Armed Forces

Ukraine: Polish 21st Century Artillery Assets Firing Cold War Munitions

Photo. DORSZ/st.chor. Waldemar Młynarczyk.

Recently we published an article on the lethality of the Polish 155 mm Krab self-propelled howitzers when these are used by the Ukrainians. Not only do the professional artillery crews have an opportunity to handle those modern, lethal guns, but the Krab systems are also operated, in multiple cases, by trained reservists, including teachers. This proves the fact that Krab is both modern, and user-friendly as well. A similar opinion was expressed by the CNN reporters working in Ukraine. The modern Topaz BMS/fire control solution makes it easy for reserve officers to overcome the training barrier related to this system.


The universal and flexible nature of the Krab's usability in convoluted circumstances of war can only be confirmed here. The Ukrainian media outlets dealing with war reporting have just disclosed information that the Polish Krab howitzers also utilize the Italian M107 munitions when in combat. This is not some special surprise. According to NATO's JBMoU (Joint Ballistics Memorandum of Understanding), and due to the technical requirements devised when Poland was working on the 155 mm artillery assets, the Krab is obliged to be able to shoot any 155 mm NATO-compliant munitions. When the Krab howitzer prototypes were tested, the condition was met, assuming that the howitzer in question would be able to fire conventional HE rounds (with base-bleed, or without it), but also modern PGMs, designed specifically to act against high-value assets or armour - at a standoff distance. This class of munitions includes rounds such as Excalibur, Bonus, and other similar systems. No formally confirmed, official data on the use of such munitions, delivered mainly by the US, in the case of Krab is available. However, the battlespace analysis in the area where the Krab is used allows us to speculate, that scenarios as such may be taking place.


Ukraine Weapons Tracker Twitter account suggests that the aforesaid M107 rounds delivered by Italy, supporting the Ukrainian war effort, have been decommissioned by the Italians, along with the M114 howitzers. This happened in the early 1990s when no one was even dreaming of the Krab self-propelled howitzer.

The M107 has been designed primarily for the US Army, and the US Marines. The deliveries began in 1959. It is a conventional HE round weighing 43.2 kilograms. It is 800 mm long and contains 15.8% of explosives. The M107 can be shot with the use of standard propelling charges at a distance of more than 13 miles. The shell disintegrates into ca. 1950 fragments, following the explosion. The M107 has been derived from the WWII M102 shell, and the M102 model is based on the French 155 mm Schneider shell designed for the Model 1917 howitzer. One may risk and state that artillery munitions used in Ukraine in 2022 have their roots dating back to the times more than 100 years ago - to late WWI.


The M107 is a separate loading munition. It is difficult to imagine otherwise.

No evidence suggests that damage taken by one of the Krab howitzers was caused by the ammunition (a few weeks back a photo of a Krab with its barrel blown off was circulated online). Certain limitations are imposed on the propelling charge power for those projectiles, with a specific shell structure and mechanical resistance specs. It cannot be ruled out that the crew did not follow the guidelines. We reiterate: no proof of the emergence of circumstances as such is known to us. Either way, the damage sustained by the howitzer was not significant enough, not to be incapacitated longer than the time required for a barrel replacement.

An analogous situation, with a necessity to diminish the quantity of propelling charges, applied to the modified 120 mm mortar rounds designed for the Rak mortar, and utilized in the platform's infancy. The shell's mechanical strength and its lack of an ability to withstand extreme pressure inside the barrel do not allow for full utilization of the Rak's capability, being the main reason for the mortar's range limitation to 7-8 km. Only after modern munitions, specifically designed for the Rak mortar made it possible for it to shoot at a distance of more than 10 kilometres.

The rounds received by Ukrainians, and that are now being sent to Russians, have all been made in the 1960s, within the framework of the US Mutual Defense Assistance Program, specifically for the Italians who, at the time, were operating the US-made M114 towed howitzers, manufactured between 1942 and 1945. These guns also saw broad combat use during the wars in Korea, and Vietnam. The howitzer in question was decommissioned in the 1990s. It was replaced by the M198 gun in 1979, and ultimately the successor came in a form of the M777 ULH (Ultralight Weight Field Howitzer), also known for being used in Ukraine now.

As new howitzers were being introduced, the US and its allies began to commission new ammunition types - mainly the M795 round, known since the year 1999. However, there was still a large stockpile of the M107 shells available. The rounds used by the Ukrainians with the Krab howitzers have undergone a minor, yet relevant upgrade, similar to the one applicable to the Polish 120 mm mortar rounds for Rak (the base design of which came from the OF843B bomb, dating back to 1943). The components that have been most susceptible to wear and tear were replaced (having an impact on lethality and reliability) - the fuse, and the explosive. This reportedly diminishes the risk of malfunctions. No information is available on whether the transfer of modified munitions as such also entailed some limitations pertaining to the use of a full array of propelling charges. It also remains unclear as to who was handling the upgrades. The propelling charges, producing extremely high pressures, may pose a danger to the shell's integrity. Furthermore, no data is available on firing solutions for these munitions. For obvious reasons, this ammunition had not been used in Krab before.

The scarce information available on the use of modern gun-howitzer and archaic munitions combo leads to a varying set of conclusions. On one hand, this speaks to the despair that the Ukrainians find themselves in, trying everything to bridge the advantage gaps between them and the Russians when it comes to artillery. This has been a significant problem at the beginning of the conflict. The Russians do not care about the depletion of ammunition stockpiles, using the old school shelling tactics resulting in scorched earth wherever the artillery can reach. The Ukrainians, however, thanks to their modern western artillery assets, usually use tactics involving precise strikes against well-known targets, with positioning intel available. The above applies both to tube artillery assets, as well as rocket artillery. In the former case, we have seen successful use of the Excalibur rounds against enemy MBTs. In the latter example, this is well illustrated by the successful use of the HIMARS assets.

The Ukrainian advantage is not just based on modern, higher-quality effectors and assets. It is not a secret that artillery has always been a speciality of the USSR, and now the Russian army. The Russians have decent assets at their disposal, with advanced firefinder radars - not too far off from the western systems which is exemplified by the Zoopark system solutions. However, having a decent inventory is one thing, having an efficient system that brilliantly, coherently, and efficiently brings all of that inventory together, with precise accuracy, is another issue. Here one should praise the Polish arms industry managers and artillery experts who, when the 155 mm self-propelled artillery programme was restarted, following the first Krab project complications, consequently promoted the concept of the DMO Regina fire module, instead of focusing just on the best-performing howitzer. The Krab plays the decisive role of the executor. However, it does that, working hand-in-hand with the remainder of the unit.

And the remainder includes automated fire control and command system, communications and reconnaissance suite, and logistical subsystem dealing with delivery of relevant quantity and variety of ammo and spares. Successfully, the concept above has been accepted, implemented, and is now going through a tough baptism of fire in Ukraine. In the case of Russians, the artillery assets, and the reconnaissance assets are decent, but they are useless without reliable communications between the individual elements of the system. The decision-making procedural framework is also obsolete and unreliable, across several levels of the command chain. Any artillery duels, where counter-battery fire is the case, are usually won by the Ukrainians. Not only does it happen due to the longer range of the artillery assets (as opposed to Russians), but primarily due to the availability of a more efficient technological chain, starting with reconnaissance assets, guns and howitzers to finish with. That chain does save a lot of time. And time is of paramount importance when one needs to get to the firing position and use the firing solution to rapidly conduct an engagement and fall back, changing the position to the one where the whole sequence may be repeated, before the enemy even has time to react.

The Ukrainians who received the state of art NATO artillery assets also quickly learned the principles associated with using them. The successes of the artillery units speak for themselves. These successes have been achieved thanks to the aforesaid advantageous reconnaissance, communications, battle management, and munitions. At the same time, the Ukrainians do not reject the legacy ammunition. In specific tactical conditions and circumstances, it may be as lethal as ever. Reznikov, head of the Ukrainian MoD said that when it comes to the 155 mm shells, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have enough NATO munitions to destroy the Russian Army. He emphasized the fact that 152 mm rounds are also needed, for own, and the captured Soviet-origin artillery assets. 122 and 152 mm artillery shells, and 120 mm mortar bombs could have been delivered at the beginning of the war, as countries that used to operate Soviet artillery systems had a major stockpile of those. This applies mainly to the Warsaw Pact nations and states that used to be supported and armed by the USSR in the past. For many years, munitions as such have been manufactured in limited quantities by the users of post-Soviet equipment. However, after the full-scale invasion back in February, some suggestions have been made that more shells as such would be manufactured.

Currently, Ukrainian sources suggest that Ukraine managed to restart the manufacturing of 122 mm and 152 mm artillery rounds, and 120 mm mortar bombs. They have been battle-tested already.

The combat use of ammunition that remained in the stockpile for 5 decades, along with the use of combat equipment that has been decommissioned several years ago should not be perceived as weird or extraordinary. Let's be honest: the Italian munitions mentioned here are useless in the modern, western Armed Forces, they could even be perceived as a burden, with a prospect of imminent and costly disposal ahead. The opportunity to use them in combat is the most efficient disposal method. With modern, NATO artillery systems it is far more lethal than the ammunition used by the Russians.

Both sides of the conflict, with more and more losses of modern equipment used during the initial phase of the war, reach for deeper reserves, taking even the dustiest equipment out of storage. Early T-72 or legacy T-62 main battle tanks are used in combat, for instance. The "war legends" also mention the use of IS-2 and T-34 tanks that used to play the role of historical monuments for several years. This may not be as abstract, as it seems. Recently the Russians reportedly deployed their historical 152 mm D-1 howitzers, manufactured between 1943 and 1949. They could be viewed as a peer of the US-made M114 howitzers. The Polish Krab systems fire shells that were originally intended to be fired by the M114.

The "immortal Stalin-era reliability" is supposedly the argument behind recommissioning the D-1 guns. These were observed and photographed in Luhansk, back in October. Russian social media conversations (for instance, within the vKontakte network) also prove the above, covering the matter of obtaining firing solutions and maintenance manuals for the aforesaid howitzers.

More than 2,800 guns as such were made in the USSR. The Russians reportedly still have around 700 in stock. The howitzer in question used to be used by several Warsaw Pact nations. The Polish Army, most probably, operated 34 guns as such.