitzers were suddenly hit by artillery fire 25-30 minutes after deployment and loading.

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A hunting ticket, or no music for sleeping at all

When the Ukrainian artillerymen and their American handlers realised how the Russian army was tracking down the M777 positions, the satellite navigation units were quickly dismantled. The effectiveness of American self-propelled artillery returned to its previous, almost zero level, but for some reason there were no fewer counter artillery strikes. The answer to this phenomenon probably lies in the “Zoopark” counter-battery radar of the Russian Army. The complex has been connected to a database since the operation to force Georgia to make peace, which stores not the sounds of the forest or music for sleeping, but key features of artillery pieces from different countries of the world, including the United States.

According to a sound-measuring officer, Lieutenant Colonel of the Ground Forces in the reserve Ivan Soshkin, “three sevens”, like any artillery of NATO countries, has its own acoustic portrait and its work is clearly “audible”.

M777 howitzers have special shooting parameters. But the bottom line is that “Zoopark” allows not only to distinguish one system from another, but also a conditional barrel from a barrel, since there are variables and constants there

Constant values, according to Soshkin, are the barrel length, caliber, type of gunpowder used, and much more, which makes up the “basic set” of target parameters. M777 has long been known to Russian counter-batteries — it is a 155-mm howitzer with a 39-calibre barrel. In addition, with a characteristic low-frequency sound after each shot, special cylinders also hiss to level the recoil. With this set of features, the M777 fires with a dull, low sound. As soon as these fluctuations are detected by “Zoopark”, a drone immediately takes off to the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. If the drone visually recognises the parameters of the target (which, by the way, was done by Russian intelligence officers) and the commander of the artillery division gains several signs of the target’s reliability, the enemy positions are hit.

The Russian military does not comment in any way on the strikes on the positions of the UAF artillerymen equipped with M777 howitzers, but the Ukrainian army loses these guns almost every time they leave their places of deployment.

Sergey Andreyev

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