TechAmerican shells powering soviet-era tanks: Ukraine war’s ironic twist

American shells powering soviet-era tanks: Ukraine war’s ironic twist

A Ukrainian 2S7 Pion firing shells at a potential enemy.
A Ukrainian 2S7 Pion firing shells at a potential enemy.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | OSINTtechnical
Przemysław Juraszek

28 June 2024 20:13

The war in Ukraine is replete with ironic situations, such as the compatibility of American ammunition for the powerful M110 203 mm howitzers, capable of firing nuclear shells with their Soviet counterparts, the 2S7 Pion. We explain how this is possible.

A photo of another potent 2S7 Pion howitzer firing 203 mm M106 shells intended for the American M110 howitzers appeared online. These shells fit the Soviet-equivalent atomic artillery, making the somewhat old and not very modern 2S7 Pion howitzers still useful on the battlefield.

They are particularly useful when destroying fortified enemy positions because the over 100-kilogram shells can handle what artillery of more ordinary calibres, such as 122 mm, 152 mm, or 155 mm, cannot.

In their case, the explosive charge is at most 9 kilograms, whereas for M106 shells, it is at least 15 kilograms of TNT. It is not known what specific changes were made to the 2S7 Pion howitzer. Still, they were likely minor since the Russians were also using American ammunition supplied through Iran in their howitzers.

The shells may fit simply because both systems are of the same calibre, and the mathematics and physics are identical for all designers. It is also significant that the 2S7 Pion was developed a decade later than the M110, which may have been a starting point for the Russians' own project.

2S7 Pion - a highly destructive yet vulnerable construction

Designed in the 1970s, the 2S7 Pion howitzers are based on a 203 mm gun mounted on a T-80 tank chassis. This results in a self-propelled system with a range of up to 40 kilometres for regular shells or 46-55 kilometres for rocket-assisted ammunition.

On the other hand, the range for the M110 howitzers' simplest shells was 30 kilometres. Still, the American construction had a shorter barrel than the Pion, translating to lower shell velocity and a shorter range. The M110 howitzers were already withdrawn from service in the US Army. However, Americans still had a stockpile of ammunition for them, which, instead of costly disposal, was being used to eliminate Russians in Ukraine, similar to the Zuni rockets.

Despite its powerful firepower and decent range, the 2S7 Pion is a very stationary construction because its preparation for firing or leaving the firing position takes a very long time. Its rate of fire is also low, as it can fire only about one or, at most, 1.5 rounds per minute.

Moreover, the howitzer itself carries only four shells, and the rest, along with the 14-person crew, are transported in additional accompanying vehicles. The Ukrainians, lacking modern artillery systems, use the Pions, which, due to their range and firepower, are a more effective solution than, for example, the Goździks or towed D-20 howitzers.

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