According to reports in the German publication Der Spiegel, German artillery and anti-aircraft guns are failing in Ukraine due to heavy wear and tear and incompatible alternative ammunition.
With Ukraine reportedly having lost several US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and M-777 lightweight howitzers while losing nearly all of its Soviet-era artillery and ammunition, the military prospects for Kyiv look bleak.
According to the Der Spiegel report, by mid-June, Kyiv had informed Berlin about some of the seven Panzerhaubitze-2000 (PzH-2000) tracked self-propelled artillery delivered by late June were malfunctioning and in urgent need of repairs.
The snags emerged after intensive shelling of Russian positions, far more than the 100 shells a day stipulated as “high-intensity” use by the Bundeswehr (German Army). Combined with Ukraine frequently using special ammunition for hitting long-range targets, it enormously strained the loading mechanism of the gun.
Images and videos on social media had shown the Pzh-2000 being used more or less in a continuous fire mode on the frontlines in the east of Donbas.
Russia and the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LDPR) are trying to take the entire region from Ukraine. PzH-2000 is a 155-mm closed-type cannon chassis that shares components and some of the Leopard-2 Main Battle Tank (MBT) chassis.
It is armed with a 7.62-mm MG-3 machine gun and eight smoke grenade launchers. The SPG carries 60 artillery shells, 48 all-metal charges, 2,000 machine gun rounds, and eight grenade launchers.
It is ideal for ‘shoot-and-scoot’ roles where after firing on enemy positions, it can quickly drive away from the spot before its shells’ trajectory is retraced, and it comes under counter-battery fire.
It has a GPS locator and an advanced Fire Control System (FCS) that allows accurate firing beginning from the first shot itself. PzH-2000 has clocked one of the most extended ranges among 155 mm howitzers after it sent a projectile 56 kilometers away.
The gun manufacturers, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall on July 27 were also reported to have begun production of 100 more PzH-2000 for the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), which is likely to make more parts available.
However, with Russia gradually inching towards its geographic goals and the time taken for the guns to be manufactured and tested, the impact it may bring on the battlefield is yet to be seen.
PzH-2000 is not the only German weapon throwing up problems, as the Gepard Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun (SPAAG) twin-barrel 35mm system too is incompatible with Norwegian ammunition.
Ukraine procured rounds from Norway as Germany did not have the quantities for the gun. Based on the chassis of the Leopard-1 Main Battle Tank (MBT), the two Oerlikon GDF autocannons can fire 320 rounds of anti-air and 20 rounds of anti-tank rounds.
Germany’s Problem Is Replacement Weapons
Given the possibility of the German Parliament blocking the sale of Leopard-2 tanks owned by other countries, Spain too dropped its plan to send its Leopard-2 MBTs to Ukraine.
Reuters also quoted Defense Minister Margarita Robles to have said that the tanks are in an “absolutely deplorable state” and would be a liability on the battlefield.
Poland also criticized Germany for not being able to send replacement tanks that it was promised after Warszawa sent dozens of its Soviet T-72 tanks.
Poland was hoping for the kind of circular exchange mechanism Germany has with the Czech Republic, where Prague received old Leopard tanks from Berlin after donating its T-72 tanks.
From July 5 to August 2, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claims to have destroyed at least six High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), a much-touted system that promised to turn the tide of the war.
It has also claimed to have destroyed five M-777 lightweight artillery guns and struck US-made Harpoon missiles and their launchers thrice.
An analysis by EurAsian Times showed how the HIMARS is financially prohibitive at over $6 million a unit, besides being inferior to the 9A54 Tornado-S system in terms of range and capacity.
The way Russian commanders presumably studied the system to develop countermeasures, the PzH-2000 too might meet the same fate. Russia leads not only Europe but the world in the diversity, numbers, and quality of gun and rocket artillery systems founded on sound military theory as a part of a 200-year-old tradition.