The United Kingdom (UK) will reportedly send thirty AS90 155mm self-propelled artillery guns (SPG) to Ukraine. This would make it the fifth type of artillery platform to be sent to Ukraine after the American M777 lightweight howitzer, France’s 155mm 52 calibers Caesar SPG, the Polish 155mm AHS KRAB SPG, and Germany’s Panzerhaubitze (PzH) 2000 SPG.
Experts, however, note that the AS90 system is unlikely to withstand Russian kamikaze drone attacks because of its light armor. It will also add a critical system familiarity component to Ukraine’s diverse range of Western systems for an army that traditionally used Soviet-era Russian equipment.
Also, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak put the number of Challenger-2 tanks at fourteen.
The UK’s Mirror also claimed the UK MoD had approved sending four Apache attack helicopters to Ukraine, a report the MoD later categorically denied. The Apache report page is unavailable and appears to have been taken down.
Arming Ukraine Takes Precedence Over Dwindling Military Stockpile
By 2020, the UK MoD declared it was looking to replace the AS90, 179 of which were initially built for the British Army. Its numbers dropped to 134 in 2008 and 117 by 2015, with no reports of a replacement, SPG development, or procurement.
Between 2008 and 2009, its electronic system was upgraded as a part of a capability enhancement program.
According to the UK Defense Journal, the UK has only 117 AS90 SPGs left, meaning the 20 systems allowed to transfer to Ukraine account for 25% of the inventory. It was first produced in the late 1980s.
Operated by six crew persons, the AS90 is fitted with a 155mm 39 caliber barrel able to fire various shells, particularly the M982 Excalibur round. This is a precision-guided extended-range artillery projectile developed by the United States that uses GPS navigation to hit targets at ranges up to 40 kilometers (25 miles).
It carries 48 projectiles and charges in the turret, of which 31 are stowed in the bustle in four magazine modules. Each has a motor that moves the required projectile to the correct position.
But any chances of a dramatic strategic turnaround in the battlefield are unlikely and will only complicate Russia’s thrust to take the last remaining pockets in the east and south.
Ukraine used the German SPG to fire more than 100 shells a day, stipulated as “high intensity” use by the Bundeswehr (German Army), causing persistent snags. It also employed special ammunition for hitting long-range targets, straining its loading mechanism.
UK Takes Lead In Arming Ukraine
A statement on the UK government’s main website outlined the diplomatic and military rationale behind the AS90 and Challenger-2 transfer.
“UK defense and security officials believe a window has opened up where Russia is on the backfoot due to resupply issues and plummeting morale. The Prime Minister is therefore encouraging allies to deploy their planned support for 2023,” the statement said.
Mentioning the 30 AS90 and 14 Challenger-2 tanks, the statement added that the UK will “begin training the Ukrainian Armed Forces to use the tanks and guns in the coming days, as part of wider UK efforts which have seen thousands of Ukrainian troops trained in the UK over the last six months.”
The statement also said the UK’s Defense Secretary would visit Estonia and Germany to “work with NATO allies and other international partners.” At the same time, the Foreign Secretary would head to the United States and Canada to “discuss closer coordination on international sanctions.”
Announcing the diplomatic moves and specifying the number of Challenger-2 tanks (14) appears to be increasing pressure on Germany to send Leopard-2 tanks.
German Leopard-2 main battle tanks (MBT) are used by around 13 European countries and need sanction from Berlin for their resale and transfer. While the German leadership has hinted it is willing to allow the same, no formal, explicit declaration is needed to kickstart the administrative and logistical process.
It is the Leopard-2 that has been touted to be capable of taking on the Russian armor consisting of T-72B3 and T-90M MBTs, the latter being its second-most modern platform after the T-14 Armata.
The official acknowledgment of training Ukrainian troops supports President Vladimir Putin’s claim about Russia fighting the “collective West” and not just Ukraine, implying his country has been demonized as the aggressor and has long been a victim of unprovoked Western military and strategic containment.
Russia has also maintained that Western (primarily American and British) military experts have been unofficially present on the ground, training the Ukrainian military since the beginning of the war. This is apart from the several dozen private volunteers who have fought and been killed alongside Ukrainian ground infantry.
Following the attack by unmanned surface vessels (USV) on the Russian navy fleet at Sevastopol in Crimea in late October last year, which Russia described as a “terrorist” strike, it accused UK military specialists of having trained Ukraine’s 73rd Marine Special Operations Center at Ochakov in Mykolaiv.
The UK had previously supplied thousands of NLAW anti-tank missiles, which destroyed a large number of Russian armor and heavy vehicles in the initial days of the war.
A substantial number of NLAWs were also captured by Russia, which Russian defense commentators said would be given to the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LDPR).