Foreign Policy Blogs

The Modernisation of Old Artillery


A picture of severely damaged Russian Il-22 command aircraft at Anapa Airport. – Giorgi Revishvili on – Jan 15 2024.


The Russia-Ukraine War was never going to become a one off, short term, easily achievable event. Ukraine was equipped, trained and armed to be the defense line for the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and every aspect of their defence network and training was created to repel similar attacks like those that traumatised the Soviets during the Second World War. While many of us in the West were discovering home computers and Nintendo, Soviet engineers were designing defensive surface to air weapons and missiles and producing ever more accurate artillery systems that could be used by any Soviet citizen with little training. When Russia advanced in force into Ukraine, the conflict became one where those trained as the home guard to the Soviet Union, invaded those trained to defend the territory from such an advance. Years later, the conflict is still progressing with old technology being aided by new technology, and old equipment being refurbished from as far back as the 1960s in order to achieve modern objectives. Both sides are in a race to obtain as many artillery shells as possible, while dedicating their advanced missile systems towards specialised targets.

Russia has recently taken to creating additional artillery units out of two unique weapons systems from the early 80s Cold War era. Russia has taken their 203mm artillery system, the 2S7 Pion and advanced the systems on the battlefield. One of the world’s largest mortar systems, the 240mm 2S4 Tulypan is also being increasingly advanced into greater service along with the 2S7 Pion in an apparent effort to saturate targets with some of the largest shells used in conflict to date. Speculation has risen to the strategy behind specifically using and promoting these two older system, where the 122mm 2S1 and 152mm 2S3 and 2S19 are likely compatible with foreign sourced North Korean and Chinese ammo replacing Russian artillery stockpiles. While both Ukraine and Russia use the 2S7 Pion and perhaps the 2S4 Tulypan, extended use of these systems, with their unique long barrels and high pressure ammunition, wear out the barrels after a certain number of shots. Older equipment is often used to source replacements that are no longer being manufactured, so it was thought that any of these systems in storage were being used as barrel replacements for active units. With modern targeting using drone technology and advanced mapping systems, older systems have been able to achieve a more accurate and timely firing solution, and with the enormous shells being used by these two veteran systems, the effectiveness is greatly improved.

My suspicion is that since North Korea and China do not possess either of these systems, and that 122mm and 152mm shells are being depleted rapidly, both the 2S7 and 2S4 have been advanced into battle as their unique ammunition is still present for those specific systems. While putting out a message of strength that two of the largest calibre systems are advancing to the front, the possible shortage of the more common 122mm and 152mm ammo may have lead to the decision to use up whatever 203mm and 240mm mortar shells exist in their inventory until the Pions and Tulypans use up all remaining stocks or all remaining barrels. The confusing count on the number of such systems in active duty and in storage from just two years ago may be a sign of this show of strength strategy in 2024.

While Russia has taken great strides in promoting an image of strength in their conflict in Ukraine, the loss of two important strategic assets to unidentified missile systems has sparked great interest by those on both sides of the conflict. Recently a IL-22M was severely damaged by at least one missile, and an A-50 Mainstay AWACS type aircraft was shot down around the Sea of Azov, some distance from the front line. This version of the IL-22 was used to coordinate ground forces in the region, while the A-50 operated as an AWACS system, coordinating air and anti-air assets in the region using its extended radar system and communications network with all forces in the area. While the IL-22M was able to land with causalities, the valuable A-50 was lost, and with no easily accessed means to eject from the large A-50 aircraft, the crew was likely lost as well. Some speculation was that this was a friendly fire incident, but with the A-50 being one of the main sources of communications and command for any missiles fired in the area, this is not likely the case. In the case of an anti-air systems targeting either aircraft, systems such as the TOR and BUK operate in a network where each unit has a tracking and targeting radar in each unit or nearby, married to a local command post that is linked to a regional command post that is further linked to higher command units that likely involve at least the A-50, if not the IL-22M as well. Incidents like that of Iran’s shooting down of Flight 752 using two TOR-M1 missiles likely also would not be an accident due to the high level of integration and command over all units and each unit having a high level of information available to them when operating the site via their two TOR radars and shared information. With little information made available, a picture of the tail of the IL-22M has been made public, showing damaged that appears to be fragments from a missile strike similar to damage seen on the remains of Flight 752.

The loss of these two valuable and limited assets in the air will reduce information available to Russian forces on possible aircraft and missiles entering their secured zone. With so many advanced air defence systems in the region, aircraft have not been used in great numbers by either side, with cruise missiles and drones taking their place so far in the conflict. In any such scenario, the radars are usually the first targets as it can eliminate or incapacitate a firing unit from finding their targets. As seen in Yemen recently and during the Iraq War, radars are target number one before any coordinated advance can take shape during a conflict.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration