LONDON — Britain’s defence secretary says allies must move quickly to supply Ukraine with heavy artillery capable of at least matching Russia.
“The race is on to equip Ukraine with the same long-range capability that Russia has so they are not outranged and indeed pinned down,” Ben Wallace told Parliamentarians April 25.
“The next three weeks are key,” he added. “Ukraine needs more long-range artillery and ammunition, and both Russian and NATO caliber types to accompany them. It also seeks anti-ship missiles to counter Russian ships that are able to bombard Ukrainian cities.”
Analysts, including the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank here, have for some time acknowledged Russia has a distinct advantage in artillery capabilities.
Wallace denied weekend media reports claiming the government was sending British Army AS90 tracked 155mm howitzers, but did say consideration was being given to dispatching Army 105mm towed light guns to Ukraine.
Responding to questions from lawmakers, Wallace said the main artillery effort initially centered on procuring Russian equipment, but now has extended to highly mobile Western 155mm weapons.
“We first and foremost started with sourcing around the world 152mm Soviet caliber [weapons] so [Ukraine] can keep going with that and, in parallel, exploring with a number of other nations either 105mm, our main lightweight guns, and the 155mm in more mobile versions than the big armored AS90,” he said.
“One of the things this modern battlefield is showing is you had better move quickly once you have fired your guns because you can be found very quickly by pretty cheap off-the-shelf UAVs,” Wallace added.
Canada, France and the U.S. have all agreed recently to arm the Ukrainians with modern towed or truck-mounted howitzer artillery systems.
The Ukrainian defense ministry said Monday it was already receiving 155mm cannons from the U.S. and other partners, and the Financial Times reported the Ukrainians as saying the weapons would “fundamentally” change the course of the war.
Wallace’s howitzer remarks may have some impact at home, as the British are in the early stages of a competition to replace the aging AS90 in a program known as the Mobile Fires Platform.
The competition is likely to put tracked vehicles like Hanwha’s K9A2 , already purchased by Poland, against wheeled rivals like the Boxer 8x8 RCH 155mm weapon.
One industry executive here said an early lesson for the British from Ukraine is that it might be preferable to have a mixed wheeled and tracked fleet to cover a range of terrain and mobility requirements .
Aside from efforts to improve artillery firepower, Wallace detailed the extent of British military supplies to the Ukraine. Included in the list are 5361 NLAW anti-tank missiles — 1,000 delivered last week alone, 200 Javelin missiles, armored logistics vehicles, night vision goggles and anti-air missiles. The British said they had also sourced anti-ship weapons, anti-structure munitions and loitering munitions.
Wallace said the Treasury has agreed to foot the bill to replace weapons sent to the Ukraine, and rebuilding weapons stocks for the British military is already underway.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.