Ukraine obtains unconventional answer to 122mm ammunition supply problem
In early June, a shortage of Soviet-era artillery ammunition hit the Ukrainian military, which left its forces in a highly vulnerable position as they were unable to match Russia’s daily firing rate of up to 60,0000 rounds (this was before widespread HIMARS strikes began to hit Russian ammunition dumps in occupied Ukraine).
The West faced a similar problem as its own stocks began to deplete, so it got creative and sought help from an unexpected third party: Pakistan.
Over the course of 15 days (6-21 August), the UK RAF conducted a dozen C-17 Globemaster III flights from Romania (Cluj International Airport) or the UK base at Episkopi in Cyprus to Pakistan Air Force Base Nur Khan.
These almost daily flights prompted some observers to conclude that the UK had established an air bridge between Romania and Pakistan, so that 122mm artillery ammunition manufactured by Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) could be shipped to Ukraine.
Evidence emerged on 30 August via social media to confirm that the Ukrainian military has successfully received Pakistani 122mm rounds.
The Pakistani MoD did not respond to requests to comment and given the sensitivity of this matter and security considerations, the UK MoD is not allowed to disclose details of specific shipments.
However, speaking to Shephard, a UK MoD spokesperson said that ‘the UK remains steadfast in our support for Ukraine and we are working with a range of allies and partners to ensure it has what it needs to defend itself against Russia’s brutal invasion’.
The MoD routinely runs military flights between allies and NATO members, and these flex as requirement demands.
Romania-UK cooperation is not new and the two countries continue to do so to uphold security in Europe. This was further seen in the context of a 2020 military exercise the two countries held alongside the US, Poland and Croatia on NATO's eastern flank.
Artillery ammunition is one of the most pressing needs — if not the top recent priority — for Ukraine, even if the focus of the war initiated by Russia has now shifted from an attritional struggle in the east of the country to a counteroffensive in Kherson and Kharkiv.
The UK announced on 21 July that it was sending more than 50,000 artillery rounds to Ukraine. It remains unconfirmed whether these rounds are coming solely from British Army stockpiles or if other countries are contributing. Nonetheless, as stated in a previous press release, this ammunition was specifically for Ukraine's Soviet-era artillery.
'The UK remains steadfast in our support for Ukraine and we are working with a range of allies and partners to ensure it has what it needs to defend itself against Russia’s brutal invasion'— UK MoD spokesperson
As an RAF C-17 can transport 45,360kg of freight over a distance of more than 8,334km, and since the gross weight of a 122mm projectile is 43.75kg, several thousand rounds could have been transported to Ukraine in August.
The Soviet-era 122mm HOW HE-D30 round meets NATO specifications and is manufactured by the POF, which is Pakistan’s largest defence supplier and industrial complex.
The POF comprises 14 factories, including one 42km from Nur Khan. Other products of potential interest for Ukraine include the 155mm HOW HE M107 round.
While the Ukraine-UK-Pakistan cooperation seems unexpected, especially given that Pakistan vowed to remain neutral in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the three countries share significant bilateral ties.
Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the UK in early August, partly to discuss enhancing bilateral defence and the UK Minister of Armed Forces James Heappey visited Pakistan in May to highlight the importance of the country as a strategic partner.
In 2021, Pakistan and Ukraine were said to have agreed to increase military ties in the defence production and training sectors. Islamabad was also reportedly replacing some Ukrainian-made equipment; and in June 2020, Ukraine signed a contract to overhaul a PAF Il-78 tanker (work was completed shortly before the invasion).
This article was updated on 8 September
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