Ukraine: Krab Howitzers Still In the Spotlight
The counteroffensive launched by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, taking place in several areas along the frontline, with fighting going on aimed at recovering parts of Ukraine captured by Russia, is largely supported by equipment supplied by Poland. Although numerous reports were published initially, on the use and effect that the equipment above had, since some time now it has been increasingly more difficult to stumble upon data on such matters. But accurate data as such does exist.
This is why it is worth noting, that some materials have been published by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, highlighting one peculiar feature of the Polish 155 mm Krab self-propelled howitzers. And that feature, as the Defense Express reports, makes it challenging to capture epic photos with the guns spitting fire. As the author of the article notes, that feature demonstrates a tangible advantage that the NATO artillery systems have, over the Soviet-made assets. The Press Officers of the Ukrainian 26th Artillery Brigade operating the Polish 155 mm Krab self-propelled howitzers have published a set of photos portraying the specific nature of the use of the Krab systems by the Ukrainian soldiers. As the Ukrainian outlet notes, the following excerpt may be the most interesting one: working with foreign assets, photos showing a dragon's breath coming out of the barrel when the projectile leaves it are a thing of the past - that fire simply does not exist. Different gunpowder, different principle of operation, the Ukrainians explain.
At the same time, what has been emphasized by the author of the report, the discrete nature of the operation of the NATO artillery assets, used against the Russian aggressors for a few months now, goes hand in hand with the mighty power of the propelling charges used with the NATO 155 mm artillery shells - and that mightiness shows, the aggressor also feels the advantage of the capabilities provided by the new munitions. The Ukrainians have illustrated that by an example - when they have been recording activities conducted by Soviet-made self-propelled artillery pieces, the wife of the photographer capturing the imagery did not keep a safe distance, between her and the gun. The energy of gases and the powerful explosion of the propelling charges made the woman feel sick during the night after the incident, while the soldiers were considering sending them off to a hospital.
This would not be possible with the Polish Krab. The projectile leaves the barrel as delicately as it possibly could. I even thought I was wearing hearing protection, one of the artillerymen reports on the difference. Krab is incredibly difficult to detect, and resilient to any counter-battery fire, as the munitions utilize the latest generation of smokeless powders, a better bore evacuator and muzzle device, and the fact that less than 30 seconds is needed to leave the firing position after the last shot is fired.
Poland delivered 18 Krab howitzers to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, during the first phase of the defensive war effort Ukraine began to push away the Russians. To do that, readymade HSW products already commissioned in the Polish Armed Forces' artillery units were used. We do not know exactly which of the Polish artillery units operating the Regina/Krab systems have handed off their equipment to take part in the Ukrainian defensive operation. In mid-2023 Ukraine placed a USD 3 bn. commercial order at HSW, willing to procure a batch of 155 mm Krab self-propelled howitzers, most probably 54 fire units. This equals 3 Ukrainian artillery squadrons. In the Polish Armed Forces a single self-propelled artillery squadron consists of 24, not 18 vehicles, and a corresponding number of WD/WDSz command vehicles, ammunition carriers, and support/repair vehicles. The Polish PM, the Minister of Economy, and the head of the Polish Ministry of Defence have jointly agreed that this has been the biggest export deal for the Polish defence industry, in 30 years.
The "Ukrainian" Krab delivery contract obliges the Poles to deliver the procured equipment within 24 months from the contract conclusion - by mid-2024. This would mean that HSW S.A. will be manufacturing at least 26-27 Krab howitzers per annum. One should note that so far the Polish Ministry of Defence has been ordering 2 batteries per annum - 16 guns. Let us add that recommendation for an increase in the Krab order volume on the Polish side, and the recommendation for investment in the manufacturing capacity existed since 2017. Back then, the Strategic Defence Review was unveiled, mentioning a necessity to procure around 500 Krab howitzers. Up until recently, no steps were being made in that direction. In September this year, during the MSPO event, a contract has finally been signed, for the delivery of another two squadron-level fire modules with 48 howitzers. In parallel, an even greater number of K9A1/K9PL systems was acquired in South Korea.
Let us go back, however, to the Krab howitzers proving themselves in Ukraine. Apart from the Krab systems ordered by Ukraine, and following the handover of 18 guns from the Polish stockpile, further deliveries were being completed, as a part of the military aid scheme. The scope of these deliveries is officially unknown. The tempo and results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, along with the lethality of the Ukrainian artillery that neutralizes the Russian artillery, ammunition storage, or C2 facilities, are very impressive and spectacular. It could be speculated that both the famous M777 howitzers and the Polish Krab systems, have made significant contributions to the aforesaid results. The fights in Bakhmut have also seen successful use of widely proliferated T-72M/M1/M1R main battle tanks - handed over to Ukraine by Poland. Piorun MANPADS meanwhile has been successful in downing numerous Ka-52 attack helicopters.
The praises towards the discrete and covert nature of the operations undertaken by the Polish howitzers have some serious merit. Krab is capable of firing multiple NATO-compliant 155 mm ammunition types. The Ukrainian and American sources confirm that so far, the United States of America has delivered more than 1 million artillery rounds to Ukraine, this primarily refers to 155 mm rounds. Some of those munitions are most certainly employed by the Ukrainian artillerymen working on the Polish Krab howitzers. The use of modern munitions, being a generational leap when compared to the Soviet-made 152 mm artillery rounds does attract the attention of military experts and opinionmakers.
This is even more pronounced, as the praise goes hand in hand with a high rating of effectiveness, associated with the Polish-made self-propelled artillery pieces. These praises concern the short reaction times, automated command and fire control systems, flexibility when it comes to sourcing the tactical intel, firepower, range, and accuracy. One should mention the fact that the Ukrainian Armed Forces also employ the Excalibur PGMs in large quantities. Krab is one of the howitzers capable of using these rounds. The Ukrainian artillerymen claim that Krab is fast and lethal, also providing the crews with high levels of comfort. Compared to the Soviet-made self-propelled artillery systems, Krab is a modern solution, that can be effectively employed against the Russians.