Ukraine Situation Report: M109 Paladins Are Proving Too Wily For Russian Gunners

U.S.-donated M109 A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers have played a big role in Ukraine’s counteroffensive push south in the Robotyne-Verbove salient, according to the front line troops. The Paladin’s ability to rapidly reposition after firing has made them a vexing challenge for Russian artillery troops.

Members of Ukraine’s 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which has taken part in the heaviest fighting in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, say the Paladins, along with donated Leopard 2A6 tanks, have helped their forces breach Russia’s dense defensive lines.

The U.S. promised Ukraine 18 Paladins in January. Ukraine has also receive them from Italy, Lativa, Norway and the U.K. in a private purchase arrangement.

Though the Paladin can fire standard 155mm howitzer shells with a range up to 24 kilometers, the Ukrainians are using the weapons to hit targets at less than 10 km, according to members of the 47th, in an interview with Ukraine’s United24 Media news outlet.

With its ability to hit targets and move away before the Russians could return fire, the Paladins played a significant role in the liberation of Robotyne, according to the brigade.

The Paladins fired between 50 and 100 rounds per day, often using U.S. donated cluster muntions.

“When the infantry needs help, there’s no room for economy,” United24 reported.

The assessment about the Paladins’ mobility largely concurs with one we reported on last week that was made by Russian Duma member Andrey Gurulev.

On Friday, Gurulev said on his Telegram channel that Ukrainian forces “have switched to squeeze-out tactics, they are massively using cluster shells, inflicting fire on the strong points of our units and assault groups. They have a lot of ammunition, they are trying to burn out absolutely everything.”

While it has improved its counter-battery warfare, with some positive results, Russian artillery is no match for the range and maneuverability of Ukrainian fires, in particular the Paladins which are far more nimble than towed artillery, Gurulev added at the time. From our report:

“Basically, all of [Ukraine’s] guns are installed in depth at a distance inaccessible to our artillery. An estimated two artillery brigades were concentrated in the ‘hottest’ directions, not counting the artillery of local brigades. We burned a lot of their towed artillery, they switched to using self-propelled guns. Our people say that it is very difficult, almost impossible, to catch them; after the second sighting shot they move and change position.”

The Leopards, meanwhile, are used to cover troops advancing in Bradley Fighting Vehicles through “Russia’s most advanced and complex layered defenses,” according to Vitaliy, a tank commander with the 47th who says he has survived anti-tank guided missiles, loitering munitions and mines. Compared to the Soviet-era T-72 tanks Vitaliy was used to before, the Leopard is “superior in speed, accuracy, sight capabilities and armor.”

Though the counteroffensive may not be proceeding as swiftly as some had hoped, it appears that the donated armor is giving Ukraine an edge.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, Ukraine says its continuing successful operations near Bakhmut and in Zaporizhzhia Oblast while the Russians claim to be pushing Ukrainian forces back.

After capturing the small nearby towns of Andriivka and Klischiivka over the past days “fierce fighting continues in the Bakhmut area,” Commander of the Ground Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said Monday, according to the Telegram channel of the Ukrainian Military Media Center. “After losing the settlements of Andriivka and Klishchiivka last week, the enemy is conducting numerous counterattacks from different directions, unsuccessfully trying to regain lost positions. After all, these small, at first glance, settlements were important elements of the enemy’s defensive line, which stretched from Bakhmut to Horlivka.”

As a result “of the successful actions of our troops, the enemy’s defense line was breached, which he tried to close, throwing all available reserves into battle,” Syrskyi said. “In the battles in the Bakhmut direction, some of the most prepared and best units of the enemy – 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, 31st and 83rd Separate Amphibious Assault Brigades – were defeated and completely disabled,” he said.

However, the situation in the eastern direction “remains difficult,” Syrskyi said. “The enemy does not abandon his intentions to resume offensive actions in the Kupiansk and Lyman directions, for which he is actively preparing.”

The Russian Defense Ministry did not specifically dispute Syrskyi’s claims, but said that its aviation and artillery forces “repelled six enemy attacks near Klischiivka” and other area villages. The attacks killed “up to 255 Ukrainian personnel” and destroyed several armored vehicles. 

On the Zaporizhzhia section of the front, Ukraine is continuing to make advances, according to former Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar (more about her status later in this story).

“In the south, we continue to conduct an offensive operation in the direction of Melitopol. There is success in the area south and east of Robotyn. Ours are now anchored there on the achieved borders.”

In its latest assessment posted on social media, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) concurred.

“Ukraine continues to advance in western Zaporizhzhia,” ISW said. “Geolocated footage from 18 SEP showing Russian assaults on Ukrainian positions west of Verbove shows that Ukrainian forces have made further advances toward that settlement.”

The Russian MoD again did not dispute this, but said “coordinated efforts of [Russian troops] in combination with air strikes, artillery fire, and heavy flame-throwing systems defeated a cluster of manpower and hardware of the 71st Jaeger Brigade near Verbove.  Up to 55 Ukrainian troops, two armored fighting vehicles, three pick-up trucks, two D-30 howitzers, one U.S.-made M119 gun, as well as one AN/TPQ-50 counter-battery radar station have been eliminated.”

In addition to gaining ground and breaching into the second of Russia’s three dense defensive lines, the counteroffensive push in the Robotyne-Verbove sector of Zaporizhzhia Oblast appears to be forcing Russia to use elite troops as reinforcements.

Over the past two weeks, Russia has likely further reinforced 58th Combined Arms Army defending that sector with additional VDV airborne units, the U.K. Defense Ministry said in its latest assessment.

At least five VDV regiments of the 7th and 76th divisions “are now likely concentrated within several kilometers of the frontline village of Robotyne,” U.K.’s MoD said. “At full strength, such a force should constitute around 10,000 elite paratroopers. However, almost all units are highly likely dramatically under strength.”

Moving that many paratroopers to backfill battlefield losses is not likely to go over well with the VDV leadership, the U.K. MoD noted.

“Throughout the war, Russian commanders have attempted to regenerate the airborne forces as a highly mobile, striking force for offensive operations. Once again, they are being used as line infantry to augment over-stretched ground forces.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky landed in New York today ahead of a busy few days in the U.S.

Zelensky will attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York City on Tuesday, then heads to Washington D.C. to meet with President Joe Biden and congressional leaders later in the week, according to the New York Times.

Zelensky is expected to continue his requests for more military aid as the counteroffensive grinds on with incremental success at high cost. Likely to be on the agenda is an effort to convince Biden to provide Ukraine with U.S.-produced Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missiles.

“Upon my arrival at the airport, I will immediately visit our soldiers who are receiving treatment and rehabilitation in America,” Zelensky said, according to the United24 MediaTelegram channel. “My first priority is to offer support to our people and express gratitude to those who are aiding Ukraine and Ukrainians.”

In Washington, “I have negotiations planned with the President of the United States, as well as meetings with congressional leaders and representatives from various parties. I will also engage with military leadership, American businesses, journalists, and the Ukrainian community. I extend my heartfelt thanks for the leadership of the United States in supporting our struggle for freedom and independence.”

One of the Ukrainian military’s most prominent voices was fired Monday in a major Defense Ministry shakeup in which all six deputy defense ministers were cashiered.

Hanna Maliar, upon whom many media outlets, including The War Zone, relied for updates on Kyiv’s military operations, and the other five deputy defense ministers dismissed hours before Zelensky’s arrival in the U.S.

The announcement, made on a government Telegram channel, did not give a reason for the action, which comes two after former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was fired.

Under Ukraine’s Law on Executive Bodies, when a minister is dismissed, the first deputy minister and deputy ministers are dismissed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Citing “high-level sources in the Ukrainian government,” Ukrainian Pravda reported Monday that “all the deputy ministers resigned voluntarily at newly-appointed defense minister Rustem Umierov’s request and will not be going back to their positions. Consultations are currently underway on candidates for the post of deputy defense minister.”

Germany is sending Ukraine 20 more Marder armored vehicles as part of its latest tranche of aid to Ukraine.

In addition to the Marders, which bring the total to 60, Germany is also providing an additional 3,000 155mm artillery rounds, two more WISENT 1 mine-clearing vehicles, unspecified explosive ordnance explosives material, one SATCOM surveillance system, 20 more RQ-35 HEIDRUN drones, two more mobile antenna mast systems, 10 more unspecified drone detection systems, 1.5 million more rounds of small arms ammunition, three ambulances and several trucks.

Ukraine has received a U-Haul-sized 3D printer to help it sustain its military equipment, the Pentagon’s top arms buyer said last week at a think-tank event in Washigton D.C.

“Ukrainians were initially 3D printing their own parts before they even had the tech data packages,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante said during a Center for New American Security (CNAS) virtual meeting. 

In addition to receiving the tech data, Ukraine received industrial-sized 3D printers, LaPlante said.

“Then we just finally last month we got them these industrial-size 3D printers into country. And this last week, we trained them on it … I mean, we’re talking like a truck size that the Ukrainians have finished training on. It’s going right in theater and they’re printing all their repair parts. You know, I mean, it’s just remarkable what they’re doing and it’s changing the ballgame, of course,” he said.

The 3D printer equipment is about the size of a U-Haul, according to LaPlante. One could imagine major airframe and hull components for drones could be produced by these systems, as well.

Video has emerged purporting to be the first to show the Vulcano guided 155mm artillery shells in service with Ukraine. The video shows a Ukrainian soldier in a German-donated PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzer loading and firing one of the munitions. A joint development of Leonardo and Diehl Defense, the Vulcano’s are said to have a range of 70 km and can be guided either by GPS or laser designator.

We often see videos of First Person Video drones striking targets on both sides. This video below purports to show what it is like on the receiving end of such an attack. The video opens with apparently wounded Russian troops in a vehicle. There is a flash, followed by a small explosion, after which the Russians exit the vehicle and run through the woods.

A couple of Russian 2S9 Nona air-droppable self-propelled mortars are seen in this video below being destroyed by Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) munitions fired by the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) provided to Ukraine.

Russian milbloggers say a Ukrainian weapons warehouse in the Krasny-Liman area of Donetsk Oblast was destroyed by a FAB-500M-62 winged glide bomb dropped by an Su-34 Fullback fighter-bomber.

Even on the technologically advanced battlefield of Ukraine, officials in that country are turning to an age-old concept to help troops make the distinction between friendly and unfriendly drones. Drone recognition silhouette cards – a throwback to those used during World War II to help spot German and Japanese aircraft – have been developed to help Ukrainian troops tell the difference between friendly and enemy drones.

Drone recognition silhouette cards. (Aerohub Telegram image)

And finally, this Russian recruiting exudes immense confidence, in which soldiers in a trench discuss Ukrainian real estate, with one saying he wants to move to Kyiv’s posh Pechersk neighborhood after it’s captured.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

Contact the author:

Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.