Ukraine uses artillery fire as a long-range sniper weapon

Tuesday, May 16th, 2023

In Ukraine, as in previous major conflicts, artillery is the biggest killer, accounting for 80% of casualties, but Ukraine appears to be doing more damage with fewer rounds:

In November NBC quoted US officials estimating Russian expenditure of 20,000 rounds per day against 4,000-7,000 for Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated in February that Russia was firing around four times as many shells as Ukraine. In March, Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted EU insider sources as saying that Russia was firing 40-50,000 rounds per day, compared to 5,000-6,000 for Ukraine, while Estonia (which has supplied shells to Ukraine) estimated that Russia was firing 20,000-60,000 per day compared to 2,000-7,000 from Ukraine.

So Russia is likely firing something between four and nine times as many shells as Ukraine.

And yet, Russia has suffered much higher casualties. To take just one figure, recently leaked Pentagon documents suggest 189,500-223,000 Russians killed or injured compared to 124,500-131,000 Ukrainians or 1.4 to 1.8 to 1.


While Russia has stuck mainly to Soviet doctrine of massed area fires, Ukraine uses artillery fire as a long-range sniper weapon to pick off individual targets. This has been made possible with the widespread use of two innovations: small drones for artillery spotting, coupled with cheap tablet computers running software like Nettle system to direct fire.

Back in 2014, Ukrainian volunteer organization Army-SOS set out to use its technical skill to help the military. They initially helped soldiers fly and support drones, but soon found the biggest problem was using the data gathered by drone operators efficiently. So they developed Kropyva (“Nettle”) proprietary intelligence mapping software, which can run on any Android tablet.

Nettle is supplied as a tactical system compatible with NATO-standard secure communications and is used from divisional command down to individual vehicles. It maps battle lines and targets and calculates artillery fire missions. It is specifically designed to work with drones, receiving data and using it to calculate the adjustment needed. The gunner changes angle and azimuth accordingly, and shells land on target.

Several other Ukraine-developed software packages — GIS Arta, ComBat Vision, and the major Delta battlefield management system – are also used to share data, locating targets and directing fire.

Ukrainian forces use a wide variety of small drones, including several locally-made military-grade types such as the Leleka-100 and Spectator-M for artillery spotting, as well as thousands of DJ consumer quadcopters. The latter has a range of just a few kilometers and a flight endurance of perhaps half an hour, but their low cost means they are expendable and universally available.

In March 2022, Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the office of President Zelensky, told the media that a standard platoon defensive position took normally took 60-90 artillery rounds to destroy, but with drone-guided fire this was reduced to just 9 rounds, and that drones had been supplied to all artillery units. This suggests an improvement of a factor of 7-10, which is roughly what we see in the ratios of artillery shells: casualties above.

Previously, a vehicle, especially in a dug-in, camouflaged position or behind buildings or trees might not be detected until enemy forces were close by. Drone observation changes this, with small drones buzzing overhead spotting everything below in real time – not just vehicles but even individual soldiers. Hiding behind a ridge or hill no longer helps. Given suitable software and communications which Nettle supplies, every potential target can be geolocated precisely, the co-ordinates passed to artillery, and rounds walked on to it.


Increasingly drone-enabled Ukrainian tanks are acting in an indirect fire role, engaging Russian armor beyond normal combat ranges and beyond line of sight. In August 2022, a video posted on social media showed a Ukrainian T-64BV destroying a Russian tank at a claimed range of 6.5 miles, which would make it the longest ever tank vs. tank kill. This required some twenty 125mm projectiles, but the Russian could not fire back to the ‘duel’ was entirely one-sided.


Older, supposedly obsolete weapons are being transformed into effective indirect-fire platforms. Videos show 100mm T-12 Rapira anti-tank guns dating from 1961 in this role, and even a T-12 mounted on an MT-LB tracked vehicles. The 73mm SPG-9 recoilless rifle (from 1962), again originally a direct-fire anti-tank weapon, is being also used for precision indirect fire, as is the AGS-17 Plamya 30mm automatic grenade launcher. In this latter case, there does not seem to be any software, just the drone operator standing next to the gunner directing them, or in some cases the gunner observing the drone feed directly to adjust fire.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    There is absolutely no doubt — Zelensky’s crew is winning the NATO/Russia proxy war … in the media. We really have to give them credit for using Western media to put out a rather one-sided, not to say fallacious, story. If Zelensky is doing so well militarily, why is he not in Red Square already?

    Instead, we see outright lies, like the Ghost of Kiev. We see Zelensky cancelling elections in the Ukraine, seizing churches, imprisoning opposition leaders, banning opposition political parties, controlling the media, press-ganging Ukrainians off the streets to be sent to the front with minimal training. Apparently, all of that is called “Defending Democracy” — and we are the mugs who are paying for it.

  2. Jim says:

    Tanks as precision long-range artillery. Okay. I see it. So they’ll need to have their targeting systems hooked directly up with cheaply available commercial drones flashed with some sort of military ROM. The drones will identify a target and construct and relay back to the tank a sort of a low-resolution topographical map describing the exact relative positions and with which the gunner will be given a crosshairs. If wind is important, the drones can fly “through” the full projected shell trajectory, sample the current wind conditions, and feed the correction into the targeting function. The only hangup is parachuting someone who isn’t retarded into the failing U.S. bureaucratic machinery to make it happen.

  3. Jim says:

    Someday, a military writer or think-tank freak will rip off this idea and pretend like he didn’t get it from an off-the-cuff WordPress comment made on the Internut’s greatest WordPress blog by an unrepentant thought criminal shut out from every major institution rapidly failing under the seething mass of diversity, inclusion, and women.

  4. W2 says:

    Does anyone believe the silly casualty numbers from the Western propaganda organs? This stuff is more bogus and less meaningful than McNamara’s kill ratios. It’s getting into Baghdad Bob levels of ridiculousness.

  5. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    None of them except 70 year old boomers who have never gone a day of their lives without watching TV (and who are still watching broadcast TV in the year of our Lord, 2011+12) ‘really’ believes – but at the same time, none of them want to be the first person to stop clapping after Stalin’s address either, in a manner of speaking.

    Of course, we don’t even have a Stalin at this juncture, which would frankly be an improvement. Instead we have run-away religious mania where anti-cosmic gnostics metaphorically paying obeisance to metaphorical daemons – and sometimes literally paying obeisance to literal daemons – spiral each other into ever greater paroxysms of insanity.

  6. Jim says:

    Yours Truly: “The only hangup is parachuting someone who isn’t retarded into the failing U.S. bureaucratic machinery to make it happen.”

    On the other hand, there are signs that there is still (barely) enough of a pulse at the Pentagon to “persuade” state-affiliated news broadcasting agency CBS to use its flagship 60 Minutes to complain about the capitalist parasite.

    Someone, somewhere has finally realized that the U.S. is swirling the bowl.

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