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Eight M777 Dismantled to Repair One: No Components From U.S., so Ukrainians Forced to Become Inventive

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Illustrative photo: a Ukrainian M777 howitzer in repairs, January 2024 / Archive photo credit: Logistics Forces Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Illustrative photo: a Ukrainian M777 howitzer in repairs, January 2024 / Archive photo credit: Logistics Forces Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

About the circumstances under which Ukrainian military personnel must put damaged equipment together and the amount of time it takes

Repairing the artillery received from Western countries has become especially challenging for Ukraine since the United States stopped supplying components to their systems a few months ago.

With no supplies from the country of origin, domestic production of spare parts still limited, and battlefield not allowing for any delay, the repairmen are forced to resort to making "Frankenguns," i.e. salvaging parts from one damaged artillery system to restore another. The problem has grown to a scale when Ukrainians have the need to keep 20 various artillery pieces at one of the repair bases purely as donors of spare parts, Wall Street Journal reports.

Read more: ​Pitfalls in Repair of PzH 2000 for Ukraine: One Howitzer Sacrificed to Refit the Others
Illustrative photo: a Ukrainian repairman fixes an American M777 howitzer, February 2024
Illustrative photo: a Ukrainian repairman fixes an American M777 howitzer, February 2024 / Archive photo credit: Logistics Forces Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

A key factor contributing to the spare parts shortage is that when the United States and other Western countries began transferring artillery to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, little to no effort was made to plan out the maintenance of those systems.

Moreover, the intensity of artillery use in Ukraine turned out to be many times higher than anyone anticipated. For example, ordinarily, a gun barrel usually needs a replacement after an average of 2,500 shots, but Ukrainian artillerymen had to squeeze up to 5,000 shots or more per barrel, sometimes taking even the creator of the weapon by surprise.

Currently, the Ukrainian army relies on 14 different types of Western artillery, not to mention the Soviet-type systems, and each one of those needs spare barrels which are constantly in short supply.

Metal patches on the spots damaged in battle of an M777 howitzer
Illustrative photo: Metal patches on the spots damaged in battle of an M777 howitzer /

The existing production capacity in Ukraine cannot satisfy the demand all on its own, leading to shortages of critical components such as barrel temperature sensors and support gearboxes for gun laying.

Consequently, repairmen are compelled to make rather risky attempts at adapting components from one artillery system for use with others. Such experiments are not always successful.

Illustrative photo: a D-20 howitzer in repair, August 2022
Illustrative photo: a D-20 howitzer in repair, August 2022 / Archive photo credit: General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

To illustrate the problem, the WSJ reporters provide the following example. When the journalists visited one of the repair bases of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the technicians were seen restoring a damaged M777 howitzer, damaged in battles in eastern Ukraine.

To bring this artillery system back to shape, parts from eight other damaged M777s had to be scavenged. While approximately 20% of the necessary parts were locally manufactured, including hoses, hydraulics, and certain measuring devices, Ukrainian technicians said the restoration process would take two weeks upon receipt of the required components.

Earlier Defense Express reported that a similar situation was observed with PzH 2000 artillery systems supplied by Germany, with one self-propelled howitzer completely sacrificed to refit the others.

Various components used during the repair of artillery for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, spring 2024
Various components used during the repair of artillery for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, spring 2024 / Photo credit: The Wall Street Journal
Read more: ​Ukrainian PzH 2000 Breaks Record Having Fired 20,000 Rounds Already