A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 15, 2022

How Ukraine's Tech More Efficiently Targets Artillery, Reducing Disparity

Ukraine continues to call for more NATO weapons, the reality is that their demand outstrips available supply. 

But due to technological advances in the accuracy of NATO weapons - and to a home-grown "Uber for artillery targeting" app Ukraine has developed - it doesnt need parity with Russia because its efficiency is so much greater. The app speeds the time and accuracy it takes for the best located guns to hit a target - just as Uber speeds a ride hail car to a waiting customer, albeit with more lethal outcomes. JL 

Daily Kos reports:

NATO simply doesn’t have enough available guns to get Ukraine anywhere near the 1,000 it wants. (But) Ukraine has its “Uber for artillery” app called Krapiva. Rather than routing targeting through units and their fire direction people, drones or human spotters punch in the coordinates and the app determines which guns are most efficiently located to handle the fire mission. The time required to deploy a howitzer battery has been reduced by a factor of 5, to 3 minutes. (And) new [NATO 155 mm] shells are more effective than Soviet equivalents (so) consumption is lower. Ukrainian troops are under relentless artillery. But  Russian and proxy forces are taking heavy casualties from accurate Ukrainian artilleryI’ve been writing about perspective on how hard it is to ship, to use, to maintain, and to supply complex Western weapons systems. Those are all real challenges, yet there is another, perhaps bigger one: the amount of equipment Ukraine is demanding simply don’t exist.

Oh boy. The United Kingdom’s entire tank force is 227 tanks. Germany has 266 total. France has 222. The United States has lots. 5,000 in active service, 3,000 in reserve. But maintaining and supplying those to Ukraine would be as difficult as aircraft—American tanks literally use jet engines, and mileage is around 3 gallons per mile (not a typo). Getting regular fuel to the front lines is hard enough. Adding jet fuel to the logistical requirements for such a thirsty vehicle would be nearly impossible, particularly as Ukraine prepares to field another thirsty weapons system—HIMARS rocket artillery (each pod with six rockets weighs 2.5 tons, and they’ll have to ship thousands to the front lines). 

Let’s focus on artillery. Retired general Mark Hertling explains the problems in this thread. Yes, he talks about training and logistics. But there’s this: 

Got that? The entire active U.S. Army has 330 artillery pieces (M777 and M109 self-propelled guns). Ukraine is asking for 1,500. 

Now, the National Guard has artillery as well. And the U.S. Marine Corps had 481 M777s—the source of the 108 guns Ukraine has gotten from the United States. Presumably, Ukraine will get more of those. But the United States, like all NATO countries, depend less on ground forces, and more on air power. And Western air power, for reasons we’ve discussed extensively, is not going to find its way to Ukraine for a long time. 

France has sent 12 Caesar self-propelled artillery guns (SPG), and their superior range and power has gotten rave reviews. But France only had a total of 72. The similarly well regarded German Panzerhaubitze 2000 SPG is similarly restricted—the Dutch are sending 12 … of its total 35. Germany has sent seven of its 108, with hope that more will be sent. Ukraine has gotten 18 Polisk Crab SPGs, out of Poland’s fleet of 80.

Even if these European allies step up their commitments, NATO simply doesn’t have enough available guns to get Ukraine anywhere near the 1,000 it wants. NATO might be well-equipped enough to handle a Russian invasion thanks to its air power (and nukes), but it simply doesn’t have the heavy equipment available to donate to another country facing that invasion. Their land armies (outside of the United States) have been exposed as hollowed-out as Russia’s. As a popular meme says, “Russia is about to find out why America doesn’t have universal health care.” Europe made a decision we wish we had made, spending more on social services than their militaries. Ukraine is now facing the consequences of those decisions. 

The disparity is even wider with rocket artillery. And yet it’s clear that Ukraine doesn’t need to have gun parity with Russia to have a similar effect. Take a look at NASA FIRES data, superimposed over Russia’s territorial control map, courtesy of George Barros, of the Institute for the Study of War:


There’s no doubt Russia is raining shells on Ukrainian defenses on the main contact points in the eastern Donbas front. But look at all the red dots in Russian-held territory, as Ukraine rains shells on Russian positions behind the front lines, presumably artillery locations and supply lines and depots. Furthermore, we know Ukrainian troops are under relentless artillery pressure, and estimate that they’re outgunned by that 10-1 ratio. But the Russian side complains about the same artillery pressure. This one Russian volunteer wrote extensively about his experience in Ukraine.

Here are some snippets:

Ukrainian bombs and GRADs flew into our artillery which positioned 1 kilometer away from us. They also hit the 2nd company which was bigger than ours and more combat-ready [...]

All this time [Russian unit] marched under heavy mortar and artillery shelling. Dead and wounded started appearing. When we reported to our battalion commander Major Vasyura about dead and wounded, he cussed: ‘leave them and keep advancing!!!’ [...]

In May [Russia] brought the remnants of ‘Bars’ (trained reservists from all of Russia) – 14 people. They assaulted Dolgen’koye for a month and remained in the area. As I understand it, they were attached to the leadership of our wicked division. In total, 340 of them arrived to Ukraine. After a month of shelling only 57 remained. Moreover, half of the survivors were at the headquarters. Most of them were wounded. They never had a single firefight, all the losses came from Ukrainian artillery fire [...]

Ukrainian army continuously shells our positions with mortars, artillery, Tochka-U’s. I have no idea where Ukraine got so many Tochka-U’s from.

He’s not the only one that has complained about Russian and proxy forces taking heavy casualties from accurate Ukrainian artillery. Heck, we see video after video of such strikes.

Ukraine has another major weapon in its artillery toolbox—its “Uber for artillery” app called Krapiva. Rather than routing targeting missions through individual units and their fire direction people, targeting units (whether drones or human spotters) punch in the coordinates and the app determines which guns are most efficiently located to handle the fire mission. This home-grown solution dramatically increases the efficiency of the nation’s artillery forces. 

The average time required to deploy a howitzer battery has been reduced by a factor of 5 — to three minutes -; the time required to engage an unplanned target by a factor of 3, to one minute; while the time required to open counter-battery fire has been divided by 10, down to 30 seconds. In a nutshell, and combined with the systematic use of drones for fire correction, Kropyva has increased the effectiveness of Ukrainian artillery by an order of magnitude, acting as a force multiplier. 

On top of that, Ukraine’s own ministry of defense acknowledges how much more effective NATO guns are, compared to the Soviet crap they’re phasing out (and Russia is stuck with), saying “these new [NATO 155 mm] shells are more effective than their Soviet equivalents, and hence their consumption is lower.” The accuracy is ridiculous. Russia can’t pull off stuff like this, because if they could, we’d see them release the drone footage.

Finally, Ukraine is more efficient in its artillery use—it targets military targets. How much of Russia’s artillery tonnage is wasted on civilian targets in places like Kharkiv and Mykolaiv, done so out of spite and rage as opposed to any broader tactical or strategic goal? 

None of this is to say that Ukraine has enough guns. They will never have enough. The more guns it has, the quicker Russia can be rolled back, the quicker the war can end. Ukraine needs as many as possible. But no, they’re not going to get 1,000 howitzers and 500 rocket artillery. That would empty out all of its Western allies’ artillery stocks, and none of them—out of their own national security concerns—are going to disarm to that degree. But if Ukraine can already create this much havoc with the guns it currently has, another 100-200 Western guns and rocket artillery should make a dramatic difference on the battlefield. 


Ukraine has hit a wall in Kharkiv—the closer it gets to the Russian border, the more exposed its forces are to artillery from inside Russian territory, where they sit safe and well-supplied. 

Ukraine’s best artillery is at the Donbas front, and without it, it doesn’t have the range to hit Russian batteries on the other side of the border. What this means is that a strip of territory on the Ukrainian side of the border has become no-man’s land. If Ukraine can take Lyptsi, 20 kms north of Kharkiv, it would finally push most of Russian artillery out of range of the city, and put an end to the hate-shelling from which it suffers. 


Over the weekend, a pro-Ukraine Twitter account claimed two towns west of Izyum, Zavody and Spivakivka, had been liberated by Ukraine. Seemed too good to be true. But today additional sources confirmed, including a Ukrainian war journalist. Satellite imagery also confirm the presence of battle. There are a reported 20 Russian battalion tactical groups (BTG) in the area. As we often note, that is a gibberish measure, since Russia’s BTGs are woefully understrength. But if nothing else, that number suggests that 1/5th of Russia’s entire combat power is in that area, and its sputtering efforts to advance into the Donbas will take a hit with its western flanks under pressure. 

Ukrainian forces are threatening the Izyum pocket from the west. 


Status quo—Ukrainan troops hole up at an industrial plant on the city’s northwestern quadrant, giving Russia “control” of 80% of the town. But the city center is no-man’s land, any Russian sticks his head out gets shelled to oblivion. Ukraine has artillery in the high ground of Lysychansk, next door across a river, that can reach into the city and far into Russia’s rear. Russia managed to destroy a Ukrainian M777 in town, which shows that Ukraine has committed its best guns to the city’s defense. At night, Ukrainian forces spread out from their hideout fortress, create havoc, then retreat at first light. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Russia had left one bridge to Lysychansk standing, hoping Ukraine would retreat and surrender the city. Given Ukraine’s stubbornness, Russia finally destroyed that bridge and claimed Ukraine surrounded. However, river levels are low, allowing for individuals to swim across, and presumably supplies can be easily barged across. Any Ukrainian heavy equipment left in Severodonetsk is likely lost for good, however. 


Russia’s gains in the Popasna salient, south of Lysychansk, have slowed to a crawl—victims of both their inability to sustain supply lines and Ukrainian artillery. Some pro-Ukrainian sources even claimed Ukraine pushed back Russian forces several kilometers from a key highway connecting Lysychansk to Bakhmut. 

Ukrainian forces in this area are likely facing the worst of Russia’s artillery fury. If you look at the NASA fires map at the top of this post, Ukrainian artillery is concentrated in Russian territory within range of Severodonetsk. You see much less of that in Russian territory around Popasna. 


The fog of war is thick here. Ukrainian forces reportedly are advancing slowly. Some claim Ukraine is now with 10 kms of Kherson, but nothing even remotely official confirms it. NASA FIRMS fire imagery certainly doesn’t show any combat that close to Kherson, so I don't buy it. But Ukraine is pushing from three different places on this front, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy even claimed several communities were liberated in this evening video address (though no specifics were given). 

It’s clear, overall, that Ukraine either can’t or won’t engage in a fully committed massed counter-offensive. It prefers to poke and prod in various places until Russian lines give somewhere, consolidates that territory, then resumes the poking and prodding. It’s slow going, but just like Russia, any massing of troops are subject to withering artillery barrage. Thus, just like Russia, Ukraine chips away at the margins, maintaining pressure, hoping for an eventual breakthrough. Ukraine needs their new heavy brigades to come online. 

Where would you send them? 

Kharkiv—The Kharkiv news above suggests Ukrainian General Staff will focus their best efforts and equipment elsewhere. It’s just too hard to deal with Russian artillery across the border. Still, would be great to take out key supply hubs to its east. 

Kherson—The most significant city under Russian control. Liberate Kherson, and Russia’s entire Novorossiya (New Russia) dream, connecting the Russian mainland all the way through Odesa to Transnistria, crashes and burns. Kherson also opens up lines of attack toward Crimea proper, and Melitopol and Mariupol to the east. And let’s not forget Crimea’s water supply in nearby Nova Kakhovka. 

Popasna—Russia’s ambitious goals to encircle the entire Donbas region are long dead. But retaking Popasna would shatter Russia modest goals to encircle Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Given the importance Ukraine is placing on defending that pocket, eliminating the Popasna threat would go a long way toward securing that territory. 

Izyum—Same as Popasna, but from the other direction. I know people (including Russia) think this pocket can threaten Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, two legitimately strategic Ukrainian strongholds in the Donbas, but no way their supply lines hold over that distance, not with their western flanks full exposed. Liberating Izyum would eliminate a significant chunk or Russia’s combat power in a location where it can't mass its artillery as effectively. 

Melitopol—It would be fun to see Ukraine push down from Zaporizhia to Melitopol, the center of Ukraine’s fiercest partisan resistance movement. Taking the city would cut Russian supply lines from Crimea to the south Donbas front. However, that front has been under-resourced by Russia since the fall of Mariupol, putting far less pressure on Ukrainian defenders holding the line. 

If it was me, I’d be looking at Kherson. It would truly f’ up Russia’s plans to annex that region with a sham referendum. But Ukraine will likely prioritize artillery coverage for the Donbas front, and only make a serious move toward Kherson once it has excess artillery to devote to the effort. But that’s a guess. Russia’s moves to stage a sham referendum to annex Kherson might adjust Ukrainian priorities.


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