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Precision artillery for Ukraine

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Ukrainian artillery about to become much more accurate with U.S. laser-guided munitions

In a further show of full support, the United States has made the first deliveries of laser-guided artillery ammunition to the Ukrainian military. It seems as if all the requests that Zelenski, the Ukrainian president, makes to his allies are better received in Washington than in other capitals of the world.

The Excalibur is a logical choice for the Ukrainian military as it transitions to Western-style artillery despite its high cost-$100,000 per shell-and they will help the Ukrainians reduce the firepower advantage that the Russian military has in Ukraine right now.

A U.S. Defense Department official who asked to remain anonymous confirmed the delivery of the Excalibur to the press. “As you know, we are doing training in Ukraine, Germany and England and we have everything from maintenance courses, to training in the employment of artillery systems, both HIMARS [rocket launchers] and howitzers. We are working on the use of Excalibur, and that is the most important thing.”

How the Excalibur artillery shell works?

The 155-millimeter-diameter Excalibur projectiles are guided by a laser beam and can hit enemy vehicles even if they take cover under trees or behind a wall. Any drone or observer on the ground with a laser pointer can pinpoint a target and achieve the destruction of an armored vehicle or building with a single shot.

This, which seems like an idea that should have been implemented long ago, is actually an extremely complicated technology with two main difficulties:

  • an artillery shell undergoes an acceleration of 10,000 g which crushes any electronic component that is not specially adapted to withstand the moment of firing.
  • to maintain its trajectory, howitzers have the inside of the barrel rifled in a spiral so that the projectile rotates and the angular momentum helps it to maintain a straight trajectory, so a cannonball is spinning between 50 and 200 turns per second and that complicates the work with sensors or with any electronic device.

This technology, therefore, is only available to a few countries and has only been available for a few years.

The Ukrainians are steadily adding hundreds of new howitzers that their foreign allies have donated. Most of the new guns, including the 126 M-777 artillery pieces the U.S. has delivered, fire 155-millimeter shells and are Excalibur compatible.

The combination of new guns and new shells could help the Ukrainians mitigate the 10-to-1 artillery advantage (or at least that is the rough estimate accepted by analysts) held by the Russians in eastern Ukraine. The Russian army has its own guided shells, but they must not have many units because most of the time they just fire salvos of countless rounds inaccurately and use brute force until they pound Ukrainian positions to compensate for the lack of accuracy.

The Ukrainians could achieve better results than the Russians by directing with a laser beam a small number of more accurate projectiles. “The new projectiles are more effective than their Soviet counterparts and therefore the number needed is smaller,” explained Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

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