Last Monday, 8th August, Defense Express outlet has asked a question as follows: What equipment do the Ukrainian Armed Forces need to ultimately get the artillery to comply with the NATO standards? The author pays a lot of attention to the role and tactics associated with the use of the WD fire control vehicles, delivered by Poland with the Krab self-propelled howitzers - this refers to the WD/WDSz command vehicles that are an integral component of the Regina DMO (Squadron-level Fire Module) system, with Krab being at the heart of that solution.
Polish DMO elements differ in configuration from their Ukrainian counterparts. The Polish ones include 24 guns. The Ukrainian - 18 howitzers. A battery in the Regina system consists of 8 guns. The Ukrainian battery consists of 6 howitzers. The configuration of the squadron elements differs a bit, and thus no direct analogy can be drawn between the Polish and Ukrainian artillery units and the individual components of the tactical elements. Nonetheless, some matters, considered to be viewed as principles and procedures, are universal in their nature. And these are referred to by the Ukrainian outlet: "How do our "Gods of War" exchange data when the battery needs to be divided into platoons, or single guns?"
The fire control duty for six Krab systems requires two WD platforms. The fire control process goes as follows: one Krab battery features two WD vehicles. The first one is used by the battery commander, and the other, by a senior battery officer. This makes it possible, should a need as such emerge, to divide the battery into two, separate fire platoons, 3 howitzers each, resulting in the scattering of the battery into independent, autonomous howitzers, each of which would be autonomously carrying out the assigned mission. The WD commanders may transmit firing solution data via RF communications, voice communications, or text messages. The commanders have an access to a map displayed on their PCs - the map clearly shows the coordinates, bearing, or area where they should be to accomplish the task.
As noted by the author: "This management method makes it possible, in line with the NATO instructions, to keep 1 to 1.5-kilometer separation between the self-propelled guns, and to minimize the risk of an event in which the enemy can cover the whole battery at once with artillery fire, contrary to the Soviet style of artillery command, where the battery was tied to a single coordinate, with separation between the artillery pieces being as big as a maximum of 100 meters. This is why our "Gods of War" make a direct statement, claiming that the availability of the WD command vehicles allows us to reach qualitatively new heights of the effort in which our artillery is engaged when working against the Russians", the author concludes.
These statements are not new for the Polish artillerymen. During the preliminary training provided by HSW, the training curriculum includes hitting the target with the first round. Not only is a good gun, and good ammunition needed here, as above all an effective, flawless reconnaissance and fire control system are indispensable, taking into account real-time targeting data, but also precise weather data, including humidity, pressure, and wind direction and speed. This data is uploaded into the ballistic computer, allowing for reaching firing solutions as perfectly as possible, for the given set of conditions. The system used to gather and exchange information required for efficient battle management in the artillery units makes it possible for the Ukrainians to employ modern tactics and an efficient command chain, despite the scattering of the assets that remain at their disposal, across a vast terrain.
That, and the Krab's ability to rapidly reach engagement readiness, as well as the short time required to begin the change of the firing position (up to 30 seconds), makes Krab-like artillery assets a lethal tool, that is also hard to detect and become a target. Noteworthy, the Ukrainian military also operates the Polish FlyEye UAV. Krab, meanwhile, can send 3 rounds down range in 10 seconds, and run away from the firing position instantly, before the enemy firefinder radars detect the rounds, not to mention the approximation of the firing position and transfer of that data to own artillery assets.
Meanwhile, the Russian artillery school, along with the Russian methodology for conquering the cities (which we could have witnessed in Kharkiv, or the obliterated Mariupol), are still based on area coverage, with dense artillery fire with accuracy thrown out of the window, but covering a large surface area, possibly controlled by the enemy. Results: It is almost impossible to compare the use of precision artillery pieces by Ukraine (tube and rocket artillery, including HIMARS), and the tactics of overwhelming shelling employed by the Russians. Thanks to the fact that the Ukrainians were determined to rapidly grasp the knowledge required to utilize the advantages of the C2 system such as the one offered by DMO Regina, it is possible to reach high levels of lethality, with a relatively scarce use of PGMs, and limited losses in combat.
The author notes that WD looks like the Soviet MT-LB, but this is just the appearance, as all of the internal pieces of the platform have been upgraded. Even the tracks feature rubber padding and ground claws, for enhanced mobility on loose surfaces. When it comes to the fire control systems, the WD platforms feature a modern radio, computer systems, and GPS - all of which are required to assign targets to the self-propelled howitzers assigned to those C2 vehicles.
It is worth tracking the genesis of the command vehicles, to understand them well. The command and command-staff vehicles of the Regina DMO do share some genes with the MT-LB, but it is a major oversimplification to claim that they are identical. It would be more accurate to look for common ground between WD/WDSz and the PT-76 amphibious tank.
MT-LB(u) is derived from the HSW’s MT-LB artillery tractor that was being delivered to several Warsaw Pact nations, primarily to the Soviet Union. It was also being exported to the Middle East and Africa. The MT-LB originated as an artillery tractor designed for joint operations with the T-12/MT-12 anti-tank gun - it was to tow the gun and its crew of 6. Never has Poland commissioned these guns. However, a new role has been found for MT-LB, when the Polish Army decided it is not willing to adopt the platform in a role of a fast, highly mobile APC.
MT-LB(u) has been derived from the base variant and it was designed as a command vehicle for the air defence, and artillery units. It was assumed that the commonality between the MT-LB and the MT-LB(u) was to be as high as possible. Contrary to the original design, it was lengthened to 7.21 m, by adding an extra, seventh pair of wheels (analogously to the SPG-2A platform). The vehicle was 40 centimeters higher, and thus became heavier, with the weight going from 12 to 15.5 tonnes. And this also required a more powerful engine (YaMZ-238N, 300 HP). This vehicle was referred to as the "Machine" in the military.
Meanwhile, WD/WDSz have been created based on a bit different, but also similar starting platform. The above refers to the 122 mm 2S1 Gvozdika light amphibious self-propelled howitzers, manufactured by HSW in mass quantities, partially related to MT-LB. To meet the requirements defined for WD/WDSz, the lower portion of the Gvozdika's body and suspension have been used, with seven support wheels.
However, the internal portion of this “tub” also received extra ARMOX plating. It features a new powerpack as well, with the Soviet YaMZ-238W (240 HP), or the Polish SW-680T (300HP) engines being replaced by a modern 6V MTU engine (260 HP), coupled with LSG automatic gearbox. Despite the less powerful engine, the WD/WDSz vehicle weighing 2 tonnes more than Gvozdika exhibits much better mobility, on par with the performance of the Krab howitzer.
The platform also features numerous new enhancements protecting the crew from CRBN warfare and improving protection, along with a counter-explosion and fire extinguishing system, a heater unit, an APU, an extra gun station, and an Obra laser warning receiver coupled with a smoke grenade launchers system. Further enhancements include new HF/VHF radios (two/three), and modern C2 equipment including computers, software, server, terminals, phone panels, and so on. All those elements make it possible to handle data fed from reconnaissance sensors, for which the Topaz fire control system acts as a shared platform. Then that data can be transferred to the individual elements of the artillery squadron, depending on the orders, engagement taskings are fed to the level of the squadron, battery, or even a single artillery piece.
Each of the Regina DMO units includes: 24 Krab armoured 155 mm self-propelled tracked howitzers, DMO commander staff-command vehicle (WDSz), DMO chief of staff staff-command vehicle (WDSz), 3 command vehicles for the battery commander (WD), 6 command vehicles for the fire platoon commander (WD), all based on the HSW-designed and -manufactured LPG tracked platform, along with 6 ammunition carriers (WA) and 1 electronics/armament workshop vehicle (WRUE) - all based on the wheeled Jelcz platforms. It remains unclear as to how many WD/WDSz platforms are included in the Ukrainian squadron of 18 guns. The article that we refer to claims that a battery of 6 guns has 2 WD platforms at its disposal - 6 WD vehicles per squadron. It remains unclear whether at least one WD remains at the disposal of the squadron commander, with another one belonging to his deputy, as a reserve asset.
So far HSW has been using the old Gvozdika platforms to manufacture the WD/WDSz vehicles - bought from the military, as they were nearing the end of their lifecycles. HSW S.A. has been manufacturing Gvozdika systems since the mid-1990s. Not all of them - some vehicles could not have been modified, given the mechanical wear and tear, deformation, or other damage happening over several years of intense field use, during exercises, and in other circumstances. The depletion of the Gvozdika sph stockpile in Poland, as an unknown number of those was handed off to Ukraine in the recent weeks, has forced HSW to develop a new vehicle that could act in the WD/WDSz role in the Regina squadrons.
A vehicle as such, making use of state-of-the-art solutions, including a modern chassis with a hydropneumatic suspension, has already been developed, to act as a carrier for the tracked variant of the Rak 120 mm automatic mortar system. The very same platform offers enough potential for being used as the WD/WDSz platform in the Regina elements. Unless...
Unless the new developments aimed at procuring the K9 system from South Korea for the Polish artillery units, along with the command and support assets, put an end to those plans. So far the WB Group has initiated a memorandum on technical and business cooperation on 17th June, signed with the Koreans. The WB Group was represented by its President, Piotr Wojciechowski, while the South Korean company was represented by Charlie S.C. Eoh. The works would most probably be aimed at implementing the Polish Topaz FCS into the electronic systems of the K9 howitzer. Time will tell, who comes out on top...
The Ukrainian artillerymen consider WD and WDSz as valuable support for fire assets such as Krab, but they also highly value the know-how on the modern artillery tactics applied on the contemporary battlefield.
The Ukrainian sources claim, and those claims have also been verified by Polish entities dealing with that matter, that Krabs are engaged in a tough war effort in Ukraine. During the first month of their presence, they have shot more than 35 thousand shells - 2,000 per gun. This is a major piece of effort that shall also be closely examined by the Polish military decision-makers - for instance in the area of establishing a proper stock of spares, such as new barrels and other consumables on the gun. Not to mention the actual process of drafting such ammunition orders, so that the stockpile is aligned with the actual demand, not quantities defined behind a desk.
So far, until the end of July, two Krab systems have been destroyed. The circumstances in which those guns have been lost are unknown - officially. It cannot be ruled out that this stems from the wear and tear of the war and treating the OHS hazards lightly. The remains of the propelling charge, once the breech comes back before the next shell is loaded, fall into the combat compartment where - on the floor of that area, propelling charges may be stored for the next shot, not in line with manuals, and rules, but to enhance the speed and ergonomics.