In the Ukrainian army, Soviet-era artillery bows out

MYKOLAIV: Lurking in a gulley in a Ukrainian forest grove, the ageing Soviet-era Akatsiya 2S3 howitzer may be advanced in years but is not being retired just yet.

Ukraine’s army prefers more efficient Western weapons, but it was forced to deploy whatever it had when the war started, mostly older stock.

Built in 1986 and nicknamed “Lastochka” (“The Swallow”) by its crew, a set of tools on the howitzer’s roof indicates that repairs are often required.

“To make it go from second to third gear, you have to give it a hammer blow or slap it,” Sergiy, 26, said with a smile, clapping loudly for effect.

In contrast, more modern Western artillery locks its targets by computer, and then shoots, gaining precious time to avoid a retaliation strike.

“We will be remembered as the last to have used these systems,” said an officer nicknamed “Baniet” (“Bayonet”).

In Ukraine, the army “makes do with what it has”, even if it prefers Western equipment “with more computers”, he said.

“Every Lada owner would be delighted to have a Mercedes,” he added, referring jokingly to the Akatsiya 2S3 and comparing it to the ubiquitous Soviet-era passenger car.

These “Lada” also cede 10 kilometres or more of range to more sophisticated Western equipment, and fall even further short in terms of precision.

Their strikes land “within a radius of 200 to 300 metres” from the target, compared to five metres for a modern guided shell, according to Pierre Grasser, a Paris-based expert on Russian defence.