WASHINGTON — U.S. Army officials overseeing long-range weaponry are urging their counterparts in Europe to link artillery capabilities with those of NATO members, as the war in Ukraine highlights the importance of the weapon.

The push comes amid a growing belief that defending the alliance rests in large part on interoperability among friendly militaries. In the case of field artillery, that means synchronizing weapons and sensors of weapons of different countries so they can engage targets as one force.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Maranian, commanding general of the U.S. Army’s 56th Artillery Command in Germany, said he and his staff have been fanning out to allies in Europe to gauge their plans and capabilities when it comes to fires, and what obstacles exist to netting the systems for greater combat punch.

“What we’re seeing from watching what’s happening to our east is fires formations are very relevant in 2022 and in the future,” the said this week at the annual convention of the Association of the United States Army in Washington. As a result, he added, nations want to invest in modernized artillery.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has featured long-range fires as key element of combat since 2014, when Moscow’s forces established a front line in the Donbas region following the annexation of Crimea. The full-scale invasion in February 2022 saw Russia throw even more of the weapons at the front lines.

Western countries, in turn, have supported Ukraine with limited amounts of their own weapons, including HIMARS and M777 howitzers from the U.S., CAESAR guns from France, the self-propelled Krab from Poland and Panzerhaubitze 2000 from Germany and the Netherlands. Weapon stocks in Europe are low, however, and most nations have said they are sending only what they can spare while maintaining a credible national defense.

Maranian said U.S. Army officials are piggy-backing on the service’s exercise campaign in Europe to test new concepts for linking artillery forces. At this year’s iteration of the Dynamic Front drill in July, for example, participants put on a “proof of principle” to that end at the Grafenwöhr training area in Germany, he said. The event paired a U.S. artillery brigade with a multinational fires brigade comprised of 11 nations, with NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps providing command and control.

“We were able to validate the concept that you could put together formations of smaller donations from countries that don’t necessarily have a whole battalion or brigade to give,” Maranian said.

The idea now is to see how neighboring nations – ideally with the same equipment, but not necessarily – decide to form regional clusters of linked artillery on the continent, he explained. Suitable groupings could be in Scandinavia, the Baltics and the nations of south-eastern Europe, for example.

“I think that’s the way ahead: to be able to optimize the artillery that does exist in the alliance as we modernize,” said Maranian.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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